SAI caught up with SAI Assistant Admissions Counselor Amanda Roscoe, who provides some helpful options for budget-friendly travel in Europe.
Living in Europe as an American brings a lot of unexpected surprises. Try finding an open pharmacy, bank, or grocery store on a Sunday, for example. The Europeans tend to take leisure a lot more seriously than we do in the States. Vacation and time spent with family are very important. While this can be frustrating when it’s Sunday afternoon and you have nothing in the fridge to eat, it also comes with its advantages. Traveling around Europe on the cheap is shockingly easy. Here I’ve compiled a list of just some of your great, budget friendly travel options.
Budget Airlines – The first time I lived in Europe I was surprised by how affordable it was to fly from place to place. It is not uncommon to find flights for as low as €15. I once even snagged a last minute flight from Prague to Krakow for less than €10. The most well-known of these budget airlines are EasyJet and Ryanair, but several more have sprung up over the years. My flight to Krakow was through WizzAir. I’ve also found incredibly cheap flights on EuroWings and Flybe. Use Skyscanner or Google Flights to compare your options. Remember to keep an open mind about where you want to go. Letting the low fares guide you to a destination that you hadn’t previously considered is a fun way to explore Europe and to discover new places. If you have your heart set on London, by all means go to London, but if you see that it would cost you €200 round trip to go to London vs. €100 round trip to go to Edinburgh take a chance and check out Edinburgh instead! Remember to check the airline’s baggage allowance policies. A lot of them have very strict carry-on limits, so be sure to pay attention. If your bag is a little heavy, put on some layers!
Buses – When you are traveling shorter distances or if flights are too costly to go to your dream destination, check out the bus. Flixbus is the premier inter-European bus company. They feature an extensive network of buses that connect dozens of European cities. The trips can often be booked last minute, making spontaneous travel easy. Keep in mind that if you want to travel far, you’ll have to be ready for a long bus ride. Bring a book, download some movies onto your Netflix app, and wear comfy clothes. You’ll be sitting for awhile. These buses often travel overnight between cities, so if you plan right you can also save on a night of accommodation. They almost always have free wifi and come equipped with toilets and electrical outlets to charge your devices. Buses typically pull off at rest stops for about 30 minutes every few hours as well.
Trains – Chances are you already know someone who has traveled through Europe by train. Before the rise of budget airlines and companies like Flixbus, trains were the main means of transport for inter-European travel. You can still buy a Eurail pass, allowing you to book trains traveling to X number of countries within Y number of weeks, and while flying and buses are often cheaper, trains remain one of the more efficient ways to get from place to place. Europe is covered with extensive railways connecting all of the major cities and towns. They are comfortable, faster than buses, and often drop you off in the downtown area of your destination. There typically aren’t strict baggage restrictions like you see on airplanes either. Remember that Europe has both regular and high-speed trains. The high-speed ones will cut your travel time in half but will most likely cost more money. You can save money on high-speed trains by booking a few months in advance, whereas the regular trains can typically booked the day of travel. If you choose to travel by train, the absolute best English-based platform to book tickets is www.trainline.eu. The website will show you all options for your selected dates. It will also include bus tickets so that you can compare everything in one place. You can book tickets from multiple carriers together so that if you are traveling around both Italy and France you can book your Trenitalia trains and your SNCF trains together. Bonus: if you download the app all of your tickets will be stored in one handy location on your phone.
BlaBlaCar – This one is a little more out there and may require you to step outside of your comfort zone. Think of it as a cross between couchsurfing and Uber. Verified users offer rides on trips that they are already taking. They advertise a price and a specific pick up/drop off point and someone looking for a ride can sign up to tag along. I’ve used it for short trips like traveling from the center city to the airport (€5 with BlaBlaCar vs. €15 on the tram in Lyon, France), but you can also use it to travel long distances and even between countries. Remember that you will be in somebody’s personal vehicle. The service is safe but always use caution when dealing with strangers. Riders have the option to choose the gender of their driver, so if you are uncomfortable being alone with a male you are free to only search for female drivers. You are also able to see reviews from past riders before selecting your driver. Have fun with it! I know people who have made long term friends after sharing a BlaBlaCar.
Ouigo – This is a service exclusive to France but it is definitely worth mentioning. Ouigo is basically France’s own low cost transportation line. They have both trains and buses (Ouibus). All of these can be booked via trainline.eu or on ouigo.com. They won’t be as fast as the TGV but they will be affordable and comfortable, with free wifi and plenty of storage for your bags. Just a tip: the Ouigo trains often depart and arrive at Disneyland Paris instead of in the center city, so double check. If it says Marne-la-Vallée, that’s Disneyland. You can take the regular Paris commuter train (RER B) from there into the city.
Rome2Rio – This is not a form of transportation but it IS a wonderful resource for planning your trip. You can plug in your origin and desired destination and they will show you all of the various ways to travel between the two places, plus the average cost of travel, and the amount of time the trip will take. It’s great in the preliminary stages of your travel planning.
There is a lot to consider when planning a trip. Keep in mind that when you are traveling somewhere a little more off the beaten track, think Eastern Europe, buses may be the only option due to lack of railways and other infrastructure. Often these buses can be booked the day of travel and do not require an advanced reservation. When traveling overnight, especially by train, consider that you may be able to pay a little more to have a bed. I personally cannot sleep sitting up, so bunks on overnight trains have saved me multiple times. As is always the case when taking public transport in Europe, be vigilant of your personal belongings. Do not leave important documents or money somewhere easily accessible while you are sleeping. Above all remember to relax, check out the scenery, and enjoy the journey!