You’re going to screw up when you travel. You’re going to end up without the right currency for the country you are in, no idea how to say “where is the bathroom” in the right language and not have a place to sleep some nights. But it’s all right, part of the adventure is not knowing what’s going to happen next.
I’ve already made these mistakes while hitchhiking, sleeping outside and not knowing where I’m going. This is to make sure you learn from mine so you aren’t stuck with a dead phone or protein deficiency on the side of the road in the freezing pouring rain with a soggy hitchhiking sign.
One of the most important things to have when you are traveling like this into different countries — couchsurfing or staying in hostels and hitchhiking — is a phone with GPS that has access to the internet. I, thankfully, didn’t screw that up. But what I did screw up was leaving my charger at home.
That turned out to be disastrous. It forced me to buy a cheap one at a small electronics store in Paris with the little spare money I had. This charger ended up being the bane of my existence for a month as it took literally 12 hours to fully charge.
Multiple times I almost didn’t have a place to sleep and didn’t know where I was because my phone died. Don’t buy cheap chargers if you forget or lose yours, buy a decent one. As well as having a portable charger, retrospect is 20/20.
A proper diet is not easy to maintain when you don’t have access to a kitchen and can only eat what you can carry in your pack. My normal diet for those two months, and usually any time I travel, is fruit, bread and peanuts. Bread is always cheap and filling, fruit has a lot of nutrients and peanuts help with the protein. For short periods of time, maybe a couple weeks, it’s fine. After that, and if you have a more sensitive stomach, you will start to have malnutrition issues.
I spent maybe a month without eating meat, not compensating enough for the loss of protein. I felt tired all the time no matter how much I slept and felt faint when I would be walking in between cities for about a week and a half. One day someone cooked me three burgers. I ate them all and within minutes “woke up” and realized how much had been wrong with my health the past couple weeks.
Pay attention to what you’re eating over the long term and make sure you eat enough protein and include variation — sardines have a huge amount of protein per serving and you can carry tins in your pack. Don’t almost faint with no idea why with your thumb out at a truck stop.
A final important screw-up of mine to learn from is the way to handle money. Not the amount to have, but the way you have it. There are many places where a debit/credit card is accepted, but there are also many rural places where cash is the only way to pay. Always have a good amount of cash and make sure to split it up and put it in different places in your pack and a bit in your pocket as well. This way, no matter what gets lost or possibly pickpocketed, you’ll have a backup.
Something I also screwed up multiple times is remembering that different countries have different currencies. When in Europe, where you can pass through three or more countries in a day, its gets difficult to remember to change currency. Always look up the exchange rate before going somewhere to make sure you’re not getting screwed. When buying things with a currency you’re not familiar with, relate it back to the price of a loaf of bread. It will help give some kind of base to the money’s worth to translate back to what you know.
Over the summer, I hitchhiked from Paris to Budapest to Copenhagen. Before you even leave, know what the weather is like where you are going. That may seem obvious, but when I got to Paris, I didn’t know it rains almost everyday. And I didn’t have an umbrella until the day I left. I didn’t think about the fact that because Copenhagen is so far north, the sun doesn’t completely set either, along with still being 55-60 degrees in summer. I only had a light sweatshirt and jeans.
Think about the weather and how much you’ll be outside while traveling, walking, hitchhiking and exploring. It may be a bit more to carry, but it’s better than literally freezing and getting sick in the rain.
The way I traveled over the summer I completely relied on Couchsurfing.com to find a place to sleep, purposefully. I didn’t have the money to pay for a hostel. This is perfectly all right, but I didn’t have a fail safe. That was not.
If you are going to go like that, you need to have at least a sleeping bag and most preferably a tent depending on where you go and your comfort level. A sleeping bag will keep you warm and dry for the most part if you have to sleep outside. I make a joke a lot that I slept under a bush in Budapest because it sounds funny, but it wasn’t. It feels horrible when the sun sets and everyone is heading home and you just have nowhere to go. Have a tent if you think you may not find a place to sleep. In a city, it isn’t necessary, but if you might be in the countryside it’s a huge comfort.
Andrew Fraieli is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email him at [email protected]