European Travels: Backpacking through Northern Europe on a Student Budget

Last year, I set off with a friend for my first InterRail trip, a journey by train around Northern Europe. Residents of Europe can travel with an InterRail pass as I did, while people who come from elsewhere there is an almost equivalent comprehensive ticket called EurRail.

I had just graduated from high school in July and I didn’t have that much time to spare before starting college at John Cabot, so my trip only lasted about 2 weeks, but I am definitely planning on going on a longer one as soon as I get the chance. Traveling by train not only allows you to discover magical spots; it also lets you experience the feeling of harmony with the environment that traveling through places and not just from one place to another can give.

BackpackIn two weeks, we crossed five countries, four European capitals (Brussels, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen), two major German hubs (Hamburg and Frankfurt), and many other towns and cities along the way (Bruges, Damme, Cologne, Lübeck, Travemunde, and Malmö). In such a short time we had so many adventures and met such a wide variety of people that if I tried to tell the whole story of this trip in a short blog post I would be bound to spoil it. I’ll just say that when one travels this way, they can easily happen to meet three Romans in a Copenhagen Laundromat, and then immediately change all previous plans by following them to Berlin; or, to give you a less exciting example, the same person can also happen to be completely lost in the suburbs of Bruges, with no clue how to get back to their hostel.

The beauty of the InterRail Global Pass is that one does not need to pick destinations beforehand, but can instead hop on and off trains throughout all Europe. My friend and I had booked in advance only our first hotel exactly for the reason I just mentioned. We were on a budget, although not that low, and not having our accomodations booked forced us to frantically look for a bed the day before we needed it (or even the same day sometimes!) settling for whatever we could find at a decent price. It was quite stressful, and that’s why I would advise other travelers to research a little about the best neighborhoods in the cities they would like to visit, and make a list of possible hotels/hostels as back up information so that they do not need to start from scratch every time they move to a new destination.

Packing for a backpacking trip can also be a challenge. This is not going to be a complete list, but here are some of the items that I found most useful:

  • microfiber towel: light, thin, and it dries fast;
  • bar of soap: useful to wash underwear/get rid of stains;
  • 1 bed sheet: you can rent them out in hostels, but sometimes they’re just too gross;
  • playing cards for long train rides;
  • 1 smaller backpack to use when you leave the big one in your hostel or at the station;
  • bathing suit: a must, even if you are going to Iceland – who says you won’t need to shower in public toilets or that you won’t be invited to the super cool pool party next door?

Our trip was a combination of many different yet somehow related feelings. Throughout my two weeks, I felt uncertainty, risk, and sometimes fear, but, much more often, I felt surprise, marvel, and satisfaction. If you consider yourself a traveler, this is one of those experiences you must have, because as many before me have put it, what matters is the journey, not the destination.

Eleonora Maria Biondoeleonora
JCU Class of 2016
Communications Major
Hometown: Palermo, Italy

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