Many people are like us. Working adults with responsibilities as well as dreams of far-flung destinations. We fit a different type of travel mold than that of the younger end of the millennium generation. Long ago, we traded in the possibilities of a traditional gap year for the security offered by full time jobs and home ownership. That means we have limited vacation days each year along with other adult responsibilities. But, as we came into our mid-thirties, we decided this would not stop us from exploring the world on our terms.
We wanted to go on a European backpacking tour of our very own. We too imagined hopping on and off trains to historic cities, carrying our life’s possessions on our back as we made our way from hostel to hostel. Well kind of anyway…
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There was only one problem with this little travel fantasy of ours. Make that a few problems….
- We are both employed in full time jobs with limited time vacation time.
- We are happy homeowners. There was no way we could pack up all of our possessions and hit the open road yet.
- We are pet parents. And, we can’t stand to be away from our dogs for too terribly long.
Obviously we were facing a conflict. On one hand we wanted adventure. On the other hand we had responsibilities. What’s a couple in our situation to do?
Plan a working adult version of a European backpacking tour!
This may sound silly or impossible, but this is exactly what we did. I’m a firm believer that scaling things in a way that fits allows us to find a great balance between work and the rest of life, including all the traveling we do. We wanted to make this trip happen in a way that worked for us at our current point in life. If you have ever wanted to do the same, this post will give you great pointers for making it work!
So what do I mean when I say a “working adult version” of a European backpacking tour? I mean an accelerated, version 2.0, backpacking trip!
We took inspirations from a few different travel styles to make our trip happen! Namely, we combined the general premise of both backpacking and cruise travel and flipped them on their heads to come up with our own workable trip.
Backpacking inspired us to, well, do just that… Go traveling through Europe with only our backpacks. Cruise travel inspired us to travel between destinations at night, which allows us to maximize our time in each city during the day. We also pulled a little excursionist travel style inspo from our cruises too! If you’re not sure what I mean when I say excursionist travel style, let me elaborate. Traveling in this style means you are visiting a city for 24 hours or less. Now that this is clear, it’s time to start planning!
Get Time Off Work
The first thing we considered as working adults was our availability to get time off work. We planned this trip around what my employer refers to as the “spring holiday” (aka Good Friday), which saved one day of vacation time. I get two additional “bonus” days off each spring too. Combine that with weekends on both sides, and we only needed to take 3 actual vacation days to be gone for a total of 10 days. While that isn’t the endless days nomads or gap year travelers enjoy, it was still workable. This is a great number of days off to shoot for. Figuring this out is very important to travel lots and hold a full time job. You can read more about this HERE.
The next item to consider is budget. Before anyone asks – I will not disclose how much various trips cost us when people ask me personally or through this blog. There are a gazillion websites and travel agents out there who are willing to help travelers meet budgets of all sizes. Talking money is their job, not mine. Plus, people are too different in what concessions they will or won’t make when it comes to travel. All these things have a price tag attached. With that being said, figuring out the dollar amount you are able to spend is key to planning.
Figuring Out Where To Go
This is where the fun starts to really happen!
You can either plan a round-trip adventure or you can start and stop at different cities. This is something you will want to research as there are pros and cons to each. I like to figure out our starting and stopping points and explore the possibilities from there. This is a great time to grab a map and start brainstorming shapes. Is your route going to be a round-trip circle full of stops? Or will it take more the form of some sort of line to get you from point A to point B?
Armed with time off work and your budget prepared, you can start looking at where you want to go. Of course, the two considerations above are determining factors in the decision making process. But, this is also an opportunity to be creative and have fun brainstorming the world of possibilities. Because of the excellent variety of transportation systems throughout Europe, there are plenty of combinations you can choose from. Be sure to look at length of time in transit and plan routes that will maximize your time in each city.
Let’s be honest – this is still a backpacking trip! Have you ever tried rolling wheeled luggage on a European street or getting it on public transport? You need a backpack! We are carry-on travelers, which means we needed one small enough to fit in the overhead bin, but big enough to carry 10 days’ worth of stuff. We have found our 50L packs are sufficient for our needs on a trip like this. Time to go shopping my friends!
Pack light, pack light, pack light! Not only do you not want to drag a roller bag around, but you do not want to carry much on your back either. Figure out what basic essentials you need to meet your needs, as well as the weather and bring it, but nothing more. Here are three things you cannot be without on a trip like this:
- Comfortable, versatile, waterproof shoes
- A waterproof rain jacket
- Tide sink laundry packs
If you’re looking for extra room in your bag, try reducing the amount of paper you are carrying with you. It doesn’t seem like much, but you would be surprised the amount of space and weight papers can take up.
Another thing you may need to think about is baggage storage. This is especially true if you are just spending a day in a city or you are in an accommodation like AirBnB. Trust me, walking around European cities with a backpack is no fun. Not only does it get heavy, but you have to be extra cautious of your movements in stores or around priceless historic sites. Plus, the locals will hate you for taking up space with your annoying backpack.
It is essential to research storage options and find the best one for you. After a bit of online digging, we decided to use Stasher – they have thousands of locations in hundreds of cities, including the ones we decided to visit. We booked online the day before, decided on a location that suited our itinerary and only paid $6 per bag for the whole day. Storing your bag in one of these spots is a total game-changer on your trip!
We recommend finding a budget friendly accommodation in the city center. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and sites nearby. Plus, public transportation generally runs through these areas. All of these factors help you maximize your time and can save some costs too. If you need recommendations, we have options in plenty of major European cities!
Traveling in this manner takes grit. Not only do you have to be willing to sacrifice many creature comforts, but you have to be willing to operate in a state of physical and mental exhaustion at a lively pace. Planning trips of this scale takes months of research, planning, double checking, and preparing. A trip of this nature also comes with a high degree of stress. Once all the planning is done, it’s time to execute. We are always on our toes during our times touring. Be prepared to return home completely worn out!
Interestingly, it is also necessary to have a thick skin when traveling this way. We encountered more than enough critics of our travel choices – before, during, and after our trip. Regardless, I’m so glad we did it!
We really considered the sustainability of this trip. While we were excursionists in most cities, we calculated a much lower carbon footprint overall as opposed to flying back and forth across the Atlantic to visit each spot separatley. Using trains, public transport, and walking as much as possible is one of many ways to lessen negative impacts once you’re in your destination. Additionally, we make sure to support local businesses when we travel. Planning this trip for the off-season meant we were able to avoid the crowds, which is also helpful for several reasons. We furthered this benefit by getting up early to get popular spots!
It truly is possible to still enjoy a travel experience of this nature on a different scale when you’re a working adult. I don’t agree with people who feel backpacking in Europe is off limits when you work or own a home. So not true! It just ends up looking a little different. But, as one of my favorite inspirational travel quotes says…
Little by little one travels far.J.R.R. Tolkien