Europe is THE destination for many would be travellers and backpackers looking to take a gap year or just spend a summer break abroad. Many of those travellers also want to do it as cheap as possible so having experienced Europe myself I wanted to share what I’ve learnt to be the cheapest ways to travel Europe whether you are taking a bus, train or aeroplane.
Now there are many more ways to get around Europe on the cheap such as hitchhiking, car sharing or even hiring a car but for the sake of keeping it simple I’m going to stick to what is most practical for first time European travellers.
Depending on what country you are in bus travel could be the main form of getting around or it could be playing second best to the train. However almost always the bus is going to be the cheapest way to travel from point A to point B. In my travels I found the bus was much more prominent in the baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania due to the lack of train transport. Perhaps as a way to make up for the lack of trains all the buses I caught in that region had free wifi as well as a coffee machine.
The most prominent bus provider in Europe is easily Eurolines. With connections covering all of Europe, the UK and Ireland you’ll always be able to find somewhere to go. Pricing is always fairly competitive whether you book in advance or last-minute with tickets from London to Paris around 40 Pounds ($66 AUD July 2013) and Berlin to Prague costing around 41 Euros ($58 AUD July 2013).
Eurolines also offer a travel pass which can boost your savings even more if you plan to spend up to 30 days travelling around Europe. Full details can be found on their site.
If you’d prefer to have something a bit more tour group based without being a tour group you can look into Busabout. These guys run a great Hop On, Hop Off service with a variety of routes around Europe. The basic principle is you book a particular route and just hop on and hop off the bus as it crosses countries. There are some set requirements for travel days vs non-travel days and they don’t cover all over Europe, but for first time travellers looking for a tour without it being a tour this is a great setup and still a cheap way to travel around Europe.
Costs do vary and you’ll often find they have sales leading up to peak season but at the moment student tickets for the flexitrip package which offers the most freedom costs 335 Pounds ($515 AUD July 2013).
There are also more location specific bus companies such as Megabus in the UK. These guys can get you from London to Glasgow for as little as 15 Pounds ($25 AUD July 2013) but the trip will take some 9 hours to complete. Not the most luxurious trip by far but much cheaper than the train for the same journey so ideal for those on a tight budget.
Train travel is my FAVOURITE way to get around Europe. They go just about everywhere, deliver you to the center of the destination city, often have food carriages, have big windows for taking photos and best of all you can get up and move around much more freely than a bus or plane. The only downside to train travel is that it can be expensive.
For many people the Eurail Pass is the go-to option for keeping your train costs down. The problem is that is only half-true. If you are 25 years of age or younger then the Eurail pass is a sweet deal. If you happen to be over 25 years of age however then I’d think really hard about getting the pass. The cost just doesn’t add up because you are forced to buy a first class ticket instead of a second class ticket which are much cheaper and can be bought once you arrive in Europe. Of course thats just my opinion and I’ll save the full story for another post, just know if you are over 25 years of age the rail passes require a lot more research into your costs to see if you’ll save money.
Travellers that are 25 or younger however are getting a great deal taking a railpass, especially since you can buy them before leaving home. The guys over at Rail Europe offer the best deals on passes with the current Global Pass offering 10 days of train travel over 2 months costing just $615 AUD (July 2013). The only thing to keep in mind is that this won’t be the final cost of your train travel in Europe. Many journeys using your Eurail pass will need you to make seat reservations prior to your travel at the train station. Some are free, others cost a few euros while a select few can be upwards of 20 euros.
If you feel the rail pass isn’t for you then don’t despair, I’ve found you can often buy train tickets in Europe at the train stations for a cheaper rate when taking short journeys, especially if you are willing to book your tickets in advance. The choice of pass vs buy on the road comes down to convenience in my mind, if you want easy get a pass if you want to seek out the best deals and take it as it comes then buy your train tickets on the road.
A really useful way to start planning your trip is lookup the German Railway Website which offers a timetable and occasionally pricing for tickets right throughout Europe. It’s an amazing tool when your are still at home planning how you intend to get around Europe.
One last note if purchasing a rail passes, they aren’t valid on the Eurostar or in the UK. To get cheap travel on the Eurostar be sure to book 2-3 months in advance and you’ll receive tickets at half the last-minute price. For travel in the UK you can lookup Red Spotted Hankey online or seek out any train station to book tickets in the UK.
Coming from Australia the cheapest ways to travel the country have always been by plane. In Europe it can often work out to be the most expensive. While there is an abundance of cheap airlines available such as Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizz Air you always need to book well in advance to secure the cheap rates. One tip to keep up with cheap offerings is to sign up for their email newsletters so you get notified of any promotions they might have on offer right away.
The problem with cheap airlines is that while the sticker price may say $20 to fly from say London to Rome it’s often the hidden fees and other costs that you fail to take into account. There will be extra fees to take checked luggage as well as additional airport fees and a credit card surcharge added to your total when finalising your purchase.
The other factor many people don’t take into account is that cheap airlines regularly fly into airports located in more remote parts of the country. Instead of flying into Heathrow which is well-connected by the tube to the rest of London, you’ll fly into Luton which means a bus and a train just to make it into the city. All of these extra hidden costs can quickly add up to being the same price as the normal full price airlines. I know I’d prefer the full rate airline over Ryanair any day of the week.
So to help keep the costs down when thinking of flying it comes down to doing the research. There is an army of online flight search tools around these days like Skyscanner and lesser known Dohop which service Europe well.
Combining that with monitoring the airlines promotional emails and a bit of luck now and then flying around Europe can be made a bit cheaper. While it will never be as convenient as bus or train travel which deliver you to the heart of the city it’s the best way to get from one side of Europe to the other.
Train travel will always trump the rest in my book due to it’s simplicity. For those seeing Europe on the cheap and unlucky enough to not be under 25 to buy a cheap rail pass then the bus will almost always be the cheapest way to travel Europe. Air travel is best kept for weekend getaways if you’re living in the UK on a working holiday visa or for moving between the UK and Ireland or mainland Europe.
If you’ve travelled Europe what has been your experience with transport. Was the train, plane or bus your favourite mode of transport or have you got a secret tip that could help future travellers save on transport in Europe? Leave a comment below and let me know I’d love to hear it.