– Aldous Huxley
“For every traveler who has any taste of his own, the only useful guidebook will be the one which he himself has written.”
Planning for a trip can seem an overwhelming task. You need to ensure that everything is done properly. If you’re going through packaged tours (MakeMyTrip, theBackpackerCo, When In City, SOTC etc.), you won’t have to worry about the planning part as your travel agents will take care of everything in a proper manner. However, if you’re backpacking on your own, this meager task might look like a huge mountain to scale. There are many resources online that’ll help you build your perfect itinerary. Just a simple Google search will show you tons of travel bloggers and Youtubers who’re more than willing to help you with this. Anyway, I’ll go ahead share some ideas on how you can create your travel itinerary and helluva fun on your next vacation. So, let’s get started!
Okay, how to go about creating your own travel itinerary? Now to create a perfect travel itinerary you just need to focus on four simple things. In my opinion, the following are the four building blocks of a perfect travel itinerary.
Backpack To Europe: Building Your Itinerary
- Sightseeing & History
- Food & Culture
- Offbeat Locations
- Shopping & Activities
Backpack To Europe: Sightseeing and History
History never intrigued me. I remember back when I was in school, I used to straight away doze off in history lectures. Ah, that blissful sleep! But as Steve Jobs said, one can only connect the dots looking backwards. And looking back I can’t seem to find the dots to connect, when it comes to history. And I regret not having paid attention to those lectures. Anyway, there’s still hope for people like us. Now you may ask, why the heck do we need to study history? Are we going on a vacation or appearing for an exam?
Okay. You don’t need to study history but it’s always better if you know a little bit about the places that you’re visiting. It enhances your overall travel experience. Imagine visiting the an ancient monument and then wandering, “Okay, this looks like a cool church. I think I’ll click some pictures.”
You’ll miss out on the essence of the thing or monument that you’ve captured in your camera. And traveling isn’t only about pictures. It’s about experiencing the wonderful places that you’re visiting. And that’s only possible if you know a little bit of the backstory. The travel guide will of course tell you that but you won’t have a travel guide with you every time. Especially if you’re meandering across the streets and alleys, on your own.
So, to utilize your time wisely, you need to create sort of a list of places that you’ll be covering during your stay. Like suppose you’re visiting Prague. What is it that you want to see there? The Charles Bridge maybe. Or perhaps the John Lennon Wall. Whichever places you’re intending to visit, it’s better to have a mini checklist of sorts which you can refer to while you’re strolling through the city. For this, there are many travel apps and websites that’ll provide you with plethora of information regarding things-to-do and sightseeing options in a particular city or country.
For me, I preferred Google Trips. It’s a near perfect app that’ll manage your entire travel itinerary with ease. Right from keeping a track of your bookings and reservations to suggesting you nearby sightseeing places and fun activities. (Regarding bookings and reservations, I’d be doing a separate blog post on how to go about with the entire process)
Google Trips is your go to app if you want to prevent all those hassles of maintaining multiple notepad lists and need everything in one place. Just download the offline versions of the places you’re intending to visit and feed relevant information to it. And Google Trips will take care of everything like charm!
Apart from Google Trips, there’s another app called Culture Trip. They provide some awesome recommendations as well. Especially when it comes to local offbeat places (related to arts and culture) and local food suggestions. I’ll talk about Culture Trip in the Food and Culture section later. I relied heavily on these two apps during my backpacking journey.
Rick Steves – The Virtual Travel Guide
Now coming to the history part, as I mentioned in my earlier blog post, literature was the primary reason why I wanted to travel to Europe. You guys might have different reasons for your purpose of travel. No matter what your travel inspiration is, it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about the history and culture of the places you’re visiting. For me, books played an important role in motivating me to travel. However, if you’re not much of a reader I’d suggest you to check out travel vloggers who’ve already been to the places that you’re planning to visit. Their insights are always helpful.
Personally I prefer Rick Steves series of videos on traveling. He has an entire section dedicated to Europe. His Youtube channel is by far the best thing I’ve come across, when it comes to experiencing the beauty of Europe right from your computer or smartphone screens. From historical to cultural, he covers every aspect of the places that he visits.
P.S. Special shoutout to Gabriel Morris!
Do check out their videos. That’ll sort out your Sightseeing and History section and I hope you’ve already started jotting down some places to visit. Moving forward, let’s talk about the second building block of creating a perfect travel itinerary; Food and Culture
Backpack to Europe: Food and Culture
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”– Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast)
I’m pretty sure those oysters and that wine was as exquisite as Hemingway’s prose. They say you’ve not really traveled to a place unless you’ve tasted their local food. I can still feel the lingering taste of Lángos I had at that outlet outside my hostel in Budapest or the Trdelník I had in Prague! Now, for local food suggestions I’d suggest you to try out Culture Trip. Just install their app and pick your location. Select the Food & Drinks filter and it’ll get back to you with great suggestions. Whether you want to try local food or need recommendations regarding best restaurants in the area, Culture Trip will always prove helpful.
I’d suggest you to try most of the local specialties and also the street food. Also don’t forget to try out the local beers or wine. From starters to main course to desserts, just take your taste-buds on a adventure ride! I was a bit disappointed that Zomato isn’t available in Europe. You can try Yelp though for searching local restaurants and cafes. This will sort out the Food and Culture section of your itinerary.
Backpack to Europe: Offbeat Locations
– Henry David Thoreau
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
So what exactly is an offbeat location? For me it has to be a place that isn’t commercialized and not thronging with tourists. Sort of like a hidden gem or something that has a personal connect with you. For me an offbeat location would be the apartment where Franz Kafka used to stay. Or perhaps his lesser known statues in Prague. Offbeat locations are places that are beautiful in their own way. It may be a museum or a quaint little cafe or perhaps a local nightclub.
Now how do you find these exotic places? The best way is to consult the locals about this. You could go on free walking tours, where you can ask the guide about cool places to visit. Please don’t forget to tip them tough. It’s not mandatory but it’s a kind gesture and really helps them.
With Locals is another great option wherein you can explore the city with a local. So, when I was in Budapest, I met Gabor Bihari who was my local guide (And no, he’s not from Bihar. I confirmed that). So I took a kick starter walking tour with him where he told me everything that I should do while I’m in the city. He suggested me some great local restaurants, offbeat places to visit, music concerts and stand-up open mics happening in the neighborhood (since I’m into music and comedy) and what to do and what not to do (tourist traps). Gabor was a great guide and he helped me sort of map out my entire stay in Budapest. His recommendations were top notch!
Another option is Reddit. You can check out the sub-reddits of the places you’re visiting and you’ll easily find some brilliant recommendations there. There are other websites too like Lonely Planet, Bruised Passports and Atlas Obscura. You can refer them. I even used Twitter to a certain extent. People who’ve already traveled to those places can provide you some awesome suggestions.
Backpack to Europe: Shopping and Activities
“We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.”– Bill Bryson
Bryson never fails to amuse me. To start with, I’m not a fan of shopping. But then if you’re traveling somewhere you need something that you can carry back home as a souvenir. Maybe that’s the reason people splurge so much on shopping. Whether you’re like me who criticizes the notion of shopping or you’re someone who wouldn’t think twice before swiping the credit card to buy that handmade teddy bear at the local shop; shopping will always be an integral part of a travel itinerary.
I can’t advise you much about this section. But for me, shopping was collecting postcards, visiting bookstores to pick up some paperbacks, picking up t-shirts of my favorite rock bands or local food-items(chocolates or wine mostly)
You’ll easily find the central market in almost every city that you visit. Again, don’t forget to ask your local guide about the shopping markets and malls in the area. They’ll drop in some great suggestions as to what to shop for. Gabor recommended me to grab a bottle of Hungarian wine which is sort of like their speciality along with Paprika. Again, Google Trips will also let you know about nearby shopping places you can try.
Now moving on to adventure activities, you can probably rent a bicycle or a Segway and head out to explore the city on two wheels or maybe you can sign up for tandem sky-diving if you’re more of an adrenaline junkie. I was going to sign up for sky-diving on my last day in Prague but then the weather had some other plans and the rain gods weren’t so kind. Hence, it got cancelled.
In my opinion, your hostel reception is the best place to find out about all the cool events happening in the city and they’ll also provide you with some good recommendations. You can also take a cruise ride or maybe try the hop-on-hop-off tour. If you’re a party animal, I’d suggest you to sign up for a Pub Crawl. Believe me, you’ll never regret it. I had signed up for a Pub Crawl in Budapest and damn it was one of the best nights of my life!
The hostels even have their own parties and events. For instance, in Berlin, I attended this stand-up comedy open mic at Generator hostel’s bar. While some were trying out new jokes a few of the local comics killed it! It was altogether an hilarious experience or perhaps it was the Berliner Pilsner, I’m not sure. Again, don’t forget to check Google Trips for any upcoming music concerts or events happening nearby.
Compiling Everything to Create the Perfect Travel Itinerary
Now that you have all basic building blocks, your mind must be going haywire with ideas! What I’d suggest is to jot down everything that’s on your mind, onto your notepad and then start organizing the bits and pieces.
You can create a rough draft in your phone’s notepad itself or if you’ve an OCD you can go about creating proper color coded excel sheets. For me my entire itinerary was split between Google Trips and Evernote. Choose whatever suits you. Plan your timelines according to the number of days you’re going to spend in a particular city or country. And don’t go overboard with it. It’s always fun to keep your itinerary flexible and just sort of go with the flow on that given day. It’s a beautiful experience in itself. At the end of the day it’s just a travel itinerary and not a timetable that you need to follow strictly.
Anyway, I’ll leave you guys here with a mouth watering picture that I had clicked in Prague. It’s Trdelník, a delicious Slovakian dessert. Because it’s good to end things on a sweet note.
In my next post I’ll talk about how to go about booking hostels and your inter-city transportation. Basically everything about how to get your accommodation sorted out. I’ll also be covering the monetary aspects in detail and how much money you need to save for a backpacking trip to Eastern Europe. The documentation (VISA) and other formalities that are necessary before you head out on your backpacking vacation. I’ll be publishing a lot of articles in near future and covering almost every possible aspect of my backpacking trip.
If you enjoyed reading this, do share it with your friends. Because even Christopher McCandless eventually realized that happiness is real only when shared.
Till then, adios amigos!