Planes, Trains, Buses, and Ferries: Getting Around Western Europe
7 countries, 5 planes, 4 trains, 2 buses (One of which broke down, making this number, two, rather then one), and 1 ferry. That was my first six days in Europe, making it the most frenzied week of travel in my life. I did this, all the while, by getting in a car once, and that only by necessity, to catch a taxi from the U.S.A./France women’s soccer game in Glasgow on the opening day of the Summer Olympics so that I could make my flight to Belfast in time. Growing up the rural south, this was a stark difference from what I was used to. Until I had moved to San Francisco, I had never used any form of transportation other then a car to get around. Yet as I learned this summer, getting around Western Europe isn’t like getting around the rest of the world.
To no one’s surprise, this is the most convenient way to get around most parts of Europe. While flying is typically considered the most expensive form of transportation, plane travel in Europe can actually be budget-friendly if you play your cards right. Traveling from one European country to another can be as cheap as flying within the same state in the U.S. For example, flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles is $59, while flying from Liverpool, England to Barcelona, Spain on the same date is $32. However, it’s the luggage fees and add-ons (Even drinks that are complimentary on most U.S. carriers come for a price on European budget airlines) that quickly increase the price to fly in Europe. That $32 flight then could easily become a $100 flight. On many of the budget carriers you’re paying for very limited service and amenities, but with no longer then flights are, such as my 30-minute flight from Glasgow to Belfast, that doesn’t matter.
There’s just a certain romanticism to train travel in Europe. I believe part of this is due to the fact that train travel in so many destinations, such as the U.S., leaves much to be desired. There’s something almost movie-like about traveling through Europe via train. When was the last nostalgic train scene from a movie that was going through the heartland of America? However, as romantic and movie-like as train travel in Europe may be, it can also be the most expensive, especially if it’s a last-minute fare.
While you may be used to the train fares of many cities that are unchanging, whether bought days beforehand online or the day of travel at the ticket kiosk, that’s not always the case in Europe. Your best bet for low train fares are buying tickets ahead of time and doing so online. Otherwise, you may be like me, who saw my train fare from Belgium to Holland triple in price, simply because I didn’t buy the discounted rate a couple days ahead of time. Train routes around Europe can be exhaustive and at times complicated to those who aren’t accustomed to it, so I recommend spending time researching and talking to locals to help you better understand the train systems of the countries and cities you’re visiting. And yes, depending on where you’re going, there’s probably an app for that.
That romanticism of train travel can’t quite be said for traveling by bus in Europe. While bus travel in Europe is often the longest and least comfortable way to get around, it’s by far the cheapest. For the price of a European meal, you can buy a bus ticket from one country to the next. However, unpredictability may follow. My overnight bus ride from London to Glasgow actually saw two buses, since the first bus broke down. If legroom is important to you, try to be the first person on the bus to jockey for an exit row seat. If it’s sleep you’re after, consider the sleeper buses that are just starting to be put into service, such as Megabus’ sleeper, which for an extra $20-$30 gives you a bed, rather then an upright seat.
Last, but not least, what may be my favorite form of transportation, boats, or as more appropriately called when getting around Europe, ferries. Yes, it may be longer form of transportation, and yes, it may yield a higher risk of getting sick, and yes, it may not be as convenient, but let’s face it, being on a boat is just cooler. If T-Pain says it’s cooler to be on a boat (You’ve been warned: While the link is not sensual, spam, or a virus, it is not safe for work), then it must be. The perk of traveling by ferry is that you can really stretch your legs, wander around, and even do jumping jacks if you so please without people staring at you, as much. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find your way onto a ferry that has a bar. If you’re an Instragrammer, it’ll offer uninterrupted and unhindered views for snapping some photos, such as sunset or a view of the city as you’re coming in to dock. Fares can vary, for as low as $20, such as the ferry I took in the Canary Islands between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, to over $100 for rides that cover greater distances.
What’s your transportation method of choice when traveling abroad?