Imagine trying to book a 5 months solo trip around Europe when you've never even been at a hostel, caught a train or bus to a different country or even had to go alone anywhere. Now imagine how difficult it can be to decide where you want to go (when you actually want to go EVERYWHERE) because you'll have a tight budget.
Maybe I should start by saying that planning my trip has been amazing, and I'm the happiest person just by imagining the places I'll actually go to and the life experience this will bring me, but come on, nothing, and I mean nothing is ever easy, and this is no different.
Going solo means planning everything - even though I know once I get out there, most of the plans I've been so careful to make will fail miserably -, and it means so much research that you'll discover that there is WAY TO MUCH information that will make you loose your mind! Again, I'm loving this planning part, it's fun and I could do this for the rest of my life, but there are days I get so confused after spending an entire day in front of my computer doing research and as the night falls I notice I'm stuck in the same place I was at the beginning of the day and it sucks.
A few months ago, I bought my plane ticket to Rome and was so excited that I started my hostels search on booking and made some reservations for Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. Now this wouldn't be a problem at all, if I hadn't gotten way too excited about a super cute and CHEAP hostel in Florence that has turned my Italy trip into a gigantic mess! The thing is, it was way too early into my planning and little did I know I would change my itinerary a thousand times (yes, if you're planning a big trip, you'll change ideas every single day!)...I pretty much change it everyday until it sounds right to me.
Now, the problem and my biggest mistake: Florence...Florence! Apparently my excitement made me book EIGHT nights in this amazing looking city for only 89€ (super cheap I thought!)...nop! Big, big mistake! The reservation turned out to be non refundable, which means I can't cancel or even change the dates. Really? 8 nights? Come on, Rita...I'm feeling like an idiot for this, because it's totally absurd that amount of time in Florence, and the fact that I can't change the dates is killing me because I changed my plans around Italy and the dates in Florence are right in the middle, which means I'll have to move up and down the country because of this!!
Oh and I haven't even said the best part of this great reservation: the hostel doesn't have a common kitchen and they forbid taking food inside. WHAT?? Yes, 8 days of stupidity right here! I'll have to eat out all the time, which will kill my budget in a second! I'm just wishing Florence will be worth it because it will turn me into a poor person right at the beginning of my backpacking trip. How nice and smart of me!
So this has been the worst part for me: to limit my trip and cut out some places I really want to go, because as much as I try to make my budget work, it's just not possible and this makes me really sad. But it's not the end of the world, is it? I mean, this is just my first big trip, sure not going to be the last, and I'll be out there again in a second, I'm sure! So, first advice, coming from someone who would see it all if I could: don't be in a rush. Take the time you need. It's ok to travel slow!
Booking the right hostel
Check-in and check-out schedules (things can and will probably go badly at times, and with long journeys from country to country and don't rely on the schedules they give, so if there's some kind of problem, I need to make sure that no matter what time I arrive, there will be someone to check me in the hostel and that I won't have to spend a nightmare night sleeping on the streets).
Included or non-included breakfast
Free Cancellation (for obvious reasons that I explained earlier in this post, I've made the smart choice to only book hostels that have free cancellation, because I can change my mind or something can happen that won't allow me to go to that place and in that case I would loose a lot of money...so only free cancellation hostels for me at this point!)
24h Reception (I've read stories on hostels that have strangers coming in at night and that makes me uncomfortable, so 24h reception sounds perfect to me!)
Shared common kitchen (when you're going on a big trip and on a tight budget, having a place to cook your meals gets you to save a lot of money. I mean, you can go out and have lunch or dinner at some typical restaurant, but there's no need to eat out 3 or 4 times a day. Buy food at the market and have a "home" meal. And I guess you'll meet people like this right? Thinking about making some extra food so I can offer to someone at the hostel and start some weird conversation and temporary friendship like this? Yes, I've been wondering how I'll make friends out there, being the complete troll that I am)
Distance to bus & train stations & to the center (when you arrive in a new country and you're totally unfamiliar with everything, having your hostel at a walking distance to the train or bus station you're arriving at, will avoid you having to get into public transport as soon as you arrive, and consequently will avoid you getting lost the first second and totally freaking out!)
Reviews (this is an obvious one. Everybody knows photos can show you something amazing and can give you a wrong idea of the place, but you can't have it wrong if you read other people's experience there! At least that worked for me: it made me avoid the mistake of booking a hostel with bed bugs, a hostel with the kitchen inside the on dormitory (what??) and others in not such great areas to walk around.
Price (If you're on a tight budget you have to decide what's important: do you want to stay a super nice hostel that will cost you a fortune, or do you want to have that money for possibly visit another country?)
choose where to go, how long and what to do
The first step on my part was to decide where I was going to start. For the longest time I thought I would get a plane to London, but then I started to get the Italian thing again (I had a little push on this one from a certain someone who is out there as I write this and whom I miss) and decided I had to start in Italy. So that's how I got my plane ticket to Rome, and everything started from there. Once you know where you'll start, things get a little easier, but confusing because you'll get a HUGE amount of information, and everyday you'll discover a beautiful place you'd like to go. You need to prioritize! You can't go everywhere, and that's ok. You need to look at places you REALLY wanna go to, places that take your breath away when you look at the pictures or watch videos about it.
You are living your dream and this is your moment to be happy and be selfish about everything else.
What about you? How do you plan your trips? Do you feel going crazy from time to time with all the planning? Do you like to plan a lot or simply go with the flow? Share it all with me right here!