Even with the falling Euro, traveling around Europe can still be fairly expensive, especially if you are traveling long distances or miss out on that killer fare from Ryanair. I sometimes get sick to my stomach at how much transportation can cost even for the shortest distances. But, despite the high valued Euro, high transportation costs, and general expensiveness of Europe, there are still many ways to travel around Europe affordably:
Megabus is a cheap way to get around the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales), as tickets can cost as little as 1.50 USD. You’ll need to book at least a month in advance on popular routes to get these fares (and even if you don’t scoop up these amazingly cheap deals, you can still travel for a more reasonable price than on the national bus system as fares rarely top 15 USD). Additionally, Megabus also operates trains to some destinations around the UK, usually starting at 10 USD. Megabus is definitely the cheapest way to get around the UK and now is also the cheapest way to get to Paris, Brussels, or Amsterdam; they just launched routes from London to these cities with fares as low as 10 USD.
Busabout is a hop-on/hop-off bus service similar to the Oz or Kiwi Experience in Australia and New Zealand that is primarily used by backpackers. You can get on and off whenever you want along one of their set routes. Additionally, you can buy tickets that let you travel their whole network with a set number of stops. For example, you can buy a 9 day flexipass which gives you 9 stops from your starting city. Those stops can be wherever you want, for as long as you want. That pass is 669 USD which works out to be 72 USD per trip. That makes the pass competitive with the long distance and high speed trains. The only downside to Busabout is that if you want to visit a city not on their route, you have to make your own way there. It’s not as versatile as a regular bus or train pass.
By far the cheapest option for getting around Europe, budget airlines are so prolific that competition helps keep fares cheap. You can often find tickets where the fare is just the taxes. Companies like Transavia, EasyJet, Ryanair, and Vueling offer mind-blowingly cheap flights throughout Europe. My friend just flew from Porto to Barcelona for 25 USD, while I flew from Barcelona to Nice for the same price. It cost me 30 USD to fly from London to Amsterdam.
Just remember to book at least a month early to scoop up great deals. There are also regular sales, especially during the off season. Remember to read the fine print. These budget airlines make most of their money through fees and the second you mess up, they whack you with a fee. Follow the rules and travel cheap.
Getting a rail pass is a good option if you are going to be traveling across vast distances. The European rail system is very good and very cheap over short distances; however, when you start boarding night trains across multiple countries, the rail system becomes a bit more expensive. Fares can cost well over one hundred dollars. Rail passes are a great way to save a lot of money, and are a must for anyone looking to take the trains for extensive, long distance travel. I managed to save a few hundred dollars each time I’ve bought a rail pass.
The umbrella organization for international bus travel in Europe is called Eurolines and it will take you throughout the continent. Every country has their own national bus service but for international long distances, there is Eurolines. In Europe, buses are way cheaper than trains. Taking Eurolines from Berlin to Paris is 100 USD while the last-minute booking on the train is 248 USD. The downside to bus travel is that instead of the much roomier train, you are cramped on a tiny bus. For this reason, I tend to pay a bit more and travel by train but if you are on a tight budget, buses are the way to go.
The best way to travel for cheap is to not pay for it. Hitching is quite common in Europe and I’ve met a number of travelers who have done it. I myself traveled this way in Bulgaria. It’s important to use your head when hitchhiking. Just because someone stops doesn’t mean you need to get in their car! Alternatively, there are a number of car sharing websites like Gumtree and Eurotrip where you can catch a ride so long as you pitch in for gas.
The cheapest way to travel around Europe is by bus or budget airline, but what it really comes down to is planning – the earlier you book your bus/plane/train ticket the cheaper it will be. Last-minute or high speed train and bus fares are double what they cost during early bookings. Ryanair fares can go from 1 pound to 50 pounds in a day. The key to traveling around Europe cheaply is planning. Plan, book in advance, and save. However, if you are as fickle and indecisive as me, buying a rail or bus pass can help you reduce your prices while maintaining flexibility.
Next step: keep planning your trip to Europe with these articles:
→ Continent wide Europe travel guide
→ The Cost of Western Europe Travel
→ The Cost of Traveling Eastern Europe
→ Is a Eurail Pass Worth the Cost?