Forget Backpacking Europe, the World is Your Oyster
Ahhh Europe…the land of churches, crazy nights and virgin backpacking experiences. It’s the quintessential study abroad/post-college summer romp; a whirlwind tour resulting in countless “When I was in Europe…” stories and fond, but sometimes hazy, memories. Seeing the coliseum in Rome, partying till the break of dawn in Barcelona, standing in awe of the Swiss Alps: I’m not going to lie, it was all pretty freaking awesome.
There is no doubt that Europe is an amazing continent. But sometimes people get lost in the allure of Europe and forget that the world is a big place with a lot of other amazing countries. In our 20’s, we’ll get several periods of transition, whether it be finishing school or starting a new job. Those opportunities come few and far between in our lifetimes. A lot of people use that time to backpack around Europe.
I say don’t do it. Use that time and go somewhere else. Here are five reasons why:
1. Europe is expensive – One of the biggest knocks against Europe, especially if you’re backpacking in your 20’s. Your trip will cost an arm and a leg, maybe your first born child as well. Western Europe is one of the most expensive places in the world and the exchange rate doesn’t help. What does $10 USD get you there? A cup of coffee, maybe one shitty crumpet and a truckload of buyer’s remorse. It still pains me to think about how much I was pillaged back in 2007: we’re talking 2.2:1 for the Pound and 1.6:1 for the Euro. $10 USD in Southeast Asia or South America? In some places, three meals, 1 night in a hostel and some booze. If you go somewhere else, especially a 3rd world country, your money will go much, much further and you won’t be cringing when you buy another beer.
2. Europe isn’t going to change – Western Europe is 1st world and very much developed. That means it won’t change all that much. Going now versus 50 years later, you’ll obviously see differences but it won’t be transformational. Go to Bolivia, Cambodia, Laos or Peru now versus 50 years later? You won’t even recognize it. I can guarantee you that places like Vang Vieng will change dramatically over the next 5-10 years. Even beaches in Thailand that were once pristine and desolate 10-15 years ago are now overrun with resorts and tourists. Looking to check out the Salar de Uyuni, one of the most breathtaking sights in the world? Better go now before the whole place becomes a mine. And what about the Maldives? Get there quickly before it disappears in the ocean. The point is, many parts of our world are developing at a rapid clip and if you want to see them as they are now, you have to go now. You can tour the Louvre when you’re 60. Zip-lining in Ecuador, on the other hand? Not sure about that. Europe can wait.
3. Europe is easy – Backpacking in Europe is like taking candy from a baby. Because it’s so developed, the entire continent is very tourist friendly. Sure you’ll have panicky moments and times when you’re lost but, overall, everything there is nicely laid out. There is a well developed train system, hostels are abundant and flights are cheap. All great points, but one of the aspects I like about backpacking is the challenge of it and discovering along the way what you’re really made of. Stepping out of your comfort zone is one of the key experiences of backpacking. Think of it this way, will you get more fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment through a pre-organized tour group or a trip you planned yourself? Not to mention, once you’ve been to other places, when you do go to Europe, it’ll be cake.
4. Europe is “been there, done that” – Everyone and their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother has been to Europe. 9 out of 10 of your buddies have had a “crazy” backpacking story about how they had the wildest night ever in Rome. If fact, the European Backpacking trip is so popular and ingrained in our culture that they even made a movie. Like a 1980’s song, the track wears thin. If there’s one personality trait that I admire, it’s people who go against the grain, buck the trend and swim upstream. Go find your adventure in a place where fewer people have been. Not only will you have more interesting stories to tell, but you’ll get way more street cred. And who doesn’t want street cred?
5. You’ll never get that eye-opening experience in Europe – If you’re reading this it means you lucked out in the genetic lottery and were fortunate enough to be born in a relatively wealthy country. Although we often see news of suffering and poverty in developing countries, it’s not until you actually see it with your own eyes that it hits close to home. All of a sudden it becomes real and it’ll forever change your perspective on life. Europe, while different from America, is very much a well-off western society. Experiencing different cultures (not just Western) and ways of life one of the most interesting and enlightening aspects of backpacking. You owe it to yourself to see what else is out there.
I’m not saying don’t go to Europe. It’s an amazing place with thousands of years of history and tons to do. Everyone should definitely go sometime in their life. What I am saying is when you’re young, lacking money and looking for adventure, go somewhere else. Europe, like always, will be there. Other places won’t.
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Caveat: This is directed more towards Western Europe. Eastern Europe is a whole different ballgame.