Backpacking around Europe – a great way to spend your gap year
For your gap year, the idea of jetting off to exotic faraway places can be tempting but before deciding on a destination stop to consider the advantages of enjoying that freedom much nearer home.
Backpacking in Europe
If you are a UK citizen, choosing to spend a gap year backpacking in Europe has several advantages when compared with other parts of the world. All you will need is your passport and your free European Health Insurance Card. No visa application hassle, no injections against dangerous illnesses, a common currency, free health care if you become sick or are injured, few creepy crawlies or venomous reptiles, great food and some of the best wine and beer you will find anywhere on the planet. As a bonus, if languages aren’t your strong point, most of the people you will meet will have some English.
France has free healthcare for EU citizens
No problem! Oh, the joy of not having to endure many hours in an aircraft! Just make your way to one of the south coast ports, board a ferry (quite inexpensive) and off you go. Alternatively, board the Eurostar at London St Pancras International or if more convenient catch the train at Ashford International in Kent. You can choose to go directly to Paris (a good starting point) or choose from any other continental destination that takes your fancy. Why not head for the sun and travel straight down to the South of France?
St Pancras is just one of many methods of getting to mainland Europe
One of the main advantages of Europe as a travel destination is the great diversity of literally everything. The topography is so varied; from the flatlands of the Netherlands to the great mountain ranges of the Alps and Pyrenees, the stunning beauty of the Italian Lakes, hillsides covered in vines in France and the ancient olive groves of Tuscany. Sitting among olive trees in the warmth of the sun enjoying some locally made pizza, cheese, bread and wine, with wildflowers and bees busy all around, is an experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime.
Europe’s attractions don’t end there of course. This continent is the ancient birthplace of so much that was to spread throughout the rest of the world. The stunning architecture of religious buildings reflecting hundreds of years of worship in several different faiths; great works of art in churches, museums and galleries, local traditions of colourful festivals and a huge variety of music and dance. Taken together with the fascinating people that you will meet, where else in the world would you experience such diversity when travelling over a single year?
The rolling hills of Tuscany have to be seen to be believed
Earning, sleeping and eating
A major plus point for a UK citizen when backpacking in Europe is the convenience of being able to take work in any other member country of the EU. No paperwork, other than perhaps your passport, will be asked for. Work on the land is often available and helping with the grape or olive harvest is a great experience.
When travelling cheap accommodation can be found at hostels in most European countries and free basic accommodation is often available with seasonal work, so saving and earning some money at the same time.
Working at a hostel is great if you also need somewhere to stay
Anything to worry about?
Compared with many other parts of the world Europe is safe for backpackers. The usual advice applies about not flashing your cash or expensive mobile phone around and staying away from the less salubrious areas in the cities. Just common sense really, and if things don’t go quite to plan or a problem arises then a return to the UK is quick, easy and inexpensive.
Approach hitchhiking with caution as it can be unsafe
So, there you have it. Europe should be a serious consideration as a destination for your gap year. Check out this year’s edition of The Gap Year Travel Guide – it’s a great place to conduct some research and to help firm up some destinations, travel and accommodation options.