Our Budget was Too Small
Brent and I saved roughly a collective $10, 000 before leaving Canada, budgeting that our trip costs would be dramatically reduced by participating in a series of work exchanges, which would provide us with free food and housing. Yet, by not factoring some cushioning into this budget, we put ourselves in a position where we had to depend on these work exchanges. Mid-way through the trip, we began to realize that we would both benefit from breaking-up our work exchanges a little, and spending more time doing independent backpacking; however, we simply didn’t have the funds to live without the help of hosts for any extended period of time. This also meant we were limited to visiting countries where we could find a suitable work exchange.
Our budget created restrictions on how long we could stay in major cities, like Paris or Rome, where everything was significantly more expensive than in the small towns where we did our work exchanges. We could have covered Europe far more extensively if we’d planned out a budget that allowed a little financial flexibility.
We Burned Ourselves Out
We typically committed ourselves to 30-40hrs of volunteer work per week, and then filled our free time with as much touring as we could. The problem was that this schedule didn’t really leave us with any days to just relax and chill out. This pace was sustainable over the short-term, but nearly 9 months of it left us feeling like we were stretching ourselves too thin. I was determined to make the most out of our time backpacking in Europe, and therefore I couldn’t bear to spend a day doing nothing.
I’ve come to realize that rest and relaxation may not seem like exciting parts of travel, but they are essential to prevent frustration and burnout.
I Packed Way Too Much
Our plan was to travel thorough Europe in all kinds of weather: From a wet Welsh winter to a humid Italian summer. This made it easy for me to justify packing a lot because we needed to be prepared for anything. Although having most of the comforts of home in my luggage was definitely nice, moving from one place to another was a constant struggle. We were always worried about finding space for our extensive bags on cramped trains and about paying overweight baggage fees on planes. Dragging our luggage around whenever we were in transit proved to be exhausting. We ended up paring down and leaving things behind in each place. The ridiculous part is that if I had just been more selective with my initial packing, these possessions would have been safely stored at home, and we could have retrieved them eventually; whereas by trying to bring too much, I ended up discarding my excess belongings in obscure places and I won’t be able to get them back.
I Spent Too Much Time Thinking About What We Weren’t Doing
No matter how many places we visited, there were always many more that I wanted to see. We never made it to Hungary, Greece, Turkey, and a bunch of other countries and cities that remain on my wish list even after finishing our trip backpacking in Europe. I found myself preoccupied all too often with making plans for the next move. I’m still constantly learning how to keep myself present during traveling, and appreciate where I am, rather than worrying about all the other places that I don’t have the time or the budget to see right now.
So….What Did I Do Right?
As embarrassing as it is…not much. I didn’t really understand the art of traveling back then; I didn’t know how to plan a trip beyond mapping out routes to a few famous sights.
But that said – we still did it. Taking that leap of faith and leaving Canada was the best decision I ever made. I may have bumbled along through Europe, but I still drank wine in Paris; wandered down La Rambla in Barcelona; climbed a mountain in Wales; survived a pub crawl in Dublin; gorged on pasta and pizza in Rome; watched the sun set over the canals of Venice; partied for Queen’s Day in Holland; and laid in the grass at Tempelhof Park in Berlin.
And I’ve learned hugely along the way. I’ve learned from every poorly planned itinerary, every train or plane fare deal that we missed out on, and every tourist trap that we ended up at. I don’t think I would currently be surviving tourism in Asia if I hadn’t found my footing by making mistakes in the comparatively forgiving tourist destinations of Europe. Regardless, it was still an amazing 9 months, and who knows? Maybe I’ll even get another crack at backpacking in Europe one day.