So, you’ve decided to go to Europe?
The continent which millions of tourists travel to internationally is renowned for much more than just its beauty. Europe offers history, food, culture, a fantastic party scene, and multitudes of cities that never sleep. The task of planning a holiday can be daunting, but by taking it one step at a time, you can ensure you have the greatest time possible.
Deciding on how long you want to stay and how much you want to see is one of the most crucial steps of planning your holiday. With 47 countries on offer, you face a big decision. Do you want to spend an entire year abroad, or just 6 weeks? Do you want to see as much as possible in the shortest time possible, or delve into the culture by spending lots of time in a few select countries? Whatever you choose, you’ve got to make the most of it.
Do you want to work? Or just purely travel? In my case, I’m spending 8 months traversing picturesque Europe with only travel in mind. I’ve got the time to do it, so why not? As this is my first solo trip abroad visiting more than just my home countries of Serbia and Montenegro, I’ve opted to see as many countries as I can whilst maintaining a sense of exploration. In the end, there are certain countries you’ll bend heaven and earth to see, and others you’re not particularly interested in. The trip is yours to plan.
One of the most important things to consider when deciding how long you want to stay and how many countries you want to see is the Schengen Zone and the Schengen Visa. The Schengen Zone consists of 26 European Countries that have a border-free visa agreement for residents of the zone to travel freely throughout the area without a passport. The Schengen Visa is a 90-day tourist visa for this area. So what does this mean?
If you’re from Australia like myself, and are therefore a non-Schengen citizen, you’re allowed entry into the area for 90 days within any 180-day period. Both counts start from the moment you first enter a Schengen country. From there, you have 90 days within this zone. You are able to leave the zone and come back, as long as your total stay within a 180 day period does not exceed 90 days. Once day 181 hits, then the count resets itself and you have a brand new 90 days. One way to overcome this is to obtain a working holiday visa for one of the Schengen countries, allowing you to freely travel for up to one year within the zone. For more information on the Schengen Zone and Schengen Visas, check it out here.
The next step is deciding how you want to visit these countries. If you’re a first time traveller or travelling alone, booking a tour with Contiki, Topdeck, Busabout or any other tour company is a great idea. Not only is it a fantastic way to meet like-minded people around the 18-35 year old range but the tours are designed to best suit your needs. Depending on the tour you join you will be able to visit many countries in a short amount of time, while others will spend more in fewer countries over a longer period.
However, if you’d prefer to see many things that aren’t offered on these tours, you can always opt for solo travel at your own pace, allowing you to see what you want and explore locations a tour normally wouldn’t get to.
This is what I’ve chosen to do, as I’ll be able to see beyond the tourist path and really see some countries in depth, truly experiencing the culture of towns that tourism is yet to touch.
Another crucial step of planning your trip is determining your accommodation. Will you stay in hotels? Hostels? Couches? Or even overnight trains? I recommend a combination of all! I want to truly experience the backpacker experience but also delve into the culture of the country I am visiting by staying in the home of a local. Staying in a hostel gives you the chance to make friends as you travel, and many hostels provide such benefits as access to free Wi-Fi and free meals. Hostel common rooms are a wealth of knowledge. Meeting fellow travellers in hostels will also give you access to tips and advice about places you may be going to, or are thinking of going, which is fantastic when you’re on a budget.
If you choose to stay in the home of a local through such sites as Airbnb, it allows you to experience a completely different aspect of the culture of the country you’re visiting. Sometimes, the view from the home of a local beats that of the most expensive hotel! Using one of these two options are a few of the best way to save accommodation costs. Also consider the possibility of couch surfing or staying with friends. Thankfully, I have friends scattered around Europe who are more than happy to accommodate me when I come to visit.
Ultimately, you will be nervous, apprehensive and excited about travelling. I know for sure that I’m completely nervous about my first solo trip into countries that I have no familiarity with. I’m worried about language barriers, getting lost, missing transport connections and that’s completely normal. Don’t feel disheartened…it’s all part of the experience. Countless others have done or are doing the exact same thing you are about to embark on, and as long as you remember that this is your trip, your time to make lifelong memories and friends, experience new things and to feel alive. One last thing before I finish up is that the absolutely most important thing to remember is simply to have fun… and lots of it! See you in Europe!