Before booking our trip we heard sooo many mixed stories about what is the best way to backpack around Europe. Should we travel using public buses, ferries, trains, hitchhiking, blah blah car, flights or do tours? “Train’s are always late”, “tours are so expensive”, “Hitchhiking is very dangerous” and “Public buses are always so long, uncomfortable and gross” are just some of the few we heard. It’s always hard to make a decision when you have no idea what to expect or what the experience is actually going to be like for you!
SO, I have decided to write a post on MY own opinions, how we decided to travel and what worked and didn’t work for us so you can decide what works for you!
SO, WHAT DID WE DO?:
We travelled to many places in Europe through a company called Busabout. If you haven’t heard of them they are an Australian based travel company that provide a “hop-on hop-on” bus network throughout Europe as well as tours, festivals and sails in Asia, Europe, Morocco, Scotland and Ireland. This means you can decide where you want to go and take as much time as you want doing so! I can’t recommend the company enough! No I’m not being paid to say this or anything like that, I just truly loved our experience and want to tell others about it!
After doing a fast paced 3 week “Top Deck” tour in 2012 (my first time to Europe), I knew I wanted to come back for longer and see more. Even though I LOVED the tour and it was great for the short time I had, it was very rushed! So we decided to book all of the loops Busabout provide and we made our way visiting the places we wanted and spending as much time as we wanted. We roughly spent 3 days in the bigger cities (sometimes more sometimes less) and 1 or 2 days in the smaller destinations (again sometimes more depending on what we thought looked cool!). The coaches we travelled on were great, so much better than the public ones haha, they have air-conitioning, movies and the guides always play good music. The buses always stop every 2-3 hours due to European laws which is great for some fresh air and stretch of the legs (see below for my comparison to public buses). We tried to book buses (through the website) as far in advance as possible to avoid missing out on the ones we wanted, although we didn’t really any have problems with this as we were travelling later on in the season. They also pick-up and drop-off at their recommended hostels but it is entirely up to you whether you chose stay there or not. Getting public buses or trains we always have to book in advance and try and make your own way to your accommodation which isn’t always easy (say if you arrive at night, you can’t find wifi or no one speaks english!). I can’t explain how easy and convient it is with Busabout, when you arrive to walk straight off the bus into your accommodation (or a short walk if we chose not to stay there). We did notice a lot of the pick-up/drop-off hostels were booked out pretty far in advance so we would just look in the area for other hostels and stay with in walking distance. They provide professional guides on all buses that are AMAZING and help you in every way they possibly can. They also give information about the city you are arriving in with helpful tips and answer any other questions you may have like how to get to another hostel or good restaurants etc. On your first bus they give you a booklet with everything you need to know about your Busabout adventure like timetables, their recommend hostels, drop off and pick up points, optional activities and heaps more. They also give you a 270 page Europe guide book written by Lonely Planet for detailed information and maps for all of the destinations they visit (this comes in super handy!). You can also book tours and things to do in any city on the bus with the guide which they tell you about onboard, again optional whether you chose to do these or not.
This type of travel is suitable for EVERYONE as you can use it to meet people if you are solo travelling or simply just for the transportation. We actually had an older couple probably in their 60’s on our buses just using it for transportation and staying in hotels. And thats exactly why I love it, it’s so flexible to what suits you! 6 weeks to 6 months the choice is all yours! We met soooo many awesome travellers and guides through out our journey and made incredible memories I will never forget!
The only few down sides that we discovered were expensive Wi-Fi onboard (more for emergencies I guess), some buses do book out fast in peak season (so get in early people!) especially ones around festivals/events, the service stations you stop at every couple of hours aren’t always the cheapest to get food (TIP, buy somethings the day before you leave for a cheaper and sometimes better food option for lunch and snacks) and the buses don’t run all year round (we actually didn’t end up going to all of the places we paid for because the season had ended, so we ended up having to pay to get to those places ourselves, obviously our fault though haha)
If your interested, check out the website for more information – http://www.busabout.com
OUR EXPERIENCE WITH OTHER MODES OF TRANSPORT:
FLIGHTS – We used flights as a last resort option. Although we did fly to a few destinations in Europe like Istanbul Turkey, Dubrovnik Croatia, 2 out of the 4 Greek Islands and when making our way over to Rome Italy. While in the mainland of Europe, flying isn’t really ideal because some countries can be quite close together you can sometimes get a bus/train to another country within an hour or less! Flights can also be very expensive but can sometimes be surprisingly cheap, so don’t completely rule out this option but keep an eye out for specials.
TOURS – I think tours are a great idea for people that want to see Europe but only have limited time, say 3-4-5 weeks. They are mainly all organsied for you and you get to meet loads of cool people. I did a Topdeck tour in 2012 as I mentioned above, which I absolutely LOVED as I only had 3 weeks. Some can be pricey but you are paying for a guide for your whole tour, transportation every day, accommodation and some include food and sightseeing/entry costs. If you have more time in Europe, then I would consider other options like smaller one- country tours rather than a big 3 week one. We did a few smaller tours, which were great to meet other people and can be quite cost effective. Some on the other hand I didn’t feel were value for money and didn’t include many things. I guess you just have to use your own common sense to make the decision if it’s right for your or not. But we did a few tours with Busabout which were awesome and I would highly recommend them! Aegean Adventure, Croatia Sail and all of the loops were fantastic!
PUBLIC BUSES – Public buses can be a very cheap option and some bus companies can provide nice coaches with toilets and Wi-Fi on board. In Poland we got a 5 hour bus for under 10 euro for the both of us! But sometimes they aren’t very nice, can be expensive and can be very diffuclt to book. When we were in Spain we tried to book a bus to Portugal but the whole website was in Spanish making it impossible for us to book, and resulted in us having to go to the bus station SUPER early in the morning to try and score a seat on the same day. A fair few buses we went on didn’t stop the whole trip. Like a 7 hour bus didn’t stop once for a stretch of the legs so by the end of it we just wanted to get out as quick as possible. Some days we also travelled over 10 hours, which become sooo tiring but if it saves you a lot of money then we are all for it!
TRAINS – Similar to buses trains can be good and bad. Trains can be late and cancelled for no reason and sometimes can be confusing to find your platform or information at the station. We considered getting a URAIL pass but the whole process sounded confusing and probably not too much cheaper than what we ended up planning. We also heard that during the peak seasons the trains are crazy busy, to the point where you can’t even get a seat. But the trains we did get were great but not cheap as we went through Switzerland and Italy. Trains are usually much faster than buses, so if you find a good deal and need to be somewhere trains could be the option for you! They can also have restaurants onboard to help with long journeys and there over night trains with proper beds which would save you on accommodation for the night! I have no idea how much those trains are as we never got the chance to take them, but it could be something worth considering.
FERRIES – Ferries are good if you are travelling from say London to France or through the Greek Islands. Usually A LOT cheaper than flying! They obviously take a lot longer but if you want to save some money then this is definitely the way. We got told to book ferries in advance for the Greek Islands because they sell out but if your travelling out of peak season I don’t think you would have a problem with buying a ticket when you arrive. Our friends bought a ferry ticket from Kefalonia to Zakynthos (we already paid for flights) a day before leaving and were extremely cheap!
HITCHIKING – The controversial topic of hitchhiking. We did NOT use this option while travelling as we stuck to a daily budget of 100 euro (for the both of us), which included transportation. I also don’t think this is a very safe way to travel especially if you are by yourself. But if you are willing to take the risks, then this may be an option for you.
BLAH BLAH CAR – An awesome option if you can’t find a bus/train or it is too expensive. If you haven’t heard of blah blah car, people basically put on the site that they are driving from “Blah” to “Blah” and they offer a seat in their car for usually a cheap price. You have an account and you review the driver and they review you as a passenger, so you can see what car they drive and what others thought of their driving etc. We did consider this at one point but you need a phone number to set up your account, which we didn’t have so we just went with a different option insted. I have heard excellent things about this service but I would also carefully consider if this is right for you if you are travelling alone.
I thought this was only going to be a short post, but it turns out I got too excited writing this haha! But I hope you have learnt something from my post so you can make the right decision on what your travelling style is and your budget. These are just my experiences and opinions as I know everyone is different but this is what we enjoyed and worked for us!
Thanks for reading!
NEXT UP – EXPLORING THE MAGICAL TOWN CESKY KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC