9 Cheap & Lovely European cities for British backpackers
Young, optimistic and willing to see the world (or at least Europe for a start) I knew travelling must be more affordable and accessible than many people think. I read stories of people quitting their boring jobs and heading to Asia to live a year or two because Asian countries are cheap for British. But I didn’t want to go that far and wanted to explore Europe on a budget. So in 2015, after doing my research I chose a destination, planned my budget backpacking trip, and left to have some fun. Now I am happy and proud to share my first solo trip adventures with others dreaming or planning to travel.
Top 5 Mistakes People Make When Traveling
Before I left
I don’t follow any particular travel guides or blogs and usually simply type something like ‘best places to see in…’, ‘dishes to try in…’ or ‘accommodation in…’ in the search field and then read 4-5 sources gathering their common suggestions. My first choice was Montenegro and I read that the best city to visit was Budva as it is near the sea and it’s easy to access many other places from it. Then I chose Croatia because it is really close to Budva and also because ‘The Game of Thrones’ filming locations are there. I included a bit of Italy as I always loved it for unknown reasons without ever visiting it.
It is very conservative in our digital world, but I wrote everything I thought was useful for me in my notebook. This included places to see in each city, several hostels addresses and contact details and names of popular local places to eat.
Packing & Safety
Then I planned what I would take with me. I usually think it over in a week before departure, then start packing in 3 days leaving it all where I can always see it, thinking again, adding, leaving, optimising the space, packing smart and finally having one or two days to just look at my bags and understand that I have everything I might need in them. Fortunately, I am not the person willing to pack the whole apartment and take it abroad. Believe it or not, I was going to have a month-long trip with my and one small hand luggage bag. 35 liter backpack
As it was my first serious trip, I decided to purchase backpacker travel insurance just in case of any mishaps. I knew I would act rationally and be always careful but, you know, I had a bit more peace of mind with this thing in my bag.
Packing for a trip
When do you usually start packing for your trip?
A flight from London Stansted to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro cost me £90 (booked 6 weeks in advance). I read that it’s best to take a taxi from the airport to the bus station and then get to Budva for only 5 euros (65 km). Fascinating views around promised that I would love this country and it was true. The very first hostel from my list called Villa Kuljic had a nice room for £18 per night and I decided to stay there. The fun fact was that I checked in after sunset, looked out of my window and saw the streets below but when I woke up the next morning I had to think for several minutes about where I was because there were mountains outside. They simply couldn’t be seen at night.
Eating out was cheap e.g. large kebab, salad and tea in a small beach restaurant cost me 16 euros. Later I found a place called Mesara where I could choose the loaf I wanted, the exact piece of meat which was then grilled in front of me, and then I could add there vegetables, spices and sauces. This huge meal cost 5 euros!
I spent my first week in Budva simply letting the city show itself to me – I did not have any itinerary and walked where I wanted. Many locals speak English so it was easy to live there.
After a calm week of getting to know the place, I decided to have some fun and explore the sites nearby. Fortunately, it was easy to do because there were numerous stands by the beach offering various day long trips e.g. white water rafting (85 euros), a cruise along Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska as they call it, 30 euros), a trip to Dubrovnik (45 euros). I chose rafting and cruise, and then spent a week in Dubrovnik.
White water rafting
White water rafting day started early in the morning with a bus taking me to the mountains. Planned stops here and there along the way let me enjoy the views, taste delicious honey gathered in the mountain forest, and coffee in a small village café. And the fun I had later while rafting down the beautiful river cannot be described with words, it should be experienced.
The price included transportation, guide’s stories all the way there and back (I found out that the country is called that way because the mountains are all covered by forests and look black after sunset), good breakfast (fried eggs with bacon, toasts with orange jam and herbal tea), rafting itself and a hearty meal after it. (It actually felt so good in the mountains that I returned there to spend my last week in Montenegro.)
Dubrovnik looked exactly as I imagined it – old, noble and calm. Obviously, I went to see the old town first (King’s Landing in the GOT) and was mesmerized by its ancient look. Everything’s made of stone; narrow streets, beautiful buildings and the very unique atmosphere make this city truly impressive. Fun story I heard there was about friary and convent built relatively close to each other so women dug a tunnel under the ground to secretly go on dates.
This little guide to Foods of Croatia will brighten your must-do list.
I lived in My Way Hostel that was pretty crowded but cheap (£25 per night), and I met many interesting people from different countries (and tried some strange Polish food my neighbours brought with them).
Here are 10 good things to do in Dubrovnik Old Town - I did almost all of that and can recommend you doing the same.
In a few days I went to visit scenic Lokrum Island that was too good to want to leave it. It had its own dead sea (little salt-filled lake), the Benedictine monastery complex giving the sense of another era, exotic plants and peacocks, and the views so stunning that I didn’t want to blink.
More detailed story of a visit to Lokrum Island.
Bay of Kotor
I returned to Budva and had one more impressive trip full of little adventures. I visited small well-preserved medieval towns called Kotor, Herceg Novi, Tivat, and Perast – all worth visiting and all cheap to enjoy. Bad thing was that I sometimes suffer from seasickness, and that very day I was cruising along the Bay it was a small storm so I had to stay on the beach to calm down and feel alive again while others went to see a Blue Cave.
Then I had some lazy days on the beach and spontaneous evenings in the old town.
Montenegro: Bay of Kotor cruise
Bar - Bari
Italy was on my list next and I went for a night cruise trip from Montenegro city called Bar to the Italian city called Bari. The cabin was nice but could have been cleaner, and it took nine hours to get to Bari. I still don’t know what happened to me in Bari because instead of my usual walks along the streets of a new city I was like a history department student or someone else fond of history and architecture. I went to see the Basilica di San Nicola which is almost one thousand years old and there are the remains of Saint Nicolas in the crypt beneath the church's altar. Bari Cathedral, Teatro Petruzzelli, Piazza Mercantile, and Citta Vecchia – that are the names I remember. The ship was taking everyone back to Bar in the evening but I decided to stay longer and lived two more days in Guesthouse City Center Bari for £30 per night.
Bar was smaller but also nice. Its old part was located on a hill offering great views.
I call the last week ‘my mountain paradise’ as I probably enjoy nothing more than nature. Good sleep, healthy food, and long walks made me happy. I lived in a small town called Mojkovac in the Northern part of the country. A single room with a mountain view cost just £19 per night in Motel Krstac.
Everything is possible
My first solo trip was much better than I expected. I learned that I am in fact responsible, confident and energetic, I arranged everything myself and it all went smoothly. This is also my first bit article about travelling so if you’ve read till this part of it I dare to think my writing is not that awful.
I’d like to end this story with my favourite quote by James Hetfield - 'I'd rather regret doing something than not doing something.' Everything is possible if you want it. Spending a month abroad having fun and visiting 9 cities without going broke is also possible as you can see above. Good luck to all of you and go see the world!
And some more inspiration
Thanks for reading my article. I'd be happy to hear something back from you so please vote below and let me know in the comments your thoughts of travelling solo and finding your travel motivation for it.