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Do it right, travel light

Backpacking a cheaper way to see more for less

August 6, 2010

AS AMERICANS, from kindergarten through college, we are bombarded with heavy amounts of European history.

From the Greeks and Romans to the English and French, by the time the diplomas, we have learned about numerous historical structures and landmarks, from the Eifel Tower in Paris to the Coliseum in Rome.

And though studying textbooks and viewing pictures are nice, nothing beats seeing history come alive in person.

Article Photos

FORMER?TIMES?Leader staffer Brian Cook stops for a picture inside of The Coliseum in Rome, Italy during his backpacking jaunt across Western Europe in July.

For many, the first thing that comes to mind when the term international travel is mentioned is a jaunt through Europe.

But getting there is requires more than the airfare for the 6-to-9 hour plain ride, depending on your point of entry. A European vacation doesn't come cheap. And to even get a decent sampling of history and culture, it will take you, at minimum, seven days or more.

So how can you afford such a grand adventure, especially in today's economy when both individuals and families are tightening the pocketbooks?

Try backpacking.

That's what former Times Leader staffer Brian Cook and his buddy Clint Falduto did.

Starting in June, the pair spent five, yes five weeks trekking through Western Europe, making numerous stops.

And while Cook makes a good salary working a teacher in Maryland, he's not going to be confused with the latest multi-millionaire Powerball winner.

So just how was he able to afford a five-week trip through Europe?

'I had saved up a good bit, but you have to be thorough when you travel,'' Cook said. ''You don't need to pick up something at every stop.

''Don't buy a lot of needless items. And you have to remember, whatever you buy, you're going to have to carry with you.''

Translation? Stop buying the obvious tourist-style items at every stop along your journey.

Cook also explained that every meal of the day didn't have to be eaten at a five-star restaurant.

''For breakfast, we'd have a couple pieces of fruit and be on our way,'' Cook said. ''We tried to limit ourselves to one big meal per day and then just eat as we went the rest of the time.''

Food can be expensive depending on the chosen eatery. And, even at 10 bucks per meal, three times per day, the cost can add up.

If you're going to pack light, eat light also and save your money for the more important things.

That also means not dropping more than 100 Euros per night on lodging.

Travelers backpacking across Europe are trying to stretch their budgets, not blow them. They have a limited amount of time and multitudes of stops to make.

The idea is to see everything their is to see and not spend an entire day lounging in a fancy hotel.

That's where hostels come into play.

''You can find them online, but we also took recommendations from other travelers we met along the way,'' Cook said. ''Most of the backpackers are a younger crowd and are willing to offer tips.

''You can find hostels that are more for the party crowd and others for a more older, laid back type of crowd.''

At most hostels, your provided a bed for the night, usually in an open, dormitory style setting with anywhere from 4 to 20 or more people per room.

You're provided leans, a pillow, a place to shower and a place to lock your luggage for the night.

The Hilton it is not. But the tradeoff is cost. Most nights spent at a hostel can be had for 20 Euros or less.

And as Cook explained, when the only thing you're doing in your room is sleeping, the importance of a well-stocked mini bar and free Wi-Fi access kind of falls to the wayside.

''There is so much to do in so little time, so much history, so you're really only in your hostel to sleep.

''But if you can get air conditioning for the night, that's great.''

Cook and Falduto were able to cram quite a bit of historic locations into a five-week period, places like: Venice, Florence and Rome Italy, as well as the Vatican; Berlin and Munich, Germany; Brussels, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; Amsterdam in The Netherlands; Paris, France and even Prague in the Czech Republic.

That's why Cook prefers the backpacking method. When you're entire trip isn't booked in advance, you're not locked into one location for a set amount of time.

''It's better to be flexible,'' he said. ''We realized that there were certain places we didn't enjoy as much so we got up and continued on to a different location.

''And when we were in Florence, there was a public workers' strike and we couldn't get on the trains to leave, so you have to be able to adapt to any situation.''

Language wasn't as much of a barrier as non-experienced European travelers might think either. If you're sticking to the major metropolitan areas and vacation spots, there are plenty of English-speaking people to meet.

But, as Cook explained, a little willingness to learn even a few words of the native tongue of each country can go a long way.''

''As long as you attempt and try to learn even some of their language, they are pretty friendly about it and they welcome it because it shows you are embracing their culture and they appreciate that,'' Cook said. ''But if you're in the mainstream parts of the country, plenty of people speak English.''

Hughes may be reached at



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