THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL AROUND EUROPE
Planes, trains, automobiles… Europe has them all! But how are you going to move around the continent during your ultimate backpacking superduper trip-of-a-lifetime? The answer is: a little bit of everything.
Your options for European travel are as vast and varied as your budget, itinerary and imagination. The continent is very well connected, be it by highway, rail, airports served by budget carriers, and numerous sea connections across usually calm waterways. And with the added bonus of having few-to-no borders to contest with, you can whizz around care-free without even knowing that you’re ticking another country’s flag off the list.
To be completely fair, we’re all about you keeping your itinerary as open as possible – and that means sometimes sorting out your transport methods as you go. Each have their own merit, some are better suited than others to get you into certain situations either for as little money, or effort, as is possible.
How much is your time worth?
A pertinent question when pulling together any European travel itinerary. As a general rule of thumb, the slower the journey the cheaper it will be, but are you willing to sacrifice precious hours/days of your European trip just to save a few sheckles? The answer to this is entirely up to you and your budget, but maybe dropping €50 extra on a flight and shaving 12 hours off your bus ride isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Where do you want to go?
Because some places simply aren’t accessible by all modes of transport. Off the beaten track is going to require something that can navigate said track, and then go off it; rail passes won’t help you get onto islands. And do you even know where you want to go yet? You don’t want your inflexible travel plans to forbid you from following that cute boy to that chalet in the Alps, do you?
Let’s look at some of the travel options in descending order of apparent expensiveness.
Flying in Europe
It’s perceived as the most expensive way to travel because it’s the quickest and most technologically impressive. Seriously, seeing those big steel birds whizz through the sky still fills us with a sense of awe at mankind’s awesomeness. Flying is expensive if you’re using it as a last minute option, but really not restrictively so. Flying throughout the EU is just like taking an interstate flight at home, from lack of border control, to a competitive budget airline sector servicing the routes. That said, we like to reserve this mode of transport for the long hauls, when going from region to region across the continent, say, from Prague to Madrid. If you’re going to plan your trip and lock in an itinerary, these kilometer-heavy chunks of travel might be worth pre-booking budget flights for. Check out our entire article on air travel for more hints and tips.
Taking the train
Slower than the plane, but only slightly slow due to some of Europe’s fast train network, riding the rails could be the most practical way to see the continent. Given that many cities are less than a half-day’s rail ride apart, travelling by train is a comfortable, classy way to move that will drop you in the centre of town as opposed to in the outskirts, where the planes seem to land. You will pay for the experience, unfortunately, especially on the popular, intercity routes. That’s where an Interrail pass might come in handy.
Hiring a car
Totally doable, especially so if your route will take you back to the city you started in. Hiring a car is cost effective, moreso between a few of you, and the only way to really get out into the unknown and away from the tourist routes. Sometimes hiring a car can be a bit of a chore, and tolls and petrol do add up, but this mode of transport should definitely feature on your Euro itinerary, if for nothing else just so you can get a feel for the lunacy of European highways and the mad-people who inhabit them. Autobahn, anybody?
Like a train, but cheaper. And slower. And less comfortable. But still like a train. There’s a reason why travel companies and tour operators all over Europe offer private coach transfers, and that’s because they’re cheap! And sometimes, like if you’re travelling to a Spanish fiesta off the beaten path, like San Vino, they’re almost the only way to get there as a group. They’re going to be a part of your Europe trip, that’s for sure, so learn how to make the most of them.
I mean, can we, in good conscience, recommend hitchhiking? Not really, to be honest, unless you’re travelling from small towns, as the effort required to get from the centre of a big city to one of its reasonable pickup spots negates any money saved by eroding away at your time. That said, there are some great ride-sharing apps and websites, like BlaBlaCar, that will link you up with kindhearted tight-arses looking for strangers to share the cost, the drive, or just to chat with while moving from city to city. It’s not quite hitchhiking, but you’re less likely to get axe murdered, so there’s always that.
And then there’s boats, noble horses of the sea, connecting the mainland to the plethora of jaw-dropping islands, as well as to other cities on the other side of the pond. Europe is famous for its bodies of water, from the Mediterranean to the Baltic and Black, the English Channel, and numerous lakes, sometimes a ferry is the only way to go, especially if those last-minute Ibiza flight prices are keep-you-out-of-the-clubs steep.