After deciding I wanted to backpack Europe, and consulting sites like Bing Flight Price Predictor and Momondo to decide on my travel dates, doing some Europe travel planning for my route was next on the agenda. Though many backpackers suggest winging it — i.e. deciding when and where to go next on whims — as a chick traveling alone and being a planner by nature, this idea didn’t appeal to me. The location, safety, and quality of the hostels I was to stay in were of the utmost important to me. And I’ve learned from personal experience traveling with my family that when you wing it, you risk ending up in less than adequate lodging in less than ideal locations. This wasn’t a risk I wanted to take.
So, Stockholm was the main destination on my list. Why? Because Sweden has been consistently on my radar thanks to the fact that a buttload of my favorite music artists hail from there (Lykke Li, Robyn, Miike Snow, The Hives, Peter Bjorn and John…I could go on, but it’d be obnoxious). Not to mention the fashion and interior design blogs where peeps and places from Stockholm are regularly featured. It’s been at the top of my “Places to Visit” list for years.
Next on the list was London. I’d lived there for a study abroad semester in 2006 and hadn’t been back since. I was eager to see how I’d feel about the city now. Back in 2006, my initial excitement about living in another country (and the lowered drinking age) was worn down by the exchange rate (the British Pound to the U.S. Dollar was 2:1), the food (I don’t like Indian Food and you can only have so many fish & chips before fearing a heart attack at 20), and the cold (I’m from Southern California). But thanks to a lower exchange rate, Yelp restaurant reviews, and time spent living in Boston where I survived 7 below zero nights (winter in London ain’t got nothin’ on winter in Boston), I had a strong inkling I’d feel much more positive about London.
I decided on my third city by determining which European cities were the cheapest to fly into from the States. I was raised a budget traveler, and Stockholm and London were both far too expensive to fly into directly. The cheapest arrival cities in Europe turned out to be Madrid and Berlin. I added both to my list, but after recalling that my old roommate had raved about her trip to Berlin the previous year, and noticing its proximity to Stockholm, Berlin won out.
With those three decided, I tacked on Paris because it’s somewhere I felt I should see, and kept Madrid because I wanted to put my years of studying Spanish vosotros conjugations to use. My initial plan was to do five cities in ten days. However, after telling friends who’d backpacked Europe before about this plan, I was kindly informed that this was over-ambitious and I’d be spending barely 24 hours in a city before having to travel to the next. They suggested three cities max in 10 days. So I painfully narrowed it down to Berlin, London, Stockholm, and booked my roundtrip ticket to Berlin. But a few weeks later, I decided it was silly to get all the way to Europe and a) not spend at least 2 weeks and b) not see Paris. So I changed my flight and extended my trip by five days, giving me the ability to add Paris to the list.
With Virgin America miles, I got from LA to NYC for free. I spent a couple days with friends there then flew from NYC to Berlin, Berlin to Stockholm, Stockholm to London, London to Paris, Paris back to Berlin, Berlin back to NYC, and finally NYC back home to LA. Doubling back was fine by me because it gave me time to explore two very different neighborhoods in Berlin and spend time with friends and family in NYC. I think taking into consideration your personality, travel budget, time constraints, and destination priorities will help you decide whether to do some Europe travel planing for your trip route or wing it.