Europe. That age-old, history-filled, tightly-packed, culturally and linguistically diverse continent that remains one of THE top backpacking destinations in the entire world. So much history, so much culture, so many places to go and things to see, so many people to meet and experiences to be had- it can be a bit overwhelming. Often, the question is: 'Where to BEGIN???' Have no fear- BackpackU is here to detail the finer points of traveling the Old Continent, as well as give a few tips to get you off the beaten track… Backpacking Europe- a rite of passage for the true Backpacker.
Traveling in Europe is a unique experience when compared to traveling through most other parts of the world- Southeast Asia excepted, it’s not often that one finds such varied cultures, histories, languages, and customs in such a small, easily navigable geographic area. This proximity and ease of access to so many different countries and cultures makes Europe one of the top Backpacking destinations in the world.
The question is- once you get there, what’s the best way to get around? There are several ways to answer that question... We here at BackpackU have used all sorts of travel options throughout Europe- planes, trains, buses, cars, boats, gondolas- and can honestly say that the answer is usually specific to each particular traveler and their particular trip. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to get around- it really depends on your style of travel, where you’re planning on going, and what fits your budget.
Annnnnd- we realize that’s not much help... So, we’re going to detail some of the major ways to get around Europe below, and leave it to you to decide what fits your trip best. After all, that’s part of the joy of backpacking- planning the trip to fit your style, your expectations, and most of all, your budget.
Plane travel in Europe has become exceedingly affordable due to the vast amount of competition throughout the continent. There are several budget/‘bare-bones’ carriers vying for your business, and that’s a good thing. The not-so good thing is that along with this competition comes an inherent drop-off in quality of service. But, if you want to fly on the cheap in Europe, you should be able to find something going your direction. We’ve provided links to several budget airlines below, as many of these companies don’t list their services on popular flight search engines.
When dealing with these budget airlines, it is IMPERATIVE that you read the so-called ‘Fine Print’- we’ve heard countless stories of people getting to the check-in desk at the airport, only to find themselves being charged insane amounts of money for things as simple as printing out a boarding pass... There is a reason these flights are so cheap, and you can count on these companies doing everything they can to squeeze as many Pounds, Euros, and Francs out of your wallet as possible. Read the details, PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS AHEAD OF TIME, and bring a bottle of water, as you’ll likely be charged for one on the flight.
Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com)
WikiTravel Page: http://wikitravel.org/en/Discount_airlines_in_Europe
Train travel in Europe is exceptional- the networks are vast, the infrastructure is modern (for the most part...), and it’s relatively cheap. It’s also a great way to see the countryside as you pass from place to place. The question of train travel usually revolves around the infamous ‘EuroRail’ pass- specifically ‘Should I get one or not?’ For those not familiar with it, the EuroRail pass is a pre-paid ‘ticket’ that allows for varying amounts of travel in different countries across the continent. One can literally custom-build their pass nowadays, with the idea being that buying a pass is cheaper than buying individual tickets to get from place to place. While it sounds like a great idea, the effectiveness of this is entirely determined by the specifics of the individual trip, and the style of travel of the individual. If the trip consists of a lot of hopping around within a larger country (say, Germany or Spain), then a Eurorail Pass may be very effective and save loads on transportation costs. On the other hand, if the trip consists of frequent hopping from country to country, with large gaps of space in between (say, traveling from Hungary to the Netherlands to Spain), then maybe a EuroRail pass isn’t the best option. We would advise you take a look at your trip’s itinerary and time frame, and evaluate what works best for your specific trip.
Here are a few links to get you started:
WikiTravel Page: http://wikitravel.org/en/Rail_travel_in_Europe
Similar to train travel, the bus networks in Europe are well-developed and far-reaching. You might even be surprised to find bus travel superior to train travel in some countries (Croatia, for example). In our experience, it has always served us well to ask locals when debating whether to take a train or a bus. Hostel/hotel reception and booking agents are usually very knowledgeable when it comes to moving in and around their countries, and can provide insight into schedules, cost, etc. In general, expect buses to be a bit cheaper than trains, and a bit slower as well. Bus travel is typically less comfortable than train travel as well- smaller seats, limited restroom access/stops, fewer amenities (i.e. there’s typically a Dining/Cafe Car on any long-haul train). Just a few things to consider...
Below are a couple of bus websites we’ve used during our trips:
Traveling by boat in Europe is an often-overlooked method of getting around. Whether you’re island-hopping along the Dalmatian Coast, ferrying across the Adriatic Sea, or cruising down one of Europe’s countless rivers, water travel can be a very affordable way of getting to your next destination, and having a unique experience along the way.
Island-hopping along Croatia’s coast has become a favorite pastime of many a budget traveler fortunate enough to explore this part of the continent. Countless companies run trips of varying lengths out to the islands just off the mainland- most depart from the coastal towns of Split and Dubrovnik. As usual, there are varying levels of quality and service available, and you’ll want to do your homework before putting any money down for a trip. Ask around about the reputations of any companies you might be interested in, and don’t be afraid to ask for a Client Referral Book. Once you’ve found a company that suits your taste and budget, pack up and get ready for an adventure filled with sun, surf, and sand...
Ferry travel is becoming more popular in different parts of Europe- especially for those traveling between Italy and Croatia. Here, ferries can be used to access numerous destinations along the coasts of both countries where train, bus, and plane travel is time-consuming and expensive. Depending on when you are traveling, you can get fares as low as 20 Euros- SUPER cheap! (See www.blueline-ferries.com)
Here’s a helpful website for those trying to get TO Croatia FROM Italy:
And here’s one for those trying to get TO Italy FROM Croatia:
There are several companies that offer river cruises throughout Europe- if there’s a river, chances are you can cruise down it. This is a very unique way to see parts of the continent, and a great way to visit some of the more popular destinations located along Europe’s waterways. The key here is finding a cruise at a discounted rate, which can be accomplished by searching the web for various discount programs. Here’s an excellent site that details the European River Cruise industry: