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Forget Backpacking Europe, the World is Your Oyster

2010 July 14

Eurotrip? Fuggedaboutit.

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:


It still gives me nightmares.

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.

Your fellow travelers in Europe. Courtesy of pedrosimoes7.

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.

The type of poverty you won't see in Europe. Courtesy of dreamindly.

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.

– – –

Caveat: This is directed more towards Western Europe. Eastern Europe is a whole different ballgame.

25 Responses leave one →
  1. July 14, 2010

    For someone who aspires to travel and study abroad, I thank you for this sage advice, you have given me something to really contemplate when the time comes to go abroad.

  2. July 15, 2010

    I really liked this post! My husband and I were discussing a trip to Europe next summer, and now we’re reconsidering. Mainly because we’ve visited quite a few places in Europe already but also because your post on Buenos Aires sounds amazing, and I’m sure there tons of other places that we should look into!

    • July 15, 2010

      Glad you’re reconsidering it!

      There’s a ton of amazing places outside of Europe that most people never think/don’t know about. Buenos Aires is definitely one of them but if you’re looking for beaches, Southeast Asia has some unbeatable ones.

  3. peter s permalink
    July 15, 2010

    I really like it, but can’t help but feel this mostly applies to Western Europe. You don’t have to spend all your time in London or Paris while there.

    I’m not sure how much this stuff applies to places like Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Turkey. In the sense that my experiences in these places were my favorite in Europe, I guess I completely agree with your message!

  4. July 15, 2010

    My thoughts exactly! I’m leaving for a RTW trip in a few weeks, and it originally started as a summer backpacking around Europe. After months of planning, researching…I gradually came to your conclusions….and now Europe isn’t even on my itinerary AT ALL (although I’d definitely love to see it someday).

    I also think our society’s collective phobia of non-western countries plays a large part in all this. I just assumed that as a single white female, I *couldn’t possibly* travel independently in Africa – a place I’ve always wanted to see, since I was a child – because that is what the media tells us all the time! (reading between the lines of course). When you actually sit down and do the research, read about TONS of women (and men) backpacking places like Africa, Colombia, The Middle East etc. you realize that reality differs greatly from the lines we are fed.

    Yes, the world is indeed a big place, full of countries with amazing diversity, and so much to offer the young impressionable mind of a backpacker…and yes, that diversity is dying out at a furious pace in this age of hyper-globalization, so best to see it before it becomes an exhibit in a museum!

  5. July 19, 2010

    Awesome post. I’m living in Madrid at the moment and while I am enjoying it here I am really missing Asia. That is where the action is!
    I am also dyiiiiiing to go to South America. I’m here trying to learn Spanish so that I can go to Argentina and appreciate it a lot more. And order my steak in Spanish.
    But what about Eastern Europe? I agree that Western Europe is a bit ‘been there, done that’, but Eastern Europe still has some hidden treasures. I’m yet to go there myself, but plan to within the next few months!

    • July 19, 2010

      Yea, this is definitely more directed towards Western Europe. There are tons of places in Eastern Europe that are still “undiscovered” that I’d really like to see. I think I’ll make that clarification in my post.

      Argentina is amazing, you gotta go.

  6. July 28, 2010

    Hi There,

    Thanks for the tweets with the #flightster. I assume these two posts are your entries into our contest. BTW, nice picture of Rocina :). I’ve walked through there a handful of times. As somebody who lived abroad in Brazil, I completely agree with you. Europe is so damn expensive and you can’t live it up nearly as much as you can in South America or Southeast Asia. Besides, the weather in Europe sucks most of the year (depending on where you go).

  7. August 4, 2010


    What’s up? I happened across your blog from the list of Flightster travel writing submissions. I love your post!

    I have to say, as someone that spent a summer in London/France and 5 months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and 1 year in Beijing, China that I COULDN’T AGREE MORE WITH YOU!!!

    I’m saving Europe for when I’m older, have more money in my pockets, and my heart can’t handle getting lost as much haha. I mean, I’d love to get back sooner, but in terms of living there – maybe later.

    Besides, I think those moments when you’re in those less-developed countries makes you feel like your discovering something more on your own, ya know? I mean, of course others have been there, but you feel like you’re seeing something that is still TRUE to what it always was. In Western Europe, as beautiful and fun and historical it is, as you nicely put, Europe is “been there, done that.”

    Yea maybe in the crazier places its harder to get around, the language barriers are worse, and things can get really confusing, but the challenge is sometimes the best part! Plus, who can really complain about paying 30 cents for a beer! haha

  8. September 4, 2010

    Europe does not appeal to everyone.

  9. edresearcher permalink
    September 5, 2010

    Much of Europe is way overrated and far too expensive anyway. And in many places they really don’t like Americans, so they will try to insult you as much as they can. Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Australia are all very nice places to visit with a lot to see and do.

    • September 14, 2010

      I think the whole “people don’t like Americans” stereotype is very overblown. I think the only place where I’ve been that I’ve found people to be actually rude is Vietnam. Everywhere else, people have been friendly and helpful.

      I guess it’s really how you present yourself, not what nationality you are.

  10. September 26, 2010

    I don’t think much of #4. Everyone goes everywhere these days. When I was in South-East Asia I expected Thailand to be the only place swarming with tourists, but Cambodia and Vietnam were too. China and Mongolia weren’t exactly swarming, but they were still there. I think probably the only placeyou won’t find backpackers these days are war zones.

    • September 26, 2010

      Well with how easy it is to fly these days, most parts you will find tourists. But at least in the States, it’s safe to say that more people have been to Europe compared to other parts of the world.

  11. cathode permalink
    October 3, 2010

    I have no desire to travel to Europe, UK and the US.

    I prefer going to places that aren’t so westernised.
    If I am traveling, I am looking for an experience, not to just do more of the same sh*t in a different location. I want to be exposed to different cultures and have an enjoyable trip that is also an experience. I often wonder why people choose to visit places that are just like home when there are so many more fascinating places to see. For this reason I have never been bothered with Europe or America and likely never will.

    I’d love to go to Tibet, Mongolia, Oman, to just list a few.

    I’ve been to:

    Hong Kong – quite a few times.
    Macau – pop in every time I go to HK
    parts of China
    Thailand – traveling from Bangkok down the country to the islands – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan etc

    • October 3, 2010

      Where do you live? If you haven’t seen Western society, then isn’t it something new to you? Europe, America and the UK have plenty of things to see and many of it is very interesting. I’m sure you’d have an enjoyable trip to any of these countries

      Sorry to burst your bubble but the places you’ve been aren’t as exotic as you make them out to be.

      HK is very westernized/modern (I mean it was under British rule for so long), so is Macau and Singapore. Can’t speak for Bali but the major cities in China (Beijing/Shanghai) are now very modern and have all of the amenities of western society. And Thailand, although not as developed, is full of tourists from western countries.

  12. Kuffar permalink
    October 3, 2010

    UK & Europe is really no longer UK & Europe thanks to large number of muslim immigrates. The muslims and the neo nazis’s in eastern Europe and Russia makes me avoid Europe like a plague. I have no interest in the middle east and other muslim countries.

    South American countries like Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are more European than Europe.

    A lot of blacks have incountered racism in Spain, Italy, Eastern Europe & Russia.

    • Kuffar permalink
      October 9, 2010

      Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are also racist countries. They tend to have an arrogant air because they see themselves as the Europeans of South America.

  13. Kuffar permalink
    October 3, 2010

    Also would like to add:

    U.S. to Issue Travel Alert for Americans in Europe, Officials Say:

    Despite deals in Europe, Americans stay home:

    No Americans in France:

    Americans pay more for flights to Europe:

  14. gman5431 permalink
    October 28, 2010

    I have no interest in going to Europe either. In my opinion, Central and South America are much more interesting and i like warm weather.

    Read more:

  15. stan4 permalink
    October 30, 2010

    Been too Europe a bunch of times. There’s nothing really exciting about the place. Same goes for South America.

    • November 1, 2010

      I wouldn’t go out there and say there’s nothing exciting about an entire continent.

      That’s a pretty massive blanket statement and definitely doesn’t portray a fair image.

  16. TKramar permalink
    November 26, 2010

    I have to agree with stan4. I went to a few countries in Europe–wasn’t excited by any of them.

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