On the Economy of Travel! – a European perspective.
“You do not need to be rich to travel well.”
The American Classical violinist Eugene Fodor who said these words might not have taken into account the concept of free markets and the imbalances of a market economy, but he was quite close to hitting upon a universal truth.
One may not need a lot of money to travel well, but the same might not be quite true if you wish to replace the word “well” with “comfortably”. Yes, you will burn some serious cash if you want the good room at that mid range hotel, or the air conditioned bus instead of the ferry, or even those half cooked meals on flight. However, plan well, and you may even get these at a price that does not make you contort your face into that there-goes-my-bonus look. There is always a better way.
Let’s move around Europe.
More specifically, the continent.
Scroll through the net, and you’ll probably stumble across sundry “listicle” websites which give you millions of reasons that you “probably did not know” about travelling in Europe, tips about “saving that extra buck” or “that hotel which we all walk across and yet never quite enter, failing which we lose out on a ‘grand’ deal”. I have no great travel authority to question this but chances are that you will find most of these very different from what actually is one the ground.
The thing about Europe is, all that culture, all those cobblestone streets and roadside cafes that you read and hear about, the quaint little places which you feel you were meant to stay in are not exactly the sort of places you’d expect to just stumble across, unless you’re spending an extensive bit of time and even more of your wages. Many, including me make a mental image of that small cafe on a lakeside and end up doing exactly the sort of touristy things we thought we would avoid, all of which, by the way, every foreign tourist pays a premium for.
So my hypothesis is, if I stop taking the premium route, I’ll automatically stop doing the touristy things. And I shall attempt in this post to help you do just that, with the little bit I know and the wealth of knowledge I have “stumbled” across in the past few years as a writer. I shall attempt to make you aware of two distinct things – the best ways to travel and the cheapest ways to travel. Finding that middle ground will be your little adventure.
Arguably your cheapest way of finding your way around in Europe is the Megabus service. provided the places you want to find your way around in are limited to the United Kingdom and a few other countries in Western Europe. You can’t argue with the price though! A trip costs on an average 2 Euros only, but it also entails that you will have to book your ticket about a month in advance, if you want to do the “touristy” things. If you don’t, well, it’s cheap, quick and infinitely more convenient than taking a flight over a distance of a couple of hundred miles (where you would probably end up spending an equal amount of time in travelling to the airport, checking in and waiting to board the flight as you would over the entire bus journey.)
Some tickets between London and Paris cost as little as $10! That’s pretty much the best anyone could wish for. Megabus has some really plucky fares between London and some other major cities across the continent including Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin. In addition to this, over
the past year, they have expanded their operations to cover larger parts of the UK (read Scotland, Northern Ireland) and Europe, bringing larger swathes of less frequented territory within easy reach. And make no mistake, the seats are amazingly comfortable and well, Europe has enough to stare at out of the window over the few hours you’ll spend in the bus. Better than staring at the same clouds you made imaginary shapes out of on the way here, yeah?
Remember those old movies in which a lonely long lost traveller walked miles in search of the next time and stuck out his thumb every time a rickety old truck or a decked up Volkswagen camper passed by? Didn’t it have a beautiful story to it every time? As it turns out, you can do the very same thing now, albeit in a controlled and more comfortable way, without having to stick out your thumb at glaring motorists.
There are myriad websites and apps that offer ride sharing services across the continent, especially in motor friendly countries like Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands. This mode does pinch you slightly more than a bus ride, but it gives you an opportunity to interact more closely with new people. So, unless you are absolutely unwilling to make a couple of new friends, this is always a great option. It’s not every day that you meet a Kashmiri running a bakery in Europe (yes, this happened to me), or a Romanian magician looking for that big breakthrough in the “bigger” markets of west Europe. This mode of travel isn’t as consistent as Europe trains, cheap flights, or companies like Busabout; but it is cheap and entertaining.
What’s more, it is safer than hitch hiking and more flexible than a Busabout(covered in the next section), given the fact that you can often mould your fellow travellers to take that extra detour through this little town (rural Europe has quite a few intriguing culinary and visual treats to offer).
Heard of the Orient Express? Doesn’t the idea of a train replete with vintage dining cars and exquisite cuisine sound romantic to you?
Well, it may not quite be the same but a trip across Europe using the Eurail system is equally fascinating with some stunning views to be had while the trains wind their way through meadows and temperate forests, through small towns and past vineyards. If you have limited time and want to move around quickly, Eurail is perhaps your best option. Unlike Busabout which has set stops, Eurail allows you to choose your own stops as you go along. This, in my opinion is what makes this the perfect mode of transport for those looking for something new, yet exciting to do in the continent. Eurail offers travellers the sort of freedom few other organised modes of transport are able to do.
Aside: One of the most frequent questions that I get asked is, are ridesharing services safe? And I apologise for seeming too negative about the whole issue, but Europe is not as safe as it appears.
Fortunately, cashless payments have made sure that you don’t need to carry loose cash, which can be a bit of an issue in countries like Italy. For solo female tourists who do not wish to share a car with a male driver or passengers, Blablacar and other services offer a “Ladies Only” option which drivers can choose when offering rides, and riders can look for when searching for a lift.
A word of caution: If you wish to make most of your moderately expensive Eurail pass, travel long distances across Europe. The passes give you a stipulated number of days within which you can travel within the sector and you can make the best use of it by covering the longest distances within that span of time. The number of days depends on the pass, but range from the minimum of three to as long as unlimited travel for 3 months.
And finally, we come to that great mainstay for backpackers, the Busabout. Busabout has a few well traced out routes in Europe and you can hop in and hop off any time you want, sort of like the city bus service in NYC. There are about 33 stops which cover many of the popular places and a few destinations less frequented by travellers.
The summary of this piece : the best way to travel would be, in my opinion, the Eurail, the cheapest being ridesharing!
So there you are. You know some ways of travel. You know what they may or may not offer. Making a journey out of them is now your story.
Here’s my ticket out!
Written by Anandarup Dutta,