“Backpacking Europe” used to refer solely to travel with an oversized canvas sack strapped across your shoulders, with nights spent in a youth hostel bunk bed. Today, “backpacking” is more of a mindset than an actual act, says James Feess, author of the book “The Savvy Backpacker’s Europe on a Budget.”
Originally from the U.S. Midwest, James and his wife Susan have spent time living in Paris and traveling throughout Europe. Their website The Savvy Backpacker offers advice for independent travelers who literally backpack across Europe and those who apply a backpacker mentality to travel comfortably yet budget-consciously.
We recently chatted with James and Susan, who are now in New York City.
IndependentTraveler.com: Is there an age limit on backpacking?
James and Susan Feess: No way! We’ve seen backpackers of all ages. The last time we were staying in a hostel in London we met a 70-something Australian man who was traveling around Europe for multiple months.
IT: Why do you think most people outgrow the backpacker mindset?
JF & SF: It’s no secret that most backpackers tend to be young and broke, so they do everything as cheaply as possible. It’s natural for people to upgrade their travel styles as they get older, start earning more money and get accustomed to a better standard of living. However, a lot of people maintain the backpacker mindset regardless of income level or age.
IT: You’re now in your early 30s. How has the mindset changed for you both since you first started backpacking?
JF & SF: We find now that we focus on value and not cost — and that’s a big difference. For example, you can take a bus across Europe very cheaply. However, it takes much longer than the train. So it really isn’t a great value because it’s costing you time, which is more valuable than money. Now we take the train whenever we travel because the extra cost is a good value. The same principle applies to food, lodging, entertainment, [almost] everything.
IT: What are some of the non-monetary benefits to traveling like a backpacker?
JF & SF: Traveling on a budget helps get you closer to living like local. Staying in a five-star hotel and eating at high-end restaurants is about as far away from local living as you can get because most locals don’t do that. However, budget travelers have to stay in more modest accommodation and eat where the locals eat because that’s the best value and cheapest option. Personally, we prefer renting a modest apartment. This gives you an instant connection to a neighborhood.
IT: Do you travel like a backpacker 100 percent of the time? Any indulgences you want to confess?
JF & SF: We try sticking to our backpacker roots but we do “splurge” a bit more these days. Back when we were in our early 20s we would try surviving on as little food as possible, but now we have a nicer meal once or twice. Sometimes we’ll go really crazy and buy the $11 bottle of wine instead of the $6 bottle!
Having a little more money does open new doors to better experience a culture. For example, we’ve taken a few cooking classes in France, and this is a great hands-on way to experience the culture that we couldn’t afford on a backpacker’s budget. Another possibility: specialized walking tours. They can get a little expensive, but they give you so much information that you’d never know otherwise.
IT: Tell us about some of your favorite places you’ve visited over the last year.
JF & SF: While it isn’t Europe, we actually just got back from traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. It was an amazing trip and we were able to “live it up” since everything is really cheap there. It was probably our most luxurious trip. For example, we got a really nice steak meal for $15 and alcohol was only $3 to $4 in a restaurant. We ended up staying nearly two weeks.
IT: Aside from occasional trips elsewhere, you tend to focus on Europe. Are there any spots in Europe you haven’t visited but want to?
JF & SF: We still haven’t visited Iceland. It’s at the top of our list. Unfortunately, Iceland isn’t cheap. So we’ll keep saving until we have enough. We want to spend a lot more time in Italy and Spain. And Croatia. And Berlin in the summer.
Check out the travel news and features you might have missed this week.
Park Service Considers Visitor Caps, Expects Record Crowds
The U.S. National Park Service is examining ways to better control crowds in the most popular parks, the Associated Press reports. “We realize that currently we’re on an unsustainable course in terms of demands for visitation,” one Yellowstone National Park official said.
America Issues a Travel Alert Covering Europe
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert for anyone planning to visit Europe. The Economist questions the sensibility of issuing an alert for an entire continent.
Strikes in France Causing Major Rail Travel Disruptions
Nearly half of all high-speed and regional trains in France didn’t run June 1 because of a strike that could last well into next week. Rail worker unions are protesting working conditions and changes to labor rules, Travel Pulse reports. The strike is also affecting trains to Spain and Italy.
World’s Longest and Deepest Rail Tunnel, Through Swiss Alps, Opens
On the same day France suffered from train troubles, Switzerland celebrated the opening of the world’s largest and deepest rail tunnel. Seventy years in the making, the Gotthard Base Tunnel stretches 35 miles through the Swiss Alps and is expected to speed up travel times through Europe, the New York Times says.
7 Travel Apps for Making Your Summer Vacation Plans
A handful of smartphone apps will make summer travel a lot easier, Mashable suggests. They include an app that maps out a route based on your interests, an electronic travel journal and an app that keeps you updated on airport security wait times.
Rule No. 1 of traveling with a baby: Don’t lose the baby. So says a New Zealander dad in his amusing video “10 Ways to Travel with a Baby.” The video was filmed in Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand, with the Museum of Art and History, geothermal pools, redwood forests and Mt. Ngongotaha as backdrops.
Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of volunteering with elephants in Sri Lanka, cruising around the Mediterranean and tasting wine in South Africa.
“As we arrived at the secluded farm and looked up into the clear sky, glimmering with thousand of stars, the performance above us was extraordinary. Green lights seem to sway above us in a movement I can only compare to the inside of a lava lamp, slowly wavering across the night sky.” Read the rest!
While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:
Anything for the Elephants! by TS Buchanan: ” Let me introduce Ranmenika. She’s a 40-year-old beauty (elephants can live as long as 80 years) who fell into a well when she was just six. … Ranmenika is currently one of seven elephants under the care of MEF.”
A Third Roman Christmas by Host Ciao: “I walked to visit the Pantheon and then on to Piazza Navona where I planned to wander the huge Christmas fair held there. What a sad sight I found! Instead of booths offering all kinds of food, Christmas decorations, Nativity set pieces, and games, I found exactly six booths of games and a merry-go-round. No one was trying to win a huge stuffed animal at the games or enjoying the ride. A few people were wandering around the famous fountain and only a few were at the restaurants that border much of the square.”
How to Spend Three Perfect Days in Cape Town by Rachael Taft: “Excuse me while I gush, but South African wine is to die for! I wish America would figure this out and stock more of it in regular stores! If you’re looking for a classic South African wine to try, the Pinotage (a red) is a great place to start.”
Two Weeks on the Mediterranean: The Vision of the Seas by Justin Boot: “Montenegro took me by surprise in the best way. The Bay of Kotor is one of the most naturally beautiful and serene places I’ve ever seen. Coming from someone that lives in California and has been to Hawaii multiple times, that’s really saying something. The cruise ship had to navigate a narrow inlet for over an hour, passing by numerous small villages and hills that gracefully sloped up into mountain ranges. The water was clean, calm, and looked almost like a perfect mirror. It’s as if we’d somehow traveled back in time, to a medieval European era.”
With the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centennial this year, national parks are in the spotlight — not just here in the States but around the world. We love national parks because they protect a country’s natural scenery and unique wildlife for all of us to enjoy, whether you’re driving through in a car, hiking a trail or camping in the backcountry. Check out these six national parks we want to visit around the world.
Grand Teton National Park, U.S.A., offers magnificent mountain vistas.
On safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, you’ll spy lions, elephants, zebras and much more.
Located in Queensland, Australia, Lamington National Park encompasses miles of lush rain forest.
Torres del Paine National Park protects some of Patagonian Chile’s most stunning landscapes.
Komodo National Park in Indonesia is home to the endangered Komodo dragon, along with a variety of marine wildlife.
Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s biggest national park, but it’s so difficult to reach that very few people actually visit it.
Check out the travel stories you may have missed this week.
National Parks: Ken Burns on Why They Were America’s Best Idea
With the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Parks coming up in August, USA Today sits down with filmmaker Ken Burns and his partner Dayton Duncan to discuss the importance of the parks — which Duncan calls “the Declaration of Independence expressed on the landscape.” They also reveal their favorite parks.
Visiting Museums Like the Louvre Is Terrible, and There’s No Fair Solution
A Washington Post columnist bemoans the crowds that mob the world’s great art museums, making it difficult to experience works such as the “Mona Lisa” and Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” without having to see past waving cell phones and cameras. (Our best solution: Travel during the off season and come early or late in the day.)
The Multi-City Flight Trick May Soon Be Ending
Conde Nast Traveler reports that American, Delta and United have closed a fare loophole that once saved crafty fliers some money. Before you could connect multiple nonstop tickets to create your own cheap connecting itinerary, but now you won’t be able to do that unless you purchase each ticket separately.
Update From Ecuador: What Travelers Should Know About Visiting Right Now
Following a strong earthquake in Ecuador last Saturday, Travel + Leisure reached out to the country’s Minister of Tourism to learn how its main tourist areas were faring. The Amazon and the Galapagos Islands were unscathed, while the port city of Guayaquil and other areas along the coast faced varying levels of damage.
10,000 People on the Waiting List to Try London’s New Naked Restaurant
Hmm, how appetizing does this sound? Lonely Planet profiles a London restaurant called Bunyadi, where you can dine naked in a “secret Pangea-like world” while perched on wooden stools. (Gowns are provided to put between your bare skin and any possible splinters. Whew!) The restaurant will only be open for three months this summer.
31 Secrets About Travel Insurance Only Insiders Know
Even we learned a few things from this GOBankingRates.com slideshow on travel insurance — like the fact that many plans come with concierge services, and that they also offer at least 10 days to cancel for free.
Where Marrying a Local Is Forbidden
BBC Travel profiles the remote Palmerston Atoll, a South Pacific island home to just 62 residents (all of whom are related). Foreign visitors are immediately adopted into a local family and can join the island’s daily volleyball game.
Speaking of the South Pacific, this video captures mesmerizing footage from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and more.
The European Commission is threatening to suspend the program that allows tourists from the United States and two other countries to travel to Europe without visas.
The so-called Schengen program allows Americans, Canadians, the citizens of 26 European countries and a smattering of other nations to travel between countries in Europe without obtaining a visa in advance. But the executive body of the European Union is considering ending the program for citizens of the United States, Canada and Brunei.
One of the principles of the Schengen program is visa waiver reciprocity — in other words, if a country permits your citizens to enter without a visa, then you should do the same for its citizens. But the United States, Canada and Brunei are still requiring the citizens of a handful of European Union countries to have visas. The three nations were given 24 months to comply with the reciprocity request, but the deadline passed last week.
“Full visa reciprocity will stay high on the agenda of our bilateral relations with these countries, and we will continue pursuing a balanced and fair outcome,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Union’s Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Commissioner, said in a statement.
The European Commission has had the Schengen program on its mind for a few months now. It released a report in March with recommendations for improvement in light of security concerns. And Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden temporarily reintroduced border controls earlier this year to deal with the refugee crisis and terrorism threats.
Still, eliminating the program for Americans and Canadians could result in the loss of millions of jobs, says Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tourism Association. Leisure travel plummets 30 percent when a visa regime is imposed, he told Forbes.
“The business of accommodating U.S. and Canadian visitors is an enormously important industry for Europe. We effectively sell them services worth approximately 50 billion euros,” Jenkins said, equating it in economic terms to the automobile industry.
According to a 2015 report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, 39 percent of the world’s population can travel for tourism without obtaining a visa in advance.
The European Commission is expected to announce its decision on July 12.
Catch up on some of the best travel reading of the week.
A Long Love Affair with the Scottish Isles, in Pictures
This post from National Geographic’s Proof photography blog captures the misty landscapes and unique culture of the Scottish Isles, including St. Kilda, Lewis and the Orkneys. (Our favorite? The shot of inquisitive Atlantic puffins.)
Thank You for Flying Trash Airlines
Need a laugh? Read this quick New Yorker piece, which is a series of text-message updates about a flight aboard an imaginary budget airline. Example: “Be advised that there are no seat assignments on $uper Air flights. To keep tickets cheap, we replaced all of the chairs with subway poles. Stand anywhere you like!”
Advice for Women on the Road
Mary Beth Bond, founder of Gutsy Traveler.com (a site for adventurous women travelers), shares her wisdom from decades of travel in this New York Times interview. “Don’t let fear keep you at home, but it is more important now than ever to do your homework,” Bond says. “There is never a perfect time. So don’t wait, go now.”
Around the World by Budget Airline
What’s it like to fly all the way around the world on nothing but low-cost carriers? This Telegraph writer found out, testing out 10 different airlines including JetBlue, EasyJet, Ryanair and AirAsia. He discovered that despite the low prices, not all LCCs are created equal.
5 Travel Tips for People with Anxiety
For those who struggle with anxiety in day-to-day life, the uncertainties of travel can be particularly stressful. Bustle offers five tips that can help, including writing yourself a letter to read when things get difficult and keeping some money aside for emergencies.
Fed Up with Uncomfortable Air Travel? Blame Yourself
This essay in the Boston Globe argues that we shouldn’t expect the government to protect us from shrinking airline seats and sneaky ancillary fees because travelers have more control over conditions in the skies than we think. Instead of always booking the lowest possible fare, we should vote with our wallets and travel with the airlines that offer the best in-flight experience.
Travel to Iran: Is It the Next Cuba?
Travel Pulse investigates the rising popularity of Iran as a travel destination, with tour operators expanding their offerings and more Western hotels opening across the country — despite continued warnings by the U.S. State Department that the country isn’t safe.
We love this short video shot in Venice, which beautifully captures the city’s quiet corners.
There’s a marine biologist in Sicily named Emilio who is as fond of studying sea creatures as he is of cooking them. His house is in a seaside village called Torretta Granitola, and when he’s not crunching numbers in the lab, he’s in the kitchen, whipping up dishes with the fish he catches and with ingredients from local farms.
Wild asparagus omelets. Fava beans and artichokes cooked in a clay pot. Fresh sheep cheese and croutons made of locally made rye bread.
Dinner at Emilio’s sounds like a dream.
Now, thanks to a new website called My Italian Friends, you can pull up a chair at Emilio’s patio dining table and spend three hours savoring one of his home-cooked meals. Or you can book a spot in a home restaurant in a different Italian city — Rome, Milan and Perugia among them.
My Italian Friends is the perfect solution for travelers who get weary of dining in restaurants for every meal. The website allows you to reserve a meal in a local Italian home, viewing the menu, location and background of the home cook before you book. The website also lists cooking classes, if you prefer to learn to hand-roll your own pasta rather than have it served to you, and foodie tours, such as an escorted visit to Florence’s main market.
The site only recently launched, yet already has dozen of listings. They are widely distributed throughout Italy, and the hosts seem welcoming and intent on providing good food and good conversation. They list sample menus, but you can make requests (and note allergies or dietary restrictions) when you book.
Some hosts provide additional services, such as rides to and from public transport and walking tours of the area.
The website offers a range of experiences and range of prices. We spotted a pasta dinner in Rome for 18 euros (about $20.50 USD), and a truffle-hunting expedition in the medieval town of Gubbio with an expert guide named Danilo and his trusty dog for 172 euros ($196 — includes lunch and a guided tour). The four-course meal at Emilio’s house, including wine, is 29 euros per person ($33). Some home cooks provide discounts on select dates.
Catch up on the travel news, photos and videos you might have missed this week.
14-Year-Old Girl to Be Youngest Person Taking on Massive Polar Expedition
We’ve got a new travel hero. Mashable profiles 14-year-old Jade Hameister, an Australian teenager who is hoping to complete a “Polar Hat Trick” involving expeditions to the North Pole, Greenland and the South Pole over the next couple of years. She’ll be accompanied by a master polar guide and by her father, who has climbed Mt. Everest. Check out Jade’s Instagram to keep tabs on her progress.
What Will Replace the Hated Hotel ‘Resort’ Fee? Maybe This
Consumer rights advocate Christopher Elliott has unearthed an obnoxious new fee to watch out for at hotels: a “hospitality surcharge.” A traveler who found this fee on his bill at a Hilton Garden Inn in New Mexico asked what it was, and got the following ridiculous answer: “The manager said it is for the TV monitor in the lobby displaying flight departure data and the lights in the hotel.” Seriously? What’s next, a charge for the front desk or the bathroom in your room?
This Is What Air Travel Will Actually Look Like in 100 Years
Travel + Leisure sat down with two Senior Technical Fellows at Boeing to find out what’s in store over the next several decades in the air travel industry. Their predictions blew our mind — including see-through planes, airport hotels in space and the ability to book flights via a chip implanted in your brain. Here’s hoping we live long enough to see some of these.
23 Incredible Pictures of Kenya
Rough Guides shows us the many sides of Kenya, from the cosmopolitan center of Nairobi to a camel derby in the hillside down of Maralal. Particularly striking are portraits of members of the Turkana, Samburu and Pokot tribes.
Why Are Americans So Afraid of Vacation?
The Boston Globe investigates a disturbing trend among Americans: not using all our vacation days. A couple of studies reveal that on average we give up four to five days a year. Even when we do take a trip, 61 percent of us still work at least a little bit during our vacation. But here’s why we shouldn’t: “Skipping vacation stifles creativity, creates health problems [and] leads to stress, depression, and less-than-ideal home lives,” says the Globe.
Airbnb to Purge Illegal Hotels from San Francisco Listings
For years Airbnb has faced legal challenges from cities concerned that the site’s hosts were violating their local short-term housing laws. Now the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the site is taking action against hosts who manage multiple listings in the City by the Bay. (San Francisco only allows residents to rent out space in their own home.)
Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle in Denmark Is on Airbnb for One Night Only to Mark Shakespeare Anniversary
Speaking of Airbnb, here’s a cool (and legal) listing: Hamlet’s castle. Lonely Planet reports that Kronborg Castle in Denmark will be open to two guests only on the night of April 23, the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Interested travelers must hit “contact host” on the Airbnb listing by April 13 and explain why they want to sleep in the castle. Included in your stay: a special banquet and breakfast in bed served by Hamlet’s friend Horatio.
Don’t miss this jaw-dropping timelapse video of the northern lights in Norway.