part I || part II || part III [coming soon!]
Since I’m, you know, not the wealthiest person in the world (while recognizing that I do have enough to comfortably sustain myself in France as well as travel), but I still manage to travel fairly frequently, I figured I’d do a little series on how to travel through Europe while young and broke. Please note that I’m currently already living in Europe, so that means I can’t help you with the part that involves getting your butt onto the continent—what am I, your mom? [Just kidding, I’ll write some tips on that later!]
If you’ve ever hopped onto a site like Skyscanner to ogle the flights and empty your wallet, you’ve probably noticed offers for 9€ one-way tickets through airlines like RyanAir. As I type this, I’m waiting on a $22 round-trip flight from Paris to Venice. [This was written back in January. To clarify, I am not still waiting for that flight to Venice.] So yeah, you could say I have some experience on the matter. Still, when considering budget transportation options through Europe, there are a lot of different bits and pieces that need to come together.
Part I: What’s the Cheapest Way to Get Around Europe?
Answer: it’s pretty much always going to be a bus. [Sorry!] Still, when weighing out your options, there are multiple factors to consider.
Pros: For traveling through Europe, this is the cheapest option. If you’re backpacking, it might even be the best option, because there’s no fuss over luggage or carry-ons or any of that—if it fits, you can bring it on board. Also, sometimes they have complimentary WiFi!
Cons: It is not fast. While that may not sound like a big deal at first, just wait until you’re trapped in a moving metal box with your knees pulled up to your chest and your butt cramping in places you didn’t know existed on hour 4 out of TEN. Also, there’s always the chance that you’ll get a slightly unhinged driver, which is never fun. [But makes for good stories.]
Pros: Flights are almost unreasonably cheap within Europe, especially if you’re going with budget airlines like RyanAir. Check SkyScanner for the best prices! Also, even if it’s not necessarily the cheapest option, it’ll definitely be the fastest.
Cons: Chances are, you’re going to be flying with RyanAir. Hidden fees abound [see next section] and get ready to drop 100€ or more on a roundtrip flight to the next town over during travel-heavy parts of the year.
Pros: Reasonably comfortable, none of the security hassles of airports, consistent prices. If you’re going for an Interail/Eurail type deal, it’s probably the best way to tackle a lot of locations in one go in terms of sheer simplicity and ease. Also, most of these trains will take you through some incredible scenery.
Cons: Also is not fast. Faster than a bus, but still… Not fast. Also, of all of the options here, this will probably not be the most cost-efficient. Also, again for Eurail/Interailers, there are some hidden fees at play here too—paid reservations are sometimes required for overnight trains or trains in certain countries. Yikes, I know.
4. Car [I mean…. I guess?]
Listen, I’m not a real adult and I’ve never had a driver’s license, so I guess I can’t fathom why you, a budget traveler, would want to drop a bunch of money on a car rental just to spend even more money on gas and tolls in a continent where taking an Uber from Paris to Amsterdam would be more cost-efficient. Still, for the right person and the right circumstances, [family road trip in a very specific, easily traversed region of Europe comes to mind] this could be the best option! Never rule anything out!
Part II: Budget Airline Buyers, Beware
Although my initial ticket was dirt-cheap, there have been some snags along the way. Today, I’m going to tell you what to look out for when shopping budget flights within Europe.
1. Hidden fees
Budget airlines love to do this. Sure, you get the ticket for almost nothing, but you wanna check in early? Extra 30€. Checked luggaged? 40€. Choose your seat? 15€. Want a cup of water on the flight? That’ll be an extra 10€, buddy.
If it’s a flight of an hour or less and you’re backpacking, simply suck it up and swerve as many of these ‘amenities’ as possible. If you’re looking for something more comfortable, maybe spring for something a little pricier. (Economy class flights within the continent rarely jump beyond 150€, which is a steal for those of you with ca$h mon€¥.
If only nowhere looked this nice.
2. Hello, and welcome to the middle of nowhere
This is a problem I’ve had before. During my Venice trip, my budget airline connected two airports that are in the middle of NOWHERE. LITERALLY NOWHERE. I’m talkin’ BVA and TSF, the Burbank of Paris and Venice, respectively. I then had to take special, specific buses (22-ish€ roundtrip for both) just to get to the edge of where I need to be. That means my total transportation cost at ended up being around 70€. Next time, I’ll probably just spring for a flight that actually goes out of CDG at the very least.
3. Weird departure hours
Red-eye flights are cheap for a reason: only the truly desperate would resort to that kind of torture. If you’re unwilling, or worse, physically unable to reach the airport at 4 in the dang morning, opt for something else. As someone who relies largely on public transportation and the goodwill of others to get around, sometimes crack-of-dawn flights are just not an option, especially if they’re return flights and you’re well on your way to falling into a canal on the way to the bus station.
Part III: Finding Cheap Transportation
Now that you know what to look out for, here are some tips for snagging cheap flights/buses/rides.
Every savvy budget traveler and their mother uses Skyscanner.com to find the cheapest flights. If you’ve heard of Skyscanner, you’ve probably heard of the ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Cheapest Month’ options, too. Good on you, savvy budget traveler. Good on you.
If you haven’t heard of Skyscanner, it’s a website that allows you to find the cheapest flights to and from any destination, every time. It’s basically a godsend, but it’s also probably going to bankrupt me.
Although OuiBus is French-based and currently pretty limited in terms of destination options, Ouibus is fantastic and also way better than Flixbus/Megabus, like goddamn. If you’re traveling within France, you’ll likely be able to snag a ticket to pretty much any French city you can think of for 15€ or less. I’ve seen 7€ for Paris to Lille, if that helps give you an idea. Other destination options at the moment include London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, and they’re adding more all the time! I used OuiBus for part of my Chamonix trip.
This one really depends on what kind of trip you’re taking. If you plan to backpack for a long period of time [a month+] a 300-500€ Eurail [for non-EU residents] or Interail [for EU residents] might be your best bet. With a Eurail or Interail pass, you go pretty much anywhere via train. It’s what I’m thinking of using for my summer spree around Europe, so I’ll definitely be writing more on the subject, especially since it does get a little confusing! While the initial price tag can be hefty, if you’re smart, you can make some major savings on transportation.
That’s all for this segment of European Budget Travel! If you have any tips and tricks of your own for seeing Europe on a budget, be sure to comment below. 🙂
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