I backpacked through Europe for the first time and learned the hard way that resting is more important than exploring

  • I booked overnight trains when I backpacked across Europe for two weeks last year.

  • One sleepless night taught me that prioritizing rest was more important than exploring destinations.

  • Arriving in cities exhausted made it harder to appreciate my surroundings.

I'll never forget how I felt when I exited an overnight train in Vienna at 7 a.m. after a sleepless night — dazed, depleted, and desperate for some rest.

It was about a year ago during a two-week backpacking trip across four European countries that included a red-eye flight and two sleeper train rides. I decided to travel through the night to maximize my days in each destination, but I quickly learned that prioritizing my rest was crucial to enjoying my adventures.

On the train from Berlin to Vienna, I rode in a regular seat in a carriage of six. Though the seats did recline, they didn't lay fully flat, and the small space felt like a tight squeeze for six people with limited legroom. I got zero sleep.

Left: The author in a blue polo takes a selfie with a straight face in front of a navy blue train with a red stripe in the middle. RIght: A straight-on view of a plush, blue train seat partially reclined with a detached head rest connected to the wooden wall behind it.
The author's train to Vienna.Joey Hadden/Insider

I planned to spend my morning seeing the sights around Vienna until I could check in to my Airbnb at 3 p.m. But as I stepped off the train, it was apparent that my body needed rest.

I started going into random hotels to book a room. By the third hotel, I got one. I had to pay for the whole night even though I was only taking a nap, but I thought it was worth the price for a safe, comfortable place to doze.

Without rest, traveling is a drag

This backpacking mistake taught me an important lesson: Sleep makes everything better. And if I don't take time to rest, my body will force me to — even in the least convenient times.

In Vienna, that last-minute hotel booking changed everything. When I first got to the city, I didn't even pay attention to how it looked or felt, because I was too tired.

But after some much-needed rest, I was able to appreciate where I was and take in the unique architecture surrounding me. Walking to my Airbnb after my nap, I remembered why I was there and felt a new wave of excitement about my travels.

Getting sleep also made me feel more in touch with what my body needed. As soon as I woke up in the hotel, I chugged my water bottle while trying to remember the last time I had anything to drink. I realized that I must have been so dehydrated. From that point on, I took every opportunity to make sure my bottle was always full.

I learned that when visiting a new country for just a couple of days, it's easy to pack exploration into every hour without planning for rest. But without it, I find it's not even enjoyable. Keeping myself in good health was essential for enjoying my trip and became a priority for the remainder of my trip — and all my travels since.

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