I scoured the web and guidebooks to prepare for my trip to Europe. I was sharing my tips and rounded up good sources to refer to in the beginning of my trip, but took a short hiatus. Now I’m back and want to keep sharing what I had learned in the hopes that it will help someone else and be a good reference for myself when I’m planning another travel adventure!
Planes, Trains + Automobiles 101
Getting around Europe is incredibly easy get around due to its incredible network of trains, highways and airlines that offer cheap travel all around. I took buses, trains and flights to get from city to city during my travels and wanted to share what I learned about each, the pros and cons of each.
Europe has so many more budget airlines than the states does, I was amazed to see how low the fares were.
Flying may save you more time than taking a train, depending on the distance and whether or not there are high speed trains available. For example, I decided to fly from Marseille, France to Madrid, Spain because the flight was less than 3 hours compared to a 10+ train ride that required multiple train changes. Even with the additional time needed to get to the airport and through security, it was better to fly than take a train or bus.
It may take longer overall to travel by plane because you need to get to the airport early to check in, check your bags, go through security, etc. etc.
Many budget airlines use cheaper airports to fly out of, which is often on the outskirts of the city adding more to your total travel time.
Often, it is the most comfortable mode of transportation of the three: you are free to move about and walk around, there’s a food carriage on most trains, multiple water closets available for use and more leg space and seat space in comparison to the other two modes of transportation
You can easily find cheap train tickets if you do a little planning ahead. Or even if you don’t, they’re still affordable and won’t break your budget.
You can bring whatever you want on the train, none of that under 3 ounces and less than a liter of liquids or worrying about luggage weight!
If you have more luggage than a carry-on, on some trains there are not a lot of luggage storage space available, so you may have to store your luggage in another carriage than yours.
Lower security and more chance of theft (or worse) in train stations and on trains, but being vigilant and paying attention to your surroundings are often enough.
Often can be the cheapest mode of transportation of the three. And can be extremely comfortable depending on the company you choose. (The majority of my bus ride from Madrid to Granada was spent asleep because it was so incredibly comfortable.)
You can see more of the country traveling this way. On planes you can only see clouds (maybe), on trains, there are often barriers erected so you can’t always see past it and on high speed trains, everything is a blur.
It may take longer than the other two modes of transportation.
Some routes are offered less often than a train route. For example, the bus to Granada from Madrid only left twice a day, while a train was more frequent.
Planned vs. Spontaneous
When traveling it’s always a good idea to have at least a rough itinerary or idea of what you want to do from day to day, but don’t be so scheduled that you are unable to spontaneously change your plans and be flexible.
Sometimes you need to plan ahead because some attractions have limited tickets sold each day, or specific events happening at certain times that you want to make. For example, in Barcelona, I knew I wanted to see a futbol match which I had to plan ahead for. Other reasons to plan ahead is for practicalities like seeing attractions that are close to each other so you can save your feet from walking across town multiple times or buying more metro tickets than you need.
But at the same time you need to be flexible when things don’t go according to planned. In Barcelona, I had missed the free walking tour in the afternoon and was wandering around the area making my way back to my hostel to regroup and make a plan for the rest of my stay. I stumbled across a line for the Picasso museum and decided to check how much a ticket was since my afternoon was wide open. At the front I saw a sign that said it was free entry from 3-7pm every Sunday! It felt serendipitous to have missed the tour. I didn’t know about the free Sunday’s and would have missed my only opportunity because I was in Barcelona for less than a week.
Or even go with the flow like we did in Prague. Our first day there we went on a free walking tour and ended up buying a castle district tour because we liked the guide. That tour turned into dinner and drinks with the guide and our fellow tourists in the group because we all had a great time spending the day together and didn’t want to part ways. We even ended up bumping into a few of them the next day and had dinner with them too.
Great Resources to Refer to:
It’s great to connect with travelers while you’re abroad. Often they’ll have been in the cities you’re headed to and may be a great resource of information. But I also like to look to the web and these were very helpful:
Have any travel tips of your own? I’d love to hear them in the comment section below!