Good morning! I've decided to start a new series to share a few of my travels with you! If you've read my 'about me' section, you probably know that in 2010 I backpacked around Western Europe with my sister. I did not have a blog back then, but I did keep a journal of everything I did. This was also before I was into film photography, so most of the pictures I have to share are from point-and-shoot cameras or my iPhone. I'll be sharing where I went, my stories, and hopefully some helpful tips about Backpacking!
First, I thought I'd share a little about why I went, and how I planned it. This won't take long, as to put it shortly, I went because my Sister was going. My little Sister planned a three-month trip all around Europe, only to have her backpacking partner drop out last-minute. To put my parent's at ease (and because I wanted to!) I planned to fly to meet her a month and a bit into her trip, continue with her for a month, and then leave her to finish the remainder of her adventure on her own. Therefore, a lot of my planning was already done. She already knew where she was going to go, so I didn't have to think much about it. I decided to join her for the Western leg of her journey, and I began saving like crazy (I had a bit over two months to save).
I worked my ass off travelling to Toronto & Montreal and modeling so that I could save enough in time. Let me tell you that traveling alone, staying with photographers or fellow models, and working 2-3 shoots a day is hard work. Freelance modeling is not a get-rich-quick scheme - I had spent the previous three years shooting for free and building a portfolio, and the fact that I started to get paid shoots around this time was incredibly good timing. I lucked out and found a round-trip flight from Montreal to Paris for only $500, and I house-sat a neighbors house who paid me in Euros. All of these things combined made it possible to save up enough in just a few months, and thinking back on it now I realize how lucky it was to have a second income like modeling to help me.
Finally the time came for me to depart, and I don't think I slept a wink the night before my flight. I was so, so excited. My Dad drove me to the airport in Montreal and waited with me for my flight. I'm incredibly lucky to have such a supportive family! As excited as I was, I remember being incredibly stressed out about my flight. I was flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and then taking a connecting flight from Orly Airport to Nice. That meant I had 4 hours from when my first plane touched down to when my second planed departed, and I had to get from one airport to the other. I had done my research and knew that there were shuttles going back and forth between airports, but I still remember stressing out about finding the shuttle and worrying that it might not come in time.
All went well though, and I was safe and sound in Nice, France by 8pm. I must say that knowing a bit of French was incredibly helpful - I can't speak it, but I can read and understand a good amount. I found that people in France will be quite polite to you if you first attempt to speak french and let them switch to English if they speak it, than just speaking to them in English from the get-go and expecting them to understand. You can also ask in french if they speak english, and just memorize that phrase for each country (what I did for Spanish and Portuguese).
Here are a couple other tips about packing that I picked up;
Use a vacuum-bag for your clothes. All you do is put your clothes in the bag (kind of like a giant ziplock) and then roll it to squeeze all the air out. You're left with a pancake-flat package that can easily be packed.
Don't sew giant flags to your backpack of your own country. My sister told me not to do this, as she found that it immediately marked you as a tourist and people judged you, or made you a target for pick-pocketing/sales tactics. Also, this gives fellow travelers a reason to strike up a conversation by asking where you're from!
Always, Always lock the zippers on your backpack. Even if its locked in a locker, or left if a "safe" locker room. I had my laptop stolen because I was too trusting of a hostel locker. Make sure your backpack has toggles made of metal that can lock together so nobody can get inside your pack.
When booking hostels, location is the most important. It doesn't matter how much money you're saving staying on the edges of town, paying for transit and spending time commuting is a pain in the butt.
Be flexible with your planning. I'm a person who loves to plan everything, and several times we ended up changing plans because we met some cool people or wanted to do something we hadn't had time for (surfing in Lagos, for example!). I recommend booking your hostels in advance, but pay the $2 for the cancellation insurance. That way if you cancel within 24 hours, you get your deposit back, and can re-book a new hostel at a different location (I used hostelworld for all my bookings, and it was great).
Anyways, this brings us right up to the beginning of my trip, so next week I'll pick up right where I left off and tell you all about our first stop-Nice, France! Thanks so much for stopping by!