Back in the day, the “Grand Tour” was the thing to do for 20-something-year-old rich kids. Young aristocrats would tour Europe searching for cultural enlightenment and a bit of adventure.

Today, many of us still turn to Europe for the same reasons, but what do those of us without the financial backing of a duke do to experience Europe? We backpack.

Backpacking is widely accepted as one of the cheapest ways for the young and the young at heart to see Europe while being adventurous, getting dirty, and living a little. But let’s face it, backpacking costs can still add up to a dangerous sum.

One way to cut down costs is to backpack off-season (fall is a great time), and another is to save on gear and supplies that, when added up, can make a big difference in your trip costs.

Kelty Redwing 44 $99

The backpack
A backpack needs only a couple of essential things:

  • an internal frame
  • padded straps
  • back front panel zippers (these prevent you from having to unload the entire pack to find something at the bottom)

You can find these essential features in plenty of moderately priced packs ($100–$200). Just make sure you try them on! If your pack is too big, your back will not be thanking you as you trek across Switzerland in search of a hostel.

Packing aides

Gallon Ziploc bags $4

Many backpacking books suggest that you buy packing cubes and envelopes to help you use your space efficiently. A simpler,  cheaper, and more wet-weather-friendly solution: the Ziploc bag. Use gallon-size bags for rolled up clothes and quart-size bags for toiletries and other small items.

“Travel clothes” are specially made to be lightweight, fast-drying, and stain-resistant. But when you’re on a budget, the best thing you can do is use what you already have. Look through your closet for dark or neutral clothes that go with everything and that hide wrinkles and stains. The only thing you’ll really need to buy is a microfiber towel ($15–$25) because mildewy towels in the bottom of your pack are not pleasant.

Little essentials

Travel towel $20

Travelon laundry sheets $4

Be inventive when it comes to those little things every traveler needs. Retractable laundry line? How about a bungee cord. Travel umbrella? A poncho works great and costs about 50 cents. Sleep sheet? Make your own by folding a queen size sheet in half and sewing the bottom and halfway up the side.  Other essentials include—

  • earplugs for the night you bunk with a snoring hostel-mate
  • a flashlight for late check-ins and late-night reading
  • a sink stopper and soap so you can do your laundry in the sink
  • flip-flops for the questionably clean shower

For more information on packing, planning, and budgeting your trip, check out these websites:


—Kimberly Smith


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