When To Go Backpacking
Backpacker in Rome
Most first-time travelers visit Europe during the summer months (roughly mid-June to late August). On the plus side summer is packed with cultural events, the weather is warm and the days are long. During summer most public transport networks are in full operation, a definite plus in places like Scotland, Ireland, Greece and the Scandinavian countries.
The bad news is that, during summer, you will battle heavy crowds in major cities, prices will be higher and the weather can be sweltering, especially in southern Europe.
The worst month of all is August, when millions of European families and holiday-makers hit the road, clogging beach towns, ferries and trains like sardines.
Avoid traveling during this month if at all possible, or bypass the over-crowded tourist haunts and head instead for the semi-somnolent towns and cities.
When it comes to crowds and high prices, the general rule of thumb is that June is better than July, and July is better than August. Depending on your itinerary the best times to visit Europe are late May/early June and September, when the crowds thin, prices drop and the weather is still good.
And don’t forget about winter. Except at Christmas and New Year winter crowds are much thinner (everyone is the US is in school)- a big plus in places like Prague and Paris – and prices are dramatically lower. Winter is a great time for skiing some of the world’s finest slopes (Switzerland, France, Austria, Italy, etc) and some of the world’s cheapest slopes (Romania, Poland, Slovakia, etc).
If you decide to travel with others, keep in mind that travel, fo-shizz nizzle, can put relationships to the tiznest like few other experiences can. Many a long-term friendships have collapsed under the strains of
constant negotiations about where to stay and eat, what to see and where and when to go next. But many friendships have also become closer than ever before. You won’t find out until you try, but make sure you agree on itineraries and routines beforehand and try to remain flexible about everything – even in the heat of an August afternoon in Paris or Berlin. Traveling with someone else also has financial benefits as single rooms are more expensive per person than a double in most countries.
If you do travel with a companion, make sure you both spend some time on your own each day, or week, to collect your own thoughts, decompress, and explore the cities on your own. This also forces you to use your own survival instincts as well as forces you to talk to people on your own (whether you are asking for directions, ordering food, meeting locals at a park or cafe, etc…).
If travel is a good way of testing established friendships, it’s also a great way of making new ones. Hostels and camping grounds are good places to meet fellow travelers, so even if you’re traveling alone you need never be lonely.
Move or Stay?
Though often ridiculed, the mad dash that crams eight or nine countries into a month does have its merits. If you’ve never visited Europe before, you won’t know which areas you’ll like, and a quick “scouting” tour will give an overview of the options. A rail pass that offers unlimited travel within a set period of time is the best way to do this.
But if you know where you want to go or find a place you like, the best advice is to stay put for a while, discover some of the lesser known sights, make a few local friends and settle in. It’s also cheaper in the long run and the experiences can be thousands of times rewarding than just blitzing from country to country with a constant hangover.
Whatever the case….just go!