If you've read my previous posts, you probably think I have some sort of 6-figure job that allows me to hop around Europe so often. Or if you're more in the know on travel, you may think I'm hopping over to different European cities whenever I want for 20€ round trip. While the latter is closer to the truth, the reality is that it actually does vary - a lot. This article is going to give you real advice on how you can travel within Europe cheaply, and the realities of the price tags that you're paying for.
Just a quick disclaimer: these prices are all pre-COVID, and I have no idea how they've changed now.
One of the fastest and most efficient ways to get around Europe, especially when you're travelling longer distances, is by plane. Luckily, there are tons of affordable and budget airlines that operate within Europe, but there are some caveats. There are plenty of budget airlines that will take you around Europe for cheap, and their prices can sometimes seem too good to be true. While they are an affordable (and often the best) way to get around, there are a lot of hidden fees in there to be wary of. Here are some things to note:
Airlines such as Ryanair will often fly out of airports that are extremely far from the city centre. These will often take awhile to get to, and can end up being a fairly expensive bus or train ride. Airports such as Beauvais in Paris or Stansted and Luton in London have great deals flying there, but make it pretty difficult for you to get into the city, as they're 2+ hours into the countryside.
Hidden fees! You're going to need to pay extra for everything. They will only let you typically carry on a small bag, so you'll have to check your carry on suitcase. These are all extra hidden fees, and if you're unaware of them you could end up paying up to 50€ at the airport just to check in, get your boarding pass, and check your bags.
Delays & cancellations: these happen frequently, but their customer service has improved quite a bit since the earlier days so you should easily be able to get your money back if your flight is cancelled.
While none of these are too big of a deal, a lot of travelers are unaware of them when they first start out travelling around Europe. As long as you plan ahead for your travel and ensure that your bags are all within the weight limit, it's totally worth it.
The best time to book these flights are a few months in advance, as if you do it last minute it will be just as expensive as the major airlines. Sometimes they even cost the same when you book far enough out, in which case I'd go with the major airlines. However, budget airlines are still one of the best and most popular ways to get around Europe. Here are some airlines that I've taken before and consider to be pretty reliable: Ryanair, Air Europa, easyJet, Vueling, Norwegian, WOW Air, and Wizz Air.
My favourite way to see Europe by far is by high-speed train. While you can't take these everywhere, they are a great way to travel longer distances within a country, as most countries in Europe have an excellent national rail service. My experience is mainly with the Renfe in Spain, but I've taken them across the UK as well. Most countries in Europe are extremely well-connected by high-speed rail, and it is a great way to comfortably go between cities. This is a great option if you're travelling a distance such as Madrid to Barcelona, or Edinburgh to London. They do tend to be more expensive than buses, but the speed and comfort definitely makes up for it for those longer distances. It's a great way to take in the scenery around you, and there are usually not baggage policies. Check in is much easier and less stressful than the airport, but you will typically have to go through some type of security (you definitely do in Spain). It's very easy though, and tickets can be bought online ahead of time. I recommend buying them directly from the country's national railway site, and booking 1-2 months in advance for the best prices. The prices don't vary as much as flights though, and will stay pretty set. While a Ryanair flight from Madrid to Seville would set you back about 30€, a high speed train would set you back somewhere closer to 80€.
An easy (and by far the cheapest) way to get between cities is by bus. When the national rail is too expensive, this is the perfect way to travel within a country or to neighbouring countries. My favourite provider is FlixBus, which I've never paid more than 20€ for, ever. FlixBus goes all over Europe, and is a great way to travel between distances where the train is just too expensive (Berlin to Prague, Madrid to Bilbao). There are also many other budget bus lines and national bus lines, such as ALSA in Spain which will take you quite literally anywhere in the country. I also choose the bus as the cheaper option when I'm travelling between cities that are close together, like Lisbon to Porto. The bus takes 4 hours but the train takes 3, so I'd rather save the money and bus it. Bus stations can sometimes be outside of the city centre, but they're much easier to get to and check into than airports or train stations (though train stations are often pretty central). If you're doing Europe on a budget, definitely do it by bus. Overnight buses, while uncomfortable, are also a way to save money while travelling to your destination.
While this one I have the least experience with, I feel like it's still important to talk about. There are a few car sharing services, such as BlaBlaCar, where you carpool with a stranger who is going to the same destination as you. This is a cool way to make a new friend while travelling, but personally I've never done it, so I can't speak too much to it. Some of my friends have though, and they've only had positive experiences using it. Another option, of course, is to rent a car. This is definitely the most expensive option, and can set you back over 100€ per day. I would only recommend this if you're traveling with a family, or traveling deep into the countryside, somewhere that can't be accessed by bus or train. Most cars are manual in Europe, so if you don't know how to drive stick then you're going to need to pay a lot more for an automatic car (and book way ahead of time since they sell out quickly). This option can be more affordable if you're going on a road trip with friends though, since splitting the cost of a rental car between 4 or 5 people isn't too bad.
Ultimately, what you prioritise will determine how you travel. If you prioritise time and efficiency, those budget flights might be for you. If you're trying to spend the least amount possible, the bus may be for you. And if you're looking for an efficient and comfortable way to travel within a country, check out the high-speed trains. There are definitely ways to travel Europe on a budget, or splurge a bit more for comfort and efficiency.
I'll be doing a Part 2 on accommodation soon, so keep a look out for that. In the meantime, I hope this was helpful! To sum it up my tips are:
Book everything at least 2 months out, flights even earlier. This way you'll get the best deals and won't spend an unnecessary amount of money.
Plan out your routes ahead of time and determine the best of mode of transport to take. Take a look at the time and costs for each option, and compare them side by side. A great app for this is Rome2Rio.
Make sure you've researched the company's luggage policy before travelling, as well as any hidden fees you may have to pay when you check in.
To give some price range examples:
A bus ride from Berlin to Prague on FlixBus: 1-20€.
A train ride from Madrid to Seville on the Renfe: 50-200€.
A plane ride from London to Amsterdam on easyJet: 10-80€.
I hope this helps! As always, add me on Instagram and let me know if you have any other questions or requests for posts.