When I left for Europe in May of ’82, I planned on doing a lot of camping and also staying at inexpensive youth hostels. I planned to stay one year, traveling and working through various regions of Northern, Central, and Southern Europe. The blue internal frame Wilderness Experience backpack ($100 in 1982) was a perfect traveling companion, I opted for the internal to give me more flexibility and durability throughout Europe, and boy did I choose correctly.
Those travel items too large to fit inside my backpack were then strapped to it. This included a two-man tent, mattress pad, and sleeping bag, and sometimes a jug of water. All books, food, clothes, Sterno stove, mess kit, jacket, and miscellaneous items were housed inside my backpack.
For the first month or so, I decided to forgo camping and stay in most youth hostels. They were alright, some noisier than others but what you gain by avoiding the elements meant you had less control of how other guests nearby behaved. If I suspect heavy weather, then I'll stay there, regardless of the noise. If uninterrupted and inexpensive, Id' often take my chances on mother nature.
Early on, I had an annoying experience in a large, open youth hostel in Munich. It was a large gymnasium filled with metal bunk beds. All men and women slept in the same large space. Not all beds were occupied but if someone on the other end of the gymnasium talked in a normal voice, it would be heard by most. With no curfew, there were several incidents where I was woken up at 3 am with guests who still wanted to party. It got old after a while; I decided to search for camping places near the city center. Having said that, I wasn’t giving up on youth hostels, I just had to do a better job vetting those noisier ones.
Camping became second nature to me – there were plenty of camping sites that weren’t too far from the city center. When visiting a smaller city, camping availability was within walking distance of town. I think I camped about 200 different nights on the trip so I became quite adept at putting my tent up in 5 or 6 minutes. It was a green Eureka tent that weighed about 3 pounds that was quite easy to assemble and I appreciate my older brother's recommendation -- it worked well for that year and beyond. The idea of having a reliable tent was invaluable -- it kept me loving camping. In good weather, I'd choose camping, especially in Northern Europe.
There were several times at camping places that different campers were setting up their tent while I worked on mine. In one situation, after I had completely set up for the evening, I cracked open a beer while sitting by the tent entrance, and watching my soup boil while some of these other campers were still struggling with the proper way of assembling their equipment to protect them later. I did not laugh or snicker, I just watched in wonderment, if setting up a tent and other camping accessories are hard to do, the task may become an impediment to continuing this type of leisure.
In West Berlin (as Berlin was still divided in 1982), I camped outside of town. It was about a 25-minute subway ride to a more rural part of West Berlin. I later found out that the camping place was adjacent to the East Germany border fence. There, on a number of evenings, I could hear the guard dogs bark in the distance. It provided a surreal experience of how different life could be in two areas that were so close to each other.
I spent about 2 months in Scandinavia and wanted to spend about a week in Stockholm, Sweden's capital. Lodging was at least $25 per night which I couldn't afford, even for a week. It was a Friday evening and I had reserved the washer and dryer for one hour the next morning. Unbeknownst to me, there was an impending storm beyond the horizon. That night it rained over 5 inches and the next day, there were about 100 people waiting to use the washer and dryer. I had to sheepishly walk to the front of the line after such a storm. Boy was luck on my side that day even if we had all that rain.
One other memorable incident occurred in Norway on a two-lane highway between Oslo and Bergen. It was midsummer in Norway so it didn’t get dark until around Midnight. I lost track of time, maybe because of the position of the sun. I tried to catch a ride but there were hardly any cars in sight and those that did drive by didn’t seem interested in my plight. I eventually looked at my watch and discovered it was 11 pm so I decided to call it a night. Norway has this agreement where you can camp anywhere for free provided you are camping in someone’s yard without permission.
As I walked into the woods, the mosquitoes attacked me, I hurried to find a secluded spot in the forest and to quickly get my butt inside the tent. It was quite warm too for that time of day so mosquito netting on both sides of the tent allowed the inside of the tent to breathe. I was not prepared for so many mosquitoes and was my first significant experience of these pesky critters while in Europe. Not to mention, the night was memorable and at the same time, not peaceful. Near my tent, I kept hearing forest sounds, and not knowing exactly what animals were nearby made it a trying night of getting some rest so that I’d be physically and mentally able to hitchhike to Bergen the next day.