Flying is the best option when you are travelling to Europe, but once you hit the old continent your options are open. There are many ways to get around a country or from one country to the other. I am personally not the biggest fan of flying and choose land-based transport like trains and buses more often than not. The means of transportation that you choose will depend on a number of factors such as the amount of time you have and where you are heading.
The Benefits Of Flying
Flying is easy and you can often get a good deal. A few hours on a plane and you can be on the other side of a country or a completely different country. The ease of hopping onto a plane is one of the reasons why it is still one of the most popular ways to travel. That is not the only benefit, but it is a pretty big one. After all, hopping onto a train and having to change to another train in just 4 minutes can be stressful and not much fun for many people.
Flying can also be faster than other forms of transport. Of course, that is if you look only at the actual time you spend in the air and not include all the time you spend sitting in the airport waiting for your plane to board. A good example of this will be travelling from Rome to Milan. By plane, this will only take 1h 10 minutes, but the train will take you 3 hours and driving will take 6h 21 minutes. When you look at the time alone, you can see that flying is the best option.
Price-wise, flying can also be a good option, but only if you are flexible on the dates that you fly, the time of your flight and the airline you fly with. If you are completely inflexible, you could find that the cheapness of flying does not really apply. One thing that should be noted when looking at flying is that there are a lot of comparison tools out there which can help you find the right price. I know a lot of people who use Skyscanner which offers you the option of looking at prices by month or simply finding the cheapest month to fly.
The Other Options
So, if you are like me and not so keen on flying, what are the other options? The main options you will have are to drive, take the bus or take the train. You could cycle if you really wanted to, but not all European countries are good with the whole cycle lanes and areas thing. You would also need a lot of time to cycle from one place to another and it would be impractical for cross-border travel.
Driving In Europe
Driving in Europe is pretty much the same as driving anywhere else unless you are from a country like the United Kingdom that drives on the other side of the road. You can easily find car rental companies in all the major cities, but you will need to be over 18 to rent a car. You will also need to have an International Driving Permit or international license before you can rent the car.
The roads in Europe are generally good, but you do have to be alert. Depending on the country, you will find the drivers to be quite wild considering the roads may be smaller than you are used to. When I visited Malta, I was very nervous on the roads because it is a small island and the drivers are crazy. They are not aggressive drivers, but the middle of the road is sometimes seen as part of the lane whether there is oncoming traffic or not.
If you are going to drive in Europe, you also need to be aware of the parking situation. In the larger cities, it can be hard to find parking and you often have to park your car on the street. This can lead to you not finding a parking space close to where you are staying. The exception will generally be hotels which have guest parking, but not all of them will have this.
You also need to remember that you have to fill up the car. Now, this might not seem like a major issue, but if you are heading out of the major cities you will find that service stations are not as frequent as you are used to. The petrol station will also be a lot smaller than you might be used to and stuck between buildings without glaring signs to tell you it is there.
Taking The Bus
I like letting someone else worry about driving instead of having to do this myself. That is why I am a fan of the bus and buses in Europe are really nice, at least the ones I have been on. There are a lot of municipal buses within the cities along with trams so you can get from one side of town to the other. There are also buses that you can take into other countries and they do not cost an arm and a leg.
The only issue you might have with the bus is the length of time it takes to get anywhere. As you can imagine, this is a relatively slow method of travel and is susceptible to traffic which can be a nightmare. If you are going to consider the bus, I would recommend FlixBus. FlixBus has a network that covers many of the top tourist countries in Europe. I was able to take a bus from Rome to Hamburg without any issues.
If you are going to be travelling long distance by bus, you are going to have to change buses along the way. The Rome to Hamburg trip had a change in Karlsruhe which is not bad when you consider the distance travelled. Of course, it did take around 2 days to complete the journey which is something that many people would have an issue with. Seriously, bus travel is not the best inter-country option if you are on a tight schedule.
Taking The Train
I like the trains in Europe and have not really had a bad experience with them. The standard of the train does fluctuate depending on the carrier and the country, but overall they have been good to me. It is also really easy to take the train in Europe and all major and medium-sized cities will have a train station.
The train is also faster than taking a bus and will not be subject to traffic. That does not mean that there are never delays, but they aren't as regular as with the bus. You can easily take the trains from Sicily to Barcelona with only a few changes. If you are going to do a long-distance train journey in Europe then you need to try a sleeper train. This will save you some time and money because you do not have to get a hotel room for the night and you cover ground.
As with flying, there are a lot of websites and apps that you can use to help you find your trains and buy tickets. I use Trainline Europe because you can check the train times and buy the tickets with them. Their tickets are also paperless which is great when you are travelling and do not have access to a printer.
Which Is Better For The Wallet And The Watch?
Most people who travel do not have unlimited time or unlimited funds. Digital nomads are still a minority and most holidaymakers want to do things in an affordable and quick manner, particularly their travelling. So, which mode of transportation will be better for the wallet and the watch?
Flying can be easy on the wallet, but only if you are very flexible. You need to be willing to take the cheap tickets and this means you are usually hand luggage only. You also need to be willing to fly out when these cheap tickets are available. If you want to fly affordably, you will also need to compromise on the airline you take. In terms of time, flying will generally be the fastest option, if you forget about the time you spend at the airport waiting for the plane.
Driving in Europe can be economic if you do it right. To get the most for your money, you will need to look at a smaller car which offers good fuel efficiency. You also need to carefully consider the terms of the car rental because you generally have to pay extra if you are crossing borders. If you can get the rental under control, you will find that driving can also be good in terms of time. Driving from Amsterdam to Hamburg actually takes less time than the train.
The bus is going to be the most affordable option, particularly if you are going by FlixBus. You can travel for a fraction of the cost of a train ticket and you will hit the same routes as driving. The problem is that buses take a long time to get from point A to point B. You will need to be prepared for hours sitting on the bus and even spending the night on one. Overnight buses can actually be helpful if you plan it right because you get into the next city at a good time leaving you the whole day to explore.
Train travel can be good and bad for the wallet, depending on how you want to travel. If you feel that you must be in first class, you are going to be paying for it. The difference between a first and second class ticket can reach hundreds of Euro. The key to cheap train travel is to be flexible, use the right websites and look at regional trains. In Germany, you can get a regional ticket which is valid for all regional trains within the federal state for the whole day. This means that the one rather cheap ticket that you get allows you to travel as much as you want on regional trains in one day.
As with the cost, trains can also vary on the time they take. There are bullet trains and express trains all across Europe that will get you to your destination in good time. These trains cost more. If you choose the regional route, you need to prepare for a longer travel time because they have a lot more stops to make.
Flying is always the first mode of transport that people think about when they need to go from one city to another. If you are in Europe, you have a lot of other options available. A lot of locals will use the train or the bus which are good on the wallet if not the watch.