The Cheapest Way to Travel Around Europe

A quick rundown on what’s out there, based on my experiences hustling to save on travel costs… (Disclaimer: These are mostly based on my stay in the Iberian Peninsula)

Driving in Barcelona
Driving in Barcelona

1. BlaBlaCar (Ride sharing / car pooling)

Safer and more convenient than hitch hiking, I stumbled upon BlaBlaCar trying to find ways to travel last minute without spending exorbitant fees. BlaBlaCar basically works like this: people who have extra space in their cars post their trips (eg. from Valencia to Sevilla) on the system, and you sign up for a seat/place in the car for a fee (usually cheaper than trains and/or planes).

Taken during our BlaBlaCar ride to Madrid from Barcelona. It was around 30+ euros per person for a 3-4 hour journey. Our driver, Ana, was absolutely lovely and super helpful
Taken during our BlaBlaCar ride to Madrid from Barcelona. It was around 30+ euros per person for a 3-4 hour journey. Our driver, Ana (working in tourism), was absolutely lovely and super helpful! She even taught us some Spanish phrases 🙂

Pros:

  • It’s cheap, especially when it’s last minute and the train/plane tickets are sky-high
  • It’s relatively safe
  • The people who use BlaBlaCar (based on my experience) are usually young, modern, tech-savvy, open-minded people. You can even make friends on the road!
  • (This could be a con) You can take turns driving in the car, if the driver’s cool with it.
  • It can be quicker than buses, and more comfortable.
  • You can have stopovers in interesting places
Stopover in Zaragoza, the halfway point between Barcelona and Madrid
Stopover in Zaragoza, the halfway point between Barcelona and Madrid

Cons:

  • You might end up disliking the people you’re in the car with; at the end of the day it’s a gamble.
  • You don’t get instant confirmation of your journey until the driver responds to you.
  • Your meeting place and time aren’t 100% set or written in stone, so sometimes human error can figure in your plans

But all things said and done I thought BlaBlaCar was a pretty decent, cheap and fun way to travel, and if you yourself are driving a nice way to split the cost of your journey. I hear it’s really taken off in Germany compared to Spain or other parts of Europe…

2. Trains

There’s something romantic and nostalgic about travelling in trains. Except of course when you’re in a car packed with Chinese tour group participants (true story…)

The last time I left Barcelona: A sad day for me
The last time I left Barcelona: A sad day for me

Pros:

  • They’re standardised: you know how to get around train stations more or less, how to get there, where to go, how everything works from ticketing to boarding your car… no surprises, just all going according to clockwork.
  • They’re fast and usually you don’t have to go through as much crap as when you fly like security checks, immigration, etc.
  • Unlimited baggage space and weight! So if you’ve got loads of stuff/heavy suitcases, this mode of transport would be convenient…
  • You can read/work/walk around/stretch/use the WC during the journey
  • Views of the countryside and landscapes you pass
  • You can usually depend on European trains to be on the dot

Cons:

  • Expensive, especially when last minute.

3. Car rentals

Road trip to Tarragona (Catalunya) with classmates from Spanish school in our rented Volkswagen (don't get Fiats!!!)
Road trip to Tarragona (Catalunya) with classmates from Spanish school in our rented Volkswagen (don’t get Fiats!!!)

I would only recommend this if you’re travelling in a group (of four, in particular). Yes you can get really cheap rates (as low as 10 euros a day if you get shitty cars from popular locations like airports). But once you add fuel, insurance, TOLLS (especially in Catalunya), etc., it turns out to be a bad deal. My sister and I got the worst car as well, a Fiat Panda at one point, the tire of which just exploded when I was backing up on the sidewalk. It was a nightmare, and I ended up wasting half a day and 150 euros replacing the damn thing as I hadn’t paid for insurance.

Pros: 

  • Flexibility in terms of time, stopovers, places you want to reach, etc.
  • It can come off as cheaper than trains if you’re a big group.
  • No waiting time; fast
  • No wasting time getting to and from airports/train stations/bus stations
  • You can get lost and/or make a mistake and get caught for traffic violations

Cons:

  • Speeding fines that you only get weeks after you’ve returned the car. They can be super pricey, like 40 euros per infraction
  • Toll after toll after toll
  • PARKING – what a nightmare. Especially within busy cities. But usually you have to pay anywhere you go, particularly if you want to check out tourist sites, which you’re likely to do. At one point I spent almost an hour going around Barcelona just looking for parking. It was horrible.
  • Petrol costs can add up and before you know it you’ve blown hundreds of euros on gasoline

I repeat: NOT WORTH IT unless you’re a group of four.

4. Buses

What can I say? They’re cheap, dependable, maybe a bit slow, but all around convenient. The downside is that they’re not as regular as trains, and their schedules can be few and far between.

5. Flights

At the waiting lounge in Amsterdam
At the waiting lounge in Amsterdam

Sometimes they can be cheaper than trains, and they’re usually the fastest way of getting around.

Cons:

  • You have to arrive 30-45 minutes before your flight and if you miss it, you waste loads of time and money.
  • Some airports can be out of the way (Train stations are usually in city centres) and it takes a while to get to them.
  • Cramped space
  • Limited luggage

I would definitely take planes if I bought way in advance. 🙂

And that’s it – my top five! Safe travels, everyone! 🙂

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