Its been 2 months since I have been back from my backpacking trip to Europe and after clearing up my expenses, I felt that it would be great if I could share some of my learning experiences and tips with all you potential travelers out there. Europe is scenic destination but lets face it, a trip around Europe can quickly become a blur of churches/duomos/basilicas. Due to the fact that I have A LOT to say, I will break the information up into a few entries for your easy digestion.
Basically I hopped a circle around mostly Western-Europe and a little of bit of the East (the cute map created by Fuck Yeah Cartography shows my route!)
Part 1: Travelling Around – Deciding how to travel
Before deciding to visit 18 locations in 45 days, I had to first consider how I would get around. There are a few options to consider: Car, Bus, Train or Plane. Planes are great and if you camp out on the flight comparison sites you can get pretty cheap flights (my flight out from London to Barcelona cost me $98 via Monarch Airlines) however, note that some budget flights only fly out to less accessible airports and it can be a hassle to find transportation to an fro. Cars are good if you are travelling in a group and the driver is over the age of 26, otherwise you pay an expensive premium for being inexperienced on top of the expensive cost of fuel. Alternatively you can rent a car for a day to get to sightseeing places not accessible by public transport. Buses doesn’t seem to feature much in Europe but I did have an interesting experience taking the night bus (EASYBUS) from Paris to London where the bus drove up on a ferry and traveled across the channel. Other travelers have mentioned that you will be able to watch the sunset from the ferry but I was too tired and overslept >.< If you can afford, I don’t reccomend EASYBUS as the crowd includes noisy yappy teenagers and you end up having to crouch in too-small seats with no leg room space NIGHTMARE!
My preferred mode of travel would be the train as I found it to be the cheapest and most efficient alternative.The most simple way to travel by train would be to purchase the Eurail pass. Eurail is basically like a middle-man for the all participating train operators around Europe (i.e. Trenitalia, SCNF etc…) I had some doubts on the cost savings of the Eurail Pass as it is pretty pricey – I paid S$1000 for a 30 Day Continuous Global pass and got 5 extra days during a promotion. If you are from Singapore, or basically anywhere they have a office , lucky for you as you will have to get the pass mailed to you and courier is free for certain countries (I received my pass within a week).
You have a myriad of choices; single country pass, regional pass, global pass in10/15/30 days and its cheaper if you are aged under 26. From some of my friends doing their exchange in Europe, simply going to the train operators website (Websites of Rail Companies at the bottom of the linked page) and waiting for a sale is cheaper but with more than 20 trips to take and so many countries to visit, I could not afford to wait it out. The pass is especially good if you intend to travel to Eastern Europe – a single ticket from Prague to Budapest was listed at about S$500. So for $1000 and taking more than 20 trips (some long distance) , even after including reservation, it averaged about $60 per trip.
(Inside different types of trains)
After purchasing and receiving the pass, go on the Eurail website to check on whether the train route you are taking requires reservation which is compulsory for most night trains and high speed trains. You can also purchase the reservation (usually about S$20-$30) at the train stations in Europe with proof of the pass but you risk not getting the reservation especially during summer peak periods – though I only encountered it once when I had to change my reservation and couldn’t get the next best. But no worries, there are plenty of fishes in the sea (or in this case, trains in Europe) and a next best alternative is never too far away especially if you are travelling between large cities. I even managed to avoid reservation by changing trains up to 6 times in a single trip – oh the thrills of being a backpacker!
Some tips: Download the offline version of Eurail even if you do not have the pass as it is pretty handy to have a interactive map of all train routes you can take.
Picture from NPH
The picture above shows the train timetable which can be found in all train stations showing every single train that comes and goes from that station. It is separated into Arriving trains (White paper) and Departing trains (Yellow paper) and organised according to time. Do check to make sure that the column you are looking at is for the correct day (weekdays vs weekends). Next to the individual timings it will state all the information you require like if the route requires reservation and if there are any periods where it does not run. Eurail tries to be updated but sometimes the website can be a little cranky and not show a perfect route i.e. telling you to change trains 7 times or showing you a route that takes 25 hrs. Cross check with the app and also the train operator’s website DO NOT BE LAZY.
You can plan a picnic but you can’t predict the weather. Even if things screw up i.e train services are delayed or cancelled, buses gets caught in jams bla bla bla… just take it into your stride. After all, its all just part of the Europe experience 🙂