Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Overseas backpacking for dummies (part 3): Planning your trip 2.0

Okay, so now that you have a budget, an itinerary, and an idea of locations, now it is time to book it all. Of course, the earlier you book your tickets, the cheaper they are going to be.

Book your tickets as early as possible!: When you know where you want to go, your first step should be financing the tickets needed to get where it is you want to be. Now there is more than one way to skin a cat. Of course, since backpacking typically implies doing stuff "on the cheap" i would suggest if you are under the age of 30, is trying to book your tickets with STA Travel. I suggest STA because they provide affordable rates for Hostel and Hotel bookings as well as tickets. It is the ideal tool for the young backpacker to utilize, and unfortunately i did my research on STA while i was over seas... I believe that you can save lots of money at a student rate than if you chose to purchase at a standard rate.

Another note on booking tickets as early as possible... if you have a solid understanding of your itinerary and all of your hostel bookings, you can just book all of your train, and airplane tickets in advance and save lots of money. If you are only spending most of your time in major cities, you can save money by advance booking your tickets.

Eurail Passes (or other equivalents): In Europe, there are many different ways of traveling by train. Purchasing a Eurail pass allows you to have a certain level of travel throughout the EU. As an American citizen you are allowed to purchase one, however citizens of the EU are not. A note about Eurail passes: While you "save money" on the front end, there is a lot of possibility of losing gobs of cash on the back end. Why? because you can get lost on the train system, or in one of my experiences, having to deal with a rail worker strike by the ::coughcough::french::coughcough::. It doesnt sound as if you are losing money right? However when you have hotels/hostels booked, and you lose money to missed reservations, and also have to spend extra bucks on getting to your destination whether it is by bus or plane... you end up losing money... and lots after a while. Personally I don't have very many intentions of ever using a Eurail pass ever again just because of the funds i ended up burning as a result of using it. Now, it is still a useful tool. You can get lots of "free" train bookings which is nice and you don't have to worry about fumbling around and looking after tickets. I suggest trying it (at least once)... just to see what your experience is... hell, it could be very different from mine. You can book Eurail passes with STA Travel as well.

Hostels!: Okay... before going into hostels, it is important to note that if you think you can just waltz into any respectable hostel with clean sheets, hot showers, and a good atmosphere in HIGH SEASON you are absolutely, POSITIVELY WRONG. It doesnt work like that. The reason why i suggest planning out an itenerary is because you can completely advance book all of your hostels. The closer to high season that you make a hostel booking the more likely the cost of a single bed will go up. I am telling you only once: DO NOT TRY AND BOOK HOSTELS ON THE ROAD!. Not because you cannot do it, but because you are cutting up your budget with high season rates. Most hostels will honor the rate at which you booked them which is why you book them outside of high season far in advance when most people like you aren't really thinking of making their bookings and are actually convinced that they "have time". The fact is, you DONT have time. Optimally rated hostels will go fast whether it is because of group bookings, location, or general facilities. If you think you are going to walk into a hostel in the middle of june or worse yet, july, and think you are going to get a room when you are in Paris, Barcelona, Ibiza, or Hamburg... you better get ready to fork up some major dough to pay for a cheap hotel room (which aint all that cheap). If you are looking to go to Amsterdam, forget about it! There are rooms available, but most are either in dodgey sections of town, or are extremely over priced (like 225 EU for a bed with 6 other bed in it, over priced). So do yourself a favor, advance book everything. Also, be sure to do your homework on hostels because some are affiliated with certain organizations such as YHA, or HI... If you need more information on hostel bookings i suggest you check out Gomio, Hostelling International, Hostels.com and STA Travel.

You are probably thinking right now, "Cliff, you are telling me to prepare for everything in advance, so where will all of the adventure be in having everything go perfect?" The fact of the matter is, while yes, it makes for a good story to talk about how you got lost and ended up in the wrong country, or landed in a city but had to sleep in a train station because of no available hostels, but the fact is that after a while you realize that everything that is "part of the adventure" deftly becomes cumbersome and unenjoyable... You spend so much of your time in worry about where the next place is, that you in many ways forget that the entire purpose of the trip is to have fun and not spend your time in worry. Trust me, even when you have everything planned out to a key, stuff still goes wrong... You'll get your adventure despite all of your plans.

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