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I'm 18. Am I too young to backpack through Europe?

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Jul 28th, 2017, 05:58 AM
  #1
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I'm 18. Am I too young to backpack through Europe?

I think I should start off by saying both of my parents are totally on board. I plan to save $500, use whatever graduation money I get, and my parents will give me the rest.

My aunt and uncle are both familiar with youth hostels and my uncle backpacked through europe when he was 16. (Granted this was in the 80s before the wall fell, so his perspective is a little dated). Both of them have assured me that travelling alone is a great experience, but both also suggest I should bring someone along for safety, and I agree, I just don't have anyone who can go with me.

My best friend lives in Germany, and she doesn't get out of school until July 25th, and I plan on going in June. I will stay with her for 10 days and then spend about 2 weeks doing what I want to do and staying in youth hostels. (I plan on sticking to smaller or safer cities. I would tackle paris unless I meet a traveler in a hostel and they decide to go with me) I will then travel to northern Spain to stay with my mom's cousin for a week before travelling home. What do you think? Is this doable? How can I stay safe?
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Jul 28th, 2017, 05:59 AM
  #2
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Sorry! I made a typo above! I wouldnt* tackle paris alone unless a fellow traveler would like to go with me
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Jul 28th, 2017, 06:12 AM
  #3
 
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You won't need a "back pack", especially with your schedule. In the days before wheeled luggage, a backpack was easier than carrying a suitcase. Now, with wheels, no need to carry anything unless you are camping out or sleeping on benches.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 06:38 AM
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You may also want to learn the difference between a Youth Hostel and a hostel.

YHs have been the place to stay when your uncle and aunt did their backpacking trip through Europe. They usually require a membership (small fee) as it's actually a non-profit somewhat state-funded organization running them. Those YHs had often been used for school trips in my youth and offered few "luxuries" (dorms instead of rooms and so on). They have become more comfortable since then, but still you are not limited to those. Since YHs are a quite old institution they are sometimes in interesting locations like castles or manors - but then again not.

Hostels can be found in any major and not so major city. These are private enterprises and run like hotels. Often they double as hostel (dorms) and budget hotel (no frills bedrooms for 1-x people). These hostel/hotels are a great place to meet people your age and hang out. The newer chains usually have their own bar/pub/eatery.

In Spain, you will find hostals. Note the "A". These are none of the above but just smaller hotels, often with fewer & smaller rooms, sometimes a shared kitchen. But more or less like a regular hotel without the fancy stuff like concierge service etc.

Going to France, Spain and Germany is not exactly the same as backpacking through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Paris is not a dangerous city.

I don't know of much advice -- maybe this:
Get copies of your passport and important paperwork and store them in a different place than the originals.
Bring an adaptor plug for your mobile and other electronic devices. Make sure they are okay for 220/240V current.
Get a local SIM card.
Don't leave your drink unattended at a bar or pub.
Remember that 112 is the Europe-wide "911" equivalent.
Learn a FEW phrases in the languages of the countries you want to visit - but don't waste your money on three language courses.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 07:13 AM
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Get a copy of Let's Go Europe (amazon.com and large bookstores) the bible for your age and hostelling trips - great objective critiques of zillions of hostels - cowboy gives a great rundown of today's hostel scene.

Lots of Europeans your age travel around - hostels are a great meeting place -anyway check out the Eurail Youthpass for folks under 26- great deal if taking several longer train trips -check out overnight trains too - save on cost of accommodation and cover wide swaths of Europe overnight.

Anyway for lots on trains and getting a fix on the European rail system check out www.budgeteuropetravel.com (superb online European Planning & Rail Guide); www.ricksteves.com and www.budgeteuropetravel.com.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 07:13 AM
  #6
 
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I think you can do it, and more importantly, I think you should do it. You've already shown the interest and the drive to pursue it this far.

I did study abroad and I traveled alone afterward. I was careful most about where I went out at night--didn't do any partying. Maybe if I was a guy, I might have taken more risks. Truthfully, I was so busy all day I was tired! I had a second opportunity to international travel when I was young, and even though I had a job lined up for later, I didn't go. Will always regret that.

Don't be afraid of cities if that's what interests you. The question is, what do you want to see?

Also, what things do you like to do here in the States? Do you like hiking? What would be greater than the Alps? Do you like biking? We have family friends who loved biking around Amsterdam. Do you love classical music? What about Vienna or Italy? Is there an artist or style of art you like?

Give some clues as to what sounds interesting and people will make suggestions. Part of the fun is in the planning.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 07:24 AM
  #7
 
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Why would you not "tackle" Paris?

Sounds like a great plan to me. Loads of European and Australian and other kids go off on backpacking trips all over Europe and the rest of the world.

How to stay safe? Well, keep your valuables hidden and secure and be super-observant at all times. Use commonsense and don't get drunk and stupid. Stay out of dark, uninhabited places late at night.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 07:44 AM
  #8
 
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I take it you are a young lady.

There is no inherent reason not to take off for Europe; your parents know you well and are in favor, so why not? I suspect it will be the experience of a lifetime for you.

As to safety: First, get and use a money belt or equivalent to keep your passport and valuables in. Lock your valuables (including your passport) in the safe in your room or at the desk of where you staying and carry a copy of your passport, one credit card, and a little "walking around" money in your moneybelt.

Use ATMs inside banks (or inside the card-entry areas attached to bank) to withdraw cash, not those on the street, and make sure you are not stuck with no cash when the banks are closed.

Beware of "friendly strangers" and NEVER, EVER accept anything to eat or drink (or any drugs) from someone you just met (except of course the wait person in the restaurant or bar).

If you order a drink (alcohol or otherwise) in a restaurant or bar, keep your eye on it and don't let it sit on the table when you go to the bathroom. I will say that the incidence of young people getting drugged in Europe and elsewhere is down--at least I haven't read much about it lately, but no need for you to take any chances. You can't assume all the predators have died or been thrown in jail.

Likewise, don't hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.

As StCirq says, don't get drunk or stoned, and stay out of uninhabited places.

Don't violate the law; I can imagine few worse fates than being jailed overseas.

Even I, a fairly ancient man, follow all of these rules in my own travels.

Other than that, avoid crowds. You're smart to concentrate on smaller cities.

Maybe people who know more about which smaller cities in Europe are safer can chime in.

Bon voyage.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 07:58 AM
  #9
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Thank you so much you guys!!!! You've opened my eyes to so much. I never even thought about what I would do in Europe, especially @5alive you mentioned classical music and I never even considered going to see an European symphony! I'm a violinist of my city's philharmonic and it would be an amazing opportunity to go see a symphony.

As for everyone else, you all have a lot of wonderful insight about travelling abroad. For those of you wondering I am a girl which is why I feel the need to be very cautious and smart about what I decide to do.

I also did mean youth hostels! I'm sorry I didn't realize there was much of a difference. I hope to read many more submissions and advice to make sure I'm as prepared as I can be for my travels! Thanks so much
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Jul 28th, 2017, 08:49 AM
  #10
 
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don't be too paranoid about traveling on your own -heed the warnings folks gave above but overall except pickpocketing European cities are much much safer than American ones.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 09:56 AM
  #11
 
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Maybe not too young for backpacking, but definitely too young to be hanging on this forum. The average Fodorite is 70 years old.

The advice you will get here reflects this age demographic: luxury hotels, slow-paced itinerary, no interest in nightlife hotspots, and a condescending attitude towards touristy places which is de rigueur for seasoned travellers.

I think you should post on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum. It's more targeted at people of your age.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 09:59 AM
  #12
 
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Sure it's OK. A great idea actually.

How to "stay safe" is simply to use your common sense. Take precautions to keep your passport, $$$, possessions safe.

You don't need an actual backpack to do this trip. A small suitcase with wheels works better.

I don't know why you wouldn't go to Paris? It's an easy city.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 10:08 AM
  #13
 
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18 is the age soldiers get shot at and killed. So if it is ok for them, I guess kids of 18 can also travel, even alone.

As said above, pay some attention. Paris would actually be great and contrary to what has been written, don't avoid the crowds as there is safety in numbers - I would feel safer knowing my daughter (19, big difference) goes to Paris than a small remote area.

Don't take cash with you, scan and email to yourself all important papers so you can retrieve them if you lose them. Do the same with credit cards. Don't get plastered.

Enough with do's and don'ts, enjoy...
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Jul 28th, 2017, 10:16 AM
  #14
 
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One of my daughters backpacked around China when she was 20, doing all sorts of things, such as taking overcrowded ferries, that I'm glad I didn't know about at the time. Backpacking around Europe is infinitely safer. Do be prudent, and heed the advice about staying sober. People tend to worry about violence when traveling. Many ask about which neighborhoods are safe. I've lived in Italy for almost 20 years, and I can honestly say that the vast majority of unpleasant things that have happened to young tourists in this time involved drinking too much: falling into a canal in Venice, leaning over too far to take a photo of the Roman Forum, tumbling down an embankment into the Tiber, and unwisely following a new acquaintance into a secluded area of the Villa Borghese park, presumably to buy weed. Even the case of the young Irish students who were hit by a car crossing the street late at night possibly involved a bit too much beer.

Changing the subject, I don't think there are very many hostels these days that are strictly for youth. The international Youth Hostel Association (YHA) has been renamed Hosteling International (HI) to reflect that fact.

Even back in the 1980s, most places known as youth hostels had no age restriction. I backpacked around Europe in the mid-1980s with my two children and we mostly stayed in youth hostels, regular hostels, and university housing (in the summer).

I seem to remember that in Bavaria at that time, all YHA hostels had age restrictions, but that this was not the case in the rest of Europe.

In the 1980s, most hostels required that you supply your own sheets and towels. Many had mid-day lockouts. YHA hostels gave a discount to members of their association. Some hostels required that guests do some chores. Most of these features have dropped away, except maybe the member discount. However, I don't think it's worth getting a membership, because HI hostels are in the minority, and some towns with plenty of hostels don't have a single HI hostel.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 10:21 AM
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Enough don'ts and do's!

Use common sense and talk to others your age about do's and don'ts.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 10:26 AM
  #16
 
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Since you are a violinist, and like music, I am glad someone mentioned concerts. Others can tell you more and, of course, everybody knows Vienna, Austria and Italy, but anywhere you happen to go, there are wonderful music venues.

If you go to Venice, there are many concerts. Often they are performed in the church the music was written for, with a consideration of the particular acoustics of that building. Some are free.

The opera house in Frankfurt, Germany is fabulous and offers a wide range of music, not just opera.

Once you have your itinerary more set, you can learn what is there. One of my Daughters travels frequently in Europe and if she can, she plans part of her trips around places that have concerts or musicians she want to hear. Events like that can be a highlight of your trip.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 10:28 AM
  #17
 
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have a look at these to whet your appetite

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2...-europe-cities
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Jul 28th, 2017, 10:49 AM
  #18
 
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For me, traveling solo, regardless of your age, I find large cities much easier to deal with than small towns or the countryside.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 12:02 PM
  #19
 
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When I was 17 (in the early 1970's!), I traveled all over Europe for 3 months with my parents' blessing. When I announced my plan at age 16, my parents supported it and told me that they would match whatever amount of money that I saved for the trip, and they did.

My only wild card was the fact that I had grandparents in eastern France whom I would be visiting for a couple of weeks, but keep in mind that in those days, most of the French did not have telephones and all communication was postal unless there was a major tragedy that warrented a telegram.

I have learned from forums like this that what I did was technically "illegal" because of my age since the age of majority was 21 back in those days. Back then, every hotel required the information from your passport on the forms you had to fill out, and yet not a single place ever questioned my age, from Sweden to Portugal and from England to Italy. Yet whenever a 17 year old (you are not concerned as an 18 year old adult in 2017) asks questions about independent travel, at least 15 people here tell them that they are not allowed to do it.

So take what you are told on the travel forums with a graim of salt.

As other people have said, I do not understand at all your reticence about going to Paris alone. It is the most visited city in the world, for people of all ages, and it is a dream for English speakers, who have no problems at all as long as they have mastered the basics of how to be polite in a foreign country.

It is also the city where I decided to live after my extensive European journey in 1971. The only other city in competition was Geneva, but it is in Paris that I settled in 1973, and I have been here ever since.
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Jul 28th, 2017, 12:08 PM
  #20
 
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kerouac was an American at the time he traveled Europe as a 17-yr-old I believe so there is a good parallel.
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