Trip Coach: April 3, 2007
Mark Pearson, editor of the anthology Spain From a Backpack, answered your questions about backpacking in Europe.
Charleston, SC: I plan to travel around Western Europe by Eurailpass in March, April, and May of 2008. I am a 61-year-old man and will be venturing solo. Can you suggest categories of accommodations that are moderate to inexpensive, clean, and offer some modicum of privacy and quiet? Thanks.
Mark Pearson: First off, March thru May is a great time of year to travel in Western Europe. You won't have to deal with the heat, crowds, etc. What is moderate to inexpensive and clean certainly varies from country to country. If you want privacy and quiet, well, that rules out hostels, which average about $25US per night. Expect to pay around $80US per night for a moderate hotel in a decent location. Like everything, you pretty much get what you pay for. There's a reason why some of the new budget hotel chains are only $40US per night. Do you really want to be 30 minutes outside of town at a truck stop? Your best bet is to spend time consulting several guidebooks. If you're ready for an adventure, you might try Couchsurfing.com or hospitalityclub.org, two sites where you can find people that will let you sleep at their pad. I guarantee a good story or two to tell.
New York, New York: How can my boyfriend and I travel to Turkey for $1000 per person (including airfare). We want to travel the last two weeks of May and we are both 25.
We would love to do as much hiking as possible as well as see Istanbul.
Thank you, Katrina
Mark Pearson: Hi Katrina and Katrina's boyfriend,
Two weeks in Turkey for $1K including airfare?? The flight alone will cost you nearly $900, which leaves you with about $7 per day! If you're crazy, you can do it. A friend of mine and contributor to our book series, Ben Bachelder, traveled for 14 months around the world on a $5 per day budget. How do you do it? It involves hitchhiking and staying with the locals.
Phoenix, AZ: Have you any insight in hiking the Pilgrim's Trail in Northern Spain?
Mark Pearson: One of my dreams is to hike the Camino de Santiago (or Way of St. James). What I know about it comes from reading two moving stories in our anthology, Spain From a Backpack. I don't mean for this to be a shameless plug but it's best if I let the opening of Mara Ginnane's story, "To Be A Pilgrim," speak for itself...
The wind whips around me, shoving me off course and flapping my jacket wildly against my arms. My heavy backpack, tightened around my hips and shoulders, pulls me toward the ground. On both sides of the road, groves of poplar trees bend and shake with every gust, hurling leaves and small branches in all directions. Above, dark clouds boil and swell, full to bursting with the threat of rain.
This is my worst day yet. Three-hundred kilometers into an 800-kilometer trek across Spain, I am wishing I had never heard of the Camino de Santiago. My tired legs strain to propel my body forward on blistered feet, and my eyes squeeze nearly shut, tearing up against stinging sand blown by the roaring wind. I had been hiking with three companions, but they have fallen behind now. I can't even hear the crunching of their boots on the gravel road.
Milford, CT: What is your favorite country for naturally scenic backpacking in Europe? Please include time of year, city names, and trail names.
Mark Pearson: A backpack is simply the best way to carry your worldly possessions while traveling on a shoestring budget. Backpackers experience marvels that elude people who carry suitcases.
While I'm not a hiking expert at all, I do enjoy it. One of my favorite hiking destinations is in the mountains near Interlaken, Switzerland. The village of Gimmewald serves as an excellent base. The other scenic spot is Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.
Westfield, NJ: Mark:
My wife and I are both (not so young) teachers looking to be able to afford Europe (preferably Italy or Spain and Portugal) for July and August. We are interested in seeing cities for 4-5 days and the countryside between cities on the other days.
We would like to backpack (to be able to afford this experience) but not rough it too much. We want a clean hostel, apart-hotel, apartment or agritourismo that has a comfortable bed, hot water, and simple cooking hookup and private bathroom during the trip.
We understand it is the busy season and we know the exchange rate of the Euro however this is something we would like to do as an alternative to our central and south American trips each summer.