The 27 countries of the European Union each have their own distinct cultures, languages, foods and customs. And, with their great diversity and many attractions, gap year travelers in Europe often find themselves hopping from one country to another, rather than just exploring one or two!
Backpackers hoping to move frequently between the many hostels in Europe will be pleased to know that 22 of the countries allow free travel across their borders. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, there are no controls between these nations and a single visa allows travelers entry into all.
However, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom do not allow such unrestricted access, as do Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania similarly. As a result, travelers need a separate visa to enter these countries.
When entering or exiting the EU at its external borders, a valid passport is always required. It's advisable to keep this on your person when traveling between your Europe hostels in case you need to prove your identity, although it's probably best to leave it the safe at the hostels when sightseeing in areas known for pick-pocketing or crime.
The EU's currency is the euro (€) and the notes and coins which are accepted in all countries are worth an identical amount. Each country does, however, issue its own coins with one common side and one side bearing an emblem of national significance.
Apart from the UK, Norway and parts of Eastern Europe, the euro can now be used in nearly every European country - handy for gap year travelers moving about regularly as it omits arduous (and even costly) currency exchange at each border.
Although inter-railing is a popular way to get about on a gap year in Europe, driving has also become an attractive option for friends traveling in a group as it can work out very cost-effective.
This way, travelers can hop from each base in their group accommodation to a new city or town without worrying about where to go or using complicated public transport systems.
Drivers are warned, though, that all people in the car are required by law to wear seatbelts at all times.
You also need to remember to drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, the UK, Malta and Cyprus - but every country drives on the right! Using a mobile phone behind the wheel is either forbidden by law or frowned upon, depending on the destination, so it's advisable not to do this.
Before settling down and becoming a copywriter for HostelBookers.com, Paul Scottyn travelled extensively and stayed in numerous hostels in Europe .