Visa. Check. Traveller money. Check. Extra pair of socks. Check. Selfie stick. Double-check. The thing about checklists is that while they are the most evident manifestation of your OCD, they can be quite handy in ensuring that your travel plan is efficient, purposeful and tantrum-free. But there is only so much a checklist can do. If a pickpocket has decided to make you his financer for the day, no checklist in the world can prevent him from doing so.
So after an overdose of Facebook posts about how worthless my life is without travel and how I need to die if I don’t head to an exotic location to find some deeper meaning of life, I have decided to cave in to peer pressure and head to Europe in the summer. And that is why I need my very own checklist. Travelling to Europe in the tourist season can be quite daunting both financially and otherwise. What do I need to remember? What can I not miss? What do I need to avoid? Hence, the checklist.
So for a smooth and safe journey and so that you have the right stuff to post on Facebook after your trip, here are six and a half things you simply cannot ignore.
On a shoe-string budget? No problem.
An itinerary-less, unplanned, budget trip with one pair of socks is fun, but only if uncertainty does not bother you. For starters, save as much as you can on accommodation since you only need it for a place to sleep. Cook your own meals, have a heavy breakfast, skip lunch, squeeze in a visit to the local flea market from the money you save, strike up conversations with locals (a cliché, but an important one) and hitch rides. Ditch high-end home rental portals (TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet) for the smaller ones (Airbnb, Homeaway).
Here’s the thing about Europe and hostels. Never mind what Quora says, sharing a hostel room with complete strangers and hoping to assimilate into newer cultures is a stereotype and is not always a liberating experience. You get no new “perspective” and it can go horribly wrong if you haven’t made the right choice. So know yourself, read up, verify and choose.
It’s not a bad thing to loosen the purse strings.
If you find yourself reaching for a bite of that expensive goat cheese or a sip of the finest red in town, there is no shame in that. Wanting to spend your hard-earned money well is perfectly acceptable. Eat something exotic, go on a cruise, attend a jazz concert, spend a lazy morning in a bistrot sipping black coffee, visit a vineyard and enjoy a wine-tasting session, catch your favourite football team in action on their home ground, discover the night-life in the city’s snazziest lounges and visit Europe’s finest art galleries and museums to satiate the connoisseur in you.
With a robust budget, you can hop from one country to another with a Eurail pass and get some discounts for museum visits and ferries depending on the country.
Being technologically handicapped is not an option.
And this is not just about Google Maps. That’s only a start. From finding the best hotel or hostel deals to getting more information on where they serve the best beer in town to getting smart tips on finding a way around long queues, your mobile phone can help you with more than just a selfie. Other than that, being able to cook properly on a hot plate, knowing that you will need a multi-country adaptor or a power strip in the cheaper hotels, knowing how to book your tickets or passes on unmanned teller machines and being able to use your phone to communicate in the local language using translator apps also qualify as being tech-savvy.
There is no shame in packing light.
This tip is for all those who think a Europe trip is the be-all and end-all of life. Not only do you not want to lug your 20-kg suitcase everywhere you go, but budget airlines, which could be your primary mode of transport for travel within Europe, do not allow more than a carry-on. Choose one look for the holiday, minimise your sartorial choices and, yes, it is perfectly alright to use the same pair of shoes for the entire trip. If you are an Indian, do carry a lightweight, empty handbag for the extra stuff you might end up buying for your third cousin’s uncle’s second best friend’s cat.
When in Rome…
This is a characteristic we Indians might be able to identify with. Contrary to belief, Europeans don’t look at it as “Europe”. So delve deeper and respect the difference in culture, language, dialect and way of life. Telling an Italian that his language is a bit like Spanish would be provocazione of the worst kind. So try to speak the local language or at least try. Download a dictionary, Google Translate or DuoLingo.
Largely, it is Europe’s history and culture that makes it such an alluring prospect for travel. So brushing up on the history of Munich or Prague or even Barcelona will help you appreciate the cobbled streets, cathedrals, mystical architecture and cuisine that much more.
Follow your instinct. Not someone else’s.
The image of you sinking into a sun lounger on the deck of a cruise liner steaming across the Mediterranean, as you look far into the sunset and sip expensive wine contemplating your life decisions, is, well, just an image. If you are thinking of putting all your eggs (travel money) in one basket (Eurotrip), think again. Space out your Europe trips i.e. focus on the quirks and marvels of one European country at a time rather than cramming all that Europe has to offer into one crazy itinerary that has you skim over a dozen European countries in a span of two weeks.
Do not fall for trends on social network. Head east. Skip the Eiffel tower. Barcelona is ethereal, but so is Prague. Catch a glimpse of the sublime countryside of Eastern Europe on a train journey in Croatia or Hungary. Long story short, manage your travel kitty to visit the places you want to visit and not those that make it to conveniently drawn up ten-places-to-visit-before-you-die lists.
…and a half!
Lastly, some irony. Check lists are not a substitute for common sense. They cannot and must not include passport validity, travel insurance, adequate local currency, ATM fees, airline carry-on instructions etcetera. These fall under common sense.
Also, check lists do not help determine your attitude. The spectrum of experiences in Europe is incredibly broad. So resist the urge to control your journey. Roll with it. Drop your inhibitions, learn to laugh at the travel goof-ups and let the experience sink in. And remember, it’s only a trip.