This post originally appeared on Medium.
Days after I graduated from college, I arrived in Amsterdam. After months of planning, the day had finally come. I was off on my European backpacking adventure.
Image Credit: Ludovic Fremondiere (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)
Over the course of five weeks, I visited 12 cities in four different countries. I learned about language, history, culture, food and, even, myself.
But above all, I learned about travel.
Now, four years and many trips with my trusty backpack later, here are four things I wish everyone knew about travel:
1. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
One of the things I love most about travel is how many options you have. Should I go to Europe or South America? Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower or take a cruise down the Seine? Travel by train or bus? Eat jamón ibérico or paella? Sleep in a hostel or hotel? The choice is yours, my friend!
Use those options to your advantage! If you do your research and understand your choices, travel doesn’t have to be expensive. There is a trip for every budget! When I’m traveling, I prioritize in order to spend money on what’s most important to me. For example, I stay in hostels and eat the occasional grocery store sandwich for dinner in order to have money to spend on a fun night out. Other travelers might prioritize private rooms and nice dinners over spending money on nightlife activities.
When you’re traveling on a budget, you won’t be able to do everything. Instead, prioritize what’s important to you and spend accordingly.
2. You’re not going to get murdered in a hostel.
I wonder if Director Eli Roth knew how many people he was going to scare away from staying in hostels when he released Hostel back in 2006. PSA: Hostels — even ones in eastern Europe — are not scary!
Since my first backpacking trip in 2014, I’ve stayed in nearly 100 hostels. I can tell you what it’s really like to stay in a hostel. They are a great choice for budget-conscious travelers. But even if I have the money to spend on a hotel or Airbnb, I often prefer staying in hostels because they are a fun environment for travelers to meet and interact. I’ve had some of the best nights of my life with people I met in hostels.
Not into bunk beds or sharing a bathroom? Most hostels offer a variety of accommodation including single-sex and private rooms.
3. There are no “must-see” destinations.
When I was planning my first backpacking trip, I was getting advice from everyone. You need to visit London. Don’t miss El Prado. You can’t go to Venice and not ride in a gondola!!! It was overwhelming.
The most important thing to remember about your trip is this: it’s your trip.
Visit the cities you want to visit. See the sights you want to see. Eat at the places you want to eat. Travel the way you want to travel.
When I went to Rome, I realized I didn’t have the time, money or energy to visit both the Colosseum and Vatican City. I prioritized and spent a memorable day exploring the Colosseum. Some people are shocked I went to Rome and didn’t go to Vatican City. How could you?! But, I’m content with my decision. Advice is great, but don’t let family, friends, guidebooks or travel bloggers pressure you into an itinerary.
4. You can do it alone.
This summer, I traveled solo for the first time ever.
Since I graduated from college, my boyfriend has accompanied me for the majority of my adventures. I have also done several trips with friends and various family members. This July though, I backpacked on my own.
On a postcard I sent my parents from Berlin, I wrote that traveling alone had led me to discover a different part of myself. Not only did I become comfortable doing things on my own, but I actually enjoyed it. Yay, independence!
Traveling solo reignited my sense of adventure. I took an overnight bus to Amsterdam, couch surfed in Poland and stayed out till sunrise with a tour guide I met in Berlin. In your face, comfort zone!
What do you wish everyone knew about travel?