What if I travel to… Rome, Italy ($30/day)

Despite being home to one of the existing 7 Wonders of the World, Rome is by far one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had as a backpacker. Around every corner is someone trying to swindle the weary traveler, using cheap tricks such as baby pictures and sob stories or flat out grabbing the passerby and refusing to let go until they pay up. Combine this with the bursting flow of tourists and the Italians in Rome that refuse to answer questions in English, the end result is a city I will never return to. But if you insist on seeing the gorgeous ruins of the Colosseum and the multitude of art, there are a few details to keep in mind:

  • If grabbed by someone on the street make a scene and pull away as viciously as needed, the police will stand idly by just a few meters away no matter what. NEVER open your wallet or stop walking when approached. Additionally, beware of friendly African gentlemen handing out “free” trinkets or tossing items towards you, the second it is in your possession they begin to demand money and will follow you (three men from my hostel had their wallets physically emptied in this manner)

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  • Go to the southern gate of Palatine early for the shortest line for Colosseum tickets (which include Palatine and Forum)
  • Everywhere in the city can be reached in a short walk, just avoid the major tourist crowds and empty streets for anti-theft
  • Head across the River Tiber for cheaper beer, friendlier locals, and better food. San Calisto was my personal favorite in Trastevere, full of locals of all ages and a great beer selection
  • The Vatican is the smallest country on earth and only takes a few hours to stroll through, it’s roughly a 30 minute walk from the Colosseum
  • If you know Spanish or another Latin language, use it over English when speaking to locals, they tend to be more receptive in my experience
  • Stay at Yellow Hostel and use the code Yellowforever to get additional discounts. If you are a performer or artist, you can trade skills for accommodation by contacting the hostel directly. The hostel comes with free pasta every night from 1800-1900. Hostel is a 5 minute walk from the central station
  • Book a round trip bus from the airport to save money and get there early, having a ticket does not guarantee a spot as much as being in the front of the line
  • Pizza is sold by weight in many local shops, tell them you only want to spend so many euro and that is how much they will serve you
  • Tap water is safe here, carry a water bottle and fountains are everywhere
  • Tired of the city? Tivoli is only 3.5 euros away, with villas, castle, cheap eats, and great streets in the countryside
  • Very few places take Visa so be sure to carry euro, but carry small amounts and in multiple locations

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What if I travel to… Amsterdam, Netherlands? ($35/day)

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Near Centraal Station

Amsterdam seems to appear on everyone’s must visit list of Western Europe, and though I find the hype a bit much, a long weekend here is worth the stop. Central Amsterdam is walkable, historic, and gorgeous. Try to be a traveler instead of a tourist and skip the mainstream coffee shops and Red Light District.

  • Free walking tours happen nearly every day of the year in a plethora of languages, but a free map and self guided tour can often be more rewarding
  • If just arriving without a plan, hop the train to Amsterdam Centraal for access to the main tourist area, old districts, and majority of hostels
  • Watch out for cyclist, they are the gods of the streets and will let you know it
  • Hop on the back of the number 5 trolley at night for a free ride around town
  • In front of the palace you will find lots of street performers and tourist traps, beware!
  • Leidseplein Pub Crawl is the best way to meet backpackers, starting with vodka poured heavily by the bottle and ending at someplace I never made it to. No wonder the slogan is “A night you won’t remember but never forget!” (roughly 17 euro)
  • During late autumn/early winter is wonderfully less crowded but the weather changes every half hour wind/rain/hail/sun/rain/etc.
  • The White Tulip is a decent hostel with a good location but poor common area, I did meet multiple backpackers who swore by CLINK as wonderfully social, despite being a brief ferry trip away from the central area. (I can personally vouch for CLINK’s sister hostels in London as great accommodations)
  • Skip the ATM fees in the Netherlands and instead get cashback at the market, the easiest one is located inside central station
  • Here is a list of Dutch food to try, I enjoyed the pub snacks myself
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One of many padlocked bridges on the edge of the Red Light District, just 5 minutes from the End Karaoke
  • Check out The End Karaoke for a lively bar atmosphere, decent prices, and fun staff
  • BEWARE of illegal mushroom sales, although truffles are still legal, the traditional mushrooms went off the shelves after a tourist death in 2008. Coffee shops will still offer the wares to tourist but they are not to be underestimated

What if I travel to… Dublin, Ireland? ($25/day)

Easily one of the smallest capital cities I have seen around the globe, Dublin retains the small town vibe on a large scale. There are no skyscrapers or traditional business districts, instead the Guinness tower is the only building breaking the skyline while a few old church spires peak above the neighborhoods. One can easily walk one end to the other in an hour, and even if you start at the Whiskey Museum and hit pubs all the way to the Jameson Distillery for a drink, the layout is very easy to navigate on a stumble (personally tested in the name of helping my fellow traveler).

  • Isaac’s Hostel is the place to stay, budget friendly (book in advance, prices vary by season), it has a sauna, washroom, hot water, breakfast, great community spaces, and killer staff. Check out the display by the front door to receive discounts to a variety of attractions. Easy 5 minute walk to the shopping street, 15 to the Whiskey Museum, and under 20 to most the pubs
  • From the airport take the Airlink if you are in a hurry (book roundtrip for about 13 euro, comes with WiFi and a short trip with one stop in the city centre and the other at Heuston Station). If money is better than time, walk just outside for the local bus, it will add 25 minutes to your ride but is only 2.30 Euro each way and all the stops are a great way to start building a mental map of the city
  • Any drinking enthusiast needs to visit the Whiskey Museum, the whiskey flights are the heaviest pours I received in all of Europe and discount tickets are given out at all tourist spots and hostels.

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Jameson, Jameson…or Jameson? All three to be safe!
  • Jameson Distillery has an entire bar of just Jameson drinks and is a 5 minute walk from the main pedestrian area, again discount cards everywhere
  • Guinness is for those of you who have never had a real stout and think you know beer, go up to the tower for a free pint. (Drink O’Haras for the best stout in western Europe instead)

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  • Dublin Castle and the surrounding old structures are well worth the peruse, and most city maps include them as points of interest
  •  Trinity College has stood for centuries as an active center of knowledge in the middle of Dublin, entrance  is permitted until 1600
  • Walk to the Dublin Heuston station to catch a cheap train to all parts of island, only 20 minutes along the river from the center of town, book in advance for more affordable tickets
  • Irish food is great, but save money and go to the market. Most hostels have kitchens and the market is cheap
  • Pub crawls are a must here, with Backpacker Crawl my favorite for meeting people and the guide is a great bloke. You will hear live music, go to clubs, sample some great beers, and if your lucky make some great friends. (I still stay in touch with the people I met on my crawl). You can go back free for life if you keep the bracelet!
  • Since 1198, the Brazen Head has been serving beer and whiskey, and they don’t intend to stop soon. It is a bit pricey and full of tourist, but at the end of the day its one of the oldest bars in the world and worth the bragging rights.

What if I travel to… Kilkenny, Ireland ($35/day)

 

kkKilkenny is a wonderful city tucked among the ruins of an ancient castle. The community is quite small, with just two main walking streets and a few roads, but the craft beer is excellent and the scenery is hard to beat.

Hop the train from Dublin for a quick and cheap (11 euro) scenic route through the wonderful Irish countryside. And the station stop is a 5 minute walk from center of town.

  • Stay at Kilkenny Tourist Hostel for city center access, kitchen space, and great accommodation. It runs about 23 USD a night for the dorm room or you can trade 4 hours work for each nights stay if arranged in advance (by email is just fine)
  • Check out the local breweries for tours and tastings, but if you are looking for the pub with the best beer hit up Brewery Corner (street number 29)

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  • The castle is free to visit and a brief walk around the city yields towers, old citadels, ancient walls, and a great feel for the past

What if I travel… to London, UK ($40/day)

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Notice that Big Ben is covered in scaffolding in the upper right

I have been to London a handful of times now, and though it is far from one of my favorite cities, it is worth a couple of days if you can figure out how to not break the bank.

  • Transit in London varies prices based on the time of day, if going to or from the airport, always book online in advance. Use the National Express buses to save the most money, but they take roughly 2 hours from the airport to Victoria station (roughly 10 pound compared to the 16 or so for the half hour tube)
  • Stay at Clink78 by Kings Cross Station for a great central location with cheap drinks in the underground bar and a easy social atmosphere (roughly 13 pound a night)
  • Wetherspoons is the go to bar for cheap food, good beer, and the best prices in London. They have multiple locations across the city and one in Gatwick airport
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Wetherspoons English Breakfast
  • Walk everywhere. From Kings Cross it is under a two hour walk to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, the British Museum, and a dozen other local attractions. The city is easy to navigate after you get a rough lay of the land
  • To get outside the main tourist area check out Notting Hill, just beyond Hyde Park for the chance to see the more upscale end of London living or Shorteditch for a more hipster art vibe
  • Beer is not great in London, and Gin is the only go to in the pub if you insist on trying something local
  • November is a great time to go, wonderful Christmas markets, less tourist (cheaper everything), and the weather is pretty fair with a chance of snow
  • Museums are free, so if London is breaking the bank or the weather is foul, just head inside for hours of history
  • Nearly every place in London accepts card, there is no reason to get coin unless you plan to ride the bus or buy something off the street
  • Buy from the market and cook! You will get pounds more food for your pound and the chance to try a larger variety of locally sourced products
  • If leaving London for other European countries, I recommend flying out of Stansted for the cheapest flights (I was able to fly to Stockholm for 11 USD in December and 13 USD to Rome in November)

What if I travel to… Sofia, Bulgaria ($12/Day)

 

I loved Sofia and I plan to return to the Balkans as soon as possible to spend more time crossing these beautiful countries. The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia is full of art and parks, with great eats, beer, and of course, snow dots the soviet era buildings in the winter time. A budget backpacker could easily survive here for a month on a 300 USD budget.

  • Stay at Hostel Mostel, rooms start at 7 USD and if you stay in any room beyond the basic you get all you can eat breakfast and a dinner dish with a beer. Accommodation includes a free nightly pub crawl, nice communal area, kitchen, towel, linens, and wifi. 5 minute walk to all major nightlife and 25 minute walk to the central train/bus station
  • The city if full of mosques, churches, art, parks, ancient ruins, and statues. It be walked from one end to the other in an hour in a straight line, but I recommend a varied approach in order to see the most possible
  • Travel in the winter to enjoy the snow and see the surrounding terrain at its most beautiful
  • Eat at the bakeries and drink anywhere
  • ATMs have no fees, but your bank may still charge you. Many places do not accept Visa or card at all
  • Hope a bus to Nis, Serbia for under 13 USD

What if I travel…to Niš, Serbia ($12/day)

Nis (Neesh) is a wonderful city in Serbia. Everything is within walking distance and the food is wonderful.

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  • Visit the Fortress in the city centre to see Turkish, Ottoman, Byzantine, Roman, and Serbian historical structures
  • Skull tower is a several hundred year stone tower with actual skulls set into the walls
  • Crveni Krst Concentration Camp is well preserved and takes about a half hour to fully explore. It is the site of the largest escape by prisoners in WWII
  • There is also a one room museum near the walking street in town. A ticket for the Camp, tower, and museum together will only set you back 200 dinara (less than 2 USD) but separately will cost a total of 450 da
  • Eat the street food, it is delicious and cheap (less than a dollar in most cases)
  • In the winter there is no one here, making the visit feel more authentic and leaving much time to get to know the locals
  • The airport is only a 45 min walk from the city center (5km), 200 dinara bus, or a 4 USD taxi ride
  • Stay at Day N Night hostel for a truly wonderful experience, clean rooms, and great staff
  • Beer is cheap at the mini marts (less than 50 cents) but you will be charged for the bottles and expected to return them
  • Sofia, Bulgaria is a quick 3 hour bus ride away (1250 dinara roughly)
  • The majority of Nis accepts Visa, (unless on the street), and ATMs charge no fee