How To : Budget Transportation In Europe
For those of us who grew up in the “new world”, Europe has always had a particular fascination for us. In my home country of Canada, you can travel for days on end, and the people you meet will likely speak the same language as you, have the same culture, and even the same fast food outlets.
Not so in Europe.
Two hours by train, and you will find yourself surrounded by a different language, different food, different styles of dress and different culture. Some of the smallest countries in the world are situated here, making it even easier to slip from culture to culture.
So if one of the best things about Europe is travelling between completely different cultures, how to do that on a budget?
Getting to Europe
Unless you are already in Europe, then getting to Europe will probably involve some sort of journey by plane. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be as costly as you may initially think. Europe is a very compact place, with a very well developed transportation network (and budget friendly) already firmly in place. Which means it often costs very little to get from one place to another… so…
No matter where your ultimate destination in Europe is, consider flying instead into one of the main hubs, and then organizing alternative transportation to your final destination. And yes, that means Heathrow (London).
The main transportation hubs in Europe include big daddy Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, and to a lesser extent, sometimes Amsterdam. Although, I have only on one occasion, found a fare that was cheaper anywhere else, other than Heathrow. I have even in the past flown round trip to North American for $400.
Getting around the continent
So you made it to London, and now you want to move on to somewhere else. Well that couldn’t be easier. You have three options; bus, train, and plane. What you chose will depend on your budget, and the location of your final destination.
If bus is your style, then look no further than Eurolines. This bus company goes almost everywhere in Europe, and if you book ahead can be quite cheap. Once, by booking a month in advance, I went from Brussels in Belgium to London England for 10 euros. However, expect long journeys, and to be rudely awoken every time you cross a border for passport control.
The train is probably the most comfortable option, but it is also the most expensive. The train is a very quick and efficient way to get from place to place in Europe. It is incredibly fast, and it also will usually drop you off right in the center of the city. Again, booking ahead is the way to go with the train if you want to get a slightly discounted fare. One popular holiday experience is to get a eurail pass and journey via train between several European countries.
Going a bit further afield? Don’t have time for the bus? But don’t want to shell out on the train? Well then the cheap European airlines will be your best friend. The first you will want to check will be Ryan Air and Easy Jet. Both these airlines have ridicously cheap fares (sometimes 1 pence with Ryan Air), and then proceed to layer on the fees and taxes until that initial cheap fare is all but unrecogniziable. However, despite this annoyance, they still are usually the best budget option if you are travelling further afield.
Getting between cities
For travel between cities, the best budget options are usually bus or train. However, the bus is usually the cheapest option. In England, for example, you can sometimes get astonishlingly cheap fares with Megabus, as low as 1 pound.
It is always wise to also check if the country you are staying in has any multi use rail deals. In Belgium for example, you can get a 10 ride pass where you simply write in your date, departure city, and destination. The cost of this card is only 76 euros, making it a fantastic deal.
Getting around the cities
Most cities in Europe have brilliant public transportation networks, and there is absolutely no reason to take a taxi unless it is late at night. Again, before buying a single fair ticket, check if there is a day pass, or weekly pass that might work out to be more convienent for you. Also, some cities sell transit cards (the Oyster card in London for example) which reduce the cost of each journey significantly, and when you are ready to leave the city, you can return your card for a full refund.
- If you have your trip relatively well planned out in advance, then nothing should stop you from booking in advance. Almost all of your transportation costs will be greatly reduced with even just a few weeks foresight.
- If you are a student, then make sure to bring along that identification! An ISIC card is the most widely recognized. This will not only save you on transportation, but will also save you on attractions as well. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a student discount, because there may very well be one.
- If you don’t require a comfortable bed to feel refreshed in the morning, then consider overnight transport. This is especially common with busses, but also with some train journeys. By travelling overnight via bus or train, you not only get a cheaper fare (these are the less popular times as you can imagine), but you also save on paying for a hostel.
There is no reason why the budget traveler should be weary of travelling in Europe, especially when it comes to transportation. Of all the places I have travelled, Europe has the most well developed public transportation network of anywhere. The trick is, book ahead, be flexible, and keep that student card handy!