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Backpacking through Europe is a classic bucket-list staple for people of all ages and walks of life, from the fresh-faced college grad to the spry retiree. The very notion carries a romanticism and sense of adventure that’s hard to replicate anywhere else.

The realities of traversing a continent on foot, however, carry their own set of unavoidable challenges. Below, find tips on how to shift the reality that much closer to the dream.

Research early and often. There’s no such thing as too much preparation, particularly on excursions of this nature. Seek out as many resources as possible—here is a handy guide to several excellent essays on planning and outlining a European backpacking trip—and make use of whatever information is most relevant to your specific experience.

Choose the right season. Some enthusiasts hype May and October as the best overall months for backpacking, as the crowds are nowhere near the peak they’ll reach at midsummer, and the weather is much more manageable to boot. In truth, the best time depends largely upon your location. In the spring, the British Isles and Scandinavia are prime, in part because of the 10 pm sunsets. Summer is ideal for exploring the Baltic cities and the Balkan coast, while the Mediterranean coastline beckons during the cooler autumn months.

Book hostels and homestays in advance. Packing a tent and roughing it is awesome, but it will only get you so far. Plan on a few nights spent indoors, with company and hot meals, along the way—it will help to recharge the batteries for the next long stretch of camping out.

Know the ins and outs of the InterRail. Many backpackers rely on the excellent European rail systems to help them get to their next destination, but this tactic isn’t foolproof. The InterRail pass, for example, won’t work on every train—sometimes an additional fee is required. Read the fine print before booking a so-called “all-inclusive pass,” and set aside a budget for unexpected fees.

Eat like the locals. Everyone’s familiar with the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” When traveling in Europe (or anywhere), heed this advice, and dig into the local cuisine. It will create new memories and lasting favorites every step of the way.

When backpacking through Europe, take lots of pictures, but be in the moment. I guarantee it will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.