Updated: 6/26/18 | June 26, 2018
Traveling around Europe can be fairly expensive. Airline tickets, high-speed trains, overnight trains, ferries — they can all eat into your limited and precious travel budget.
However, a few recent trends that have helped travelers get around Europe cheaper: weaker currency exchange rates, the rise of the sharing economy, new bus options, and lots of new budget airlines. There are now tons of cheap ways to get around Europe because of all these changes.
I’ve been traveling Europe since I started backpacking there in 2006 and have seen so many things change over that time period. I’ve watched travel hacks come and go and prices change and rechange. i can honestly say that it’s never been easier to get around Europe because there are so many new cheap ways to travel the continent. And, in this article, I’ll lay out how to get around on a budget – and tell you when is the best time to use which transportation type:
The 7 Best Ways To Travel Europe Cheap
Traveling Europe by Megabus
Megabus is a cheap way to get around the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) as well as to Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Tickets can cost as little as 1 GBP if you book at least a month in advance on popular routes. However, 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 20 GBP. I recently took a 5 GBP bus from London to Bristol. (The train? 45 GBP!) That ticket was only bought the day before too! Additionally, Megabus also operates trains to some destinations around the UK, starting at 10 GBP. 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.
Traveling Europe by Busabout
Busabout is a hop-on/hop-off bus service similar to the Oz or Kiwi Experience in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. A lot of backpackers use this method of travel to get around as well as meet other travelers. You can get on and off whenever you want along one of their set routes. You can buy tickets that let you travel their whole network with a set number of stops, for example, a nine-day flex pass, which gives you nine stops from your starting city. The pass also comes with a guide and sometimes includes group activities. A two-week pass is $299 USD. If you figure you can visit about six cities in two weeks, that’s $50 a trip. When you consider the soft benefits of a guide, included trips, and meeting people, Busabout becomes price comparable to trains and flights — though still more expensive than a regular public bus. Their unlimited passes for $1,499 for six months of travel is the best long-term transportation deal. The only downside to Busabout is that if you want to visit a city not on one of their routes, you have to make your own way there at an added cost.
Traveling Europe by FlixBus
Over the last few years, a new company has entered the market and totally changed the bus system in Europe! German-based FlixBus quickly became my favorite non-train way to get across Europe more cheaply.
Another option is to take Eurolines. Every country in Europe has its own national bus service, but for international long-distance bus routes, they sort of combine into the umbrella company Eurolines. While it serves more destinations than FlixBus, I prefer the comfort and prices of FlxiBus if I have a choice between the two. Eurolines prices usually start at around 20 euros for a 5-6-hour journey.
Traveling Europe by Budget Airline
By far one of the cheapest ways to travel long-distance in Europe is by budget airline. These airlines are hugely prolific on the continent, and this competition has led to incredibly cheap fares, often as cheap as 1 euro. When I need to go somewhere and I don’t want to take a long bus or train journey, I fly budget airlines. My favorite budget airlines are:
It’s important to remember that these budget airlines make most of their money through fees, and the second you mess up, they whack you with a fee. They are very strict about baggage limits or forgetting to print out your boarding pass. Be sure to follow their rules to the letter. Sometimes these budget airlines cost more money because of all their fees, so if you’re traveling with a lot of bags, it may be cheaper to fly with one of the larger airlines (which have also lowered their fares in the face of tough competition).
For more information, here is a complete guide to finding cheap flights around Europe.
Traveling Europe with a Eurail Pass
I love traveling by train: sitting in a big seat, relaxing with a book, and watching the stunning landscape go by. It’s more comfortable than a bus and much less stressful than air travel. And the European rail system is one of the best and most extensive in the world.
If you’re going to travel by train, it’s hard to beat them on price and convenience for short city-to-city travel. For longer journeys (overnight journeys, between countries, or rides that require a high-speed line, like Paris to Bordeaux or Berlin to Munich), trains tend to be very expensive.
If you plan to travel around Europe in a grand tour or if you are going to be traveling across vast distances and don’t want to fly, getting a rail pass is your best money-saving travel option. Your cost per trip will be a lot lower than if you were to buy these tickets separately.
For more information, here is a complete breakdown of Eurail passes and when they should be used to save money.
Traveling Europe Using BlaBlaCar
The rise of the sharing economy has allowed people to hop a ride with locals going their way, and BlaBlaCar is the reigning king of this service. It’s hugely popular and widespread in Europe, and I’ve used this service many times. It lets you rideshare with people who have extra space in their car. You find a ride, they agree to take you, and off you go. You can find rides for as little as 5 euros. It is the BEST paid way to get around Europe. You get to meet a local, have a friendly conversation, save tons of money over bus and train travel, and get off the highways and more into the countryside.
Alternatively, there are websites where you can ask for rides so long as you pitch in for gas. Gumtree is the most popular among backpackers.
The Cheapest Way To Travel Europe: Hitchhiking
The best way to travel Europe cheaply 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. But — it’s important to use your head when hitchhiking. Always trust your instinct, and use common sense. If the situation feels unsafe, bail out as quick as you can.
The Best Way to Get Around Europe: Mix and Match Your Transportation
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to get around Europe on a budget. But the best way is to MIX AND MATCH YOUR TRANSPORTATION. The key to traveling around Europe on the cheap is to know when to use each one of the listed transportation methods. For short trips, I like trains and BlaBlaCar. For medium-length trips (half a day), I’ll take a bus, BlaBlaBla car, or train. For long distances, I fly or take a high-speed train or an overnight bus.
Too many travelers think it’s an all or nothing thing. Like one way is always better than the other. That’s not true. There’s no one way to travel Europe. There are a ton – and you need to know when to use which method. What’s more valuable? Time or money? If you have more time, take the slower cheaper routes (except when flying is cheaper). If you have more money and a shorter trip, fly and take the train. In any given trip, I will take at least four of the above methods on how to get around Europe! It’s a mix and match method. One way isn’t good 100% of the time.
If you have no preference on how you travel — and you just want the cheapest option (which is usually what I do) — use a website like Rome2rio or Go Euro. All you have to do is enter where you are going and these sites will mix and match the various ways to get around the continent for the least amount of money. They will string together buses and trains and planes to construct the quickest trip for the least amount of money. I personally have a preference for Rome2Rio as I like the user interface better.
If you are looking for the best ways to travel Europe, use the transportation options above that suit your needs and you’ll always get the best deal! Remember: no one method works 100% of the time! Mix and match!
Do that and you’ll save tons of time and money.
Keep planning your trip to Europe with these other articles I wrote:
- Check out my Europe travel guide
- The Cost of Western Europe Travel
- The Cost of Traveling Eastern Europe
- Is a Eurail Pass Worth the Cost? Let’s find out!
- My 24 Favorite Hostels in Europe
- My Step-By-Step Guide to Backpacking Europe