Alternative Transportation in Europe: Off the Eurail Trail
By Marie Javins, GoNOMAD TRANSPORTS EDITOR
The classic way to travel around Europe is by rail, using a Eurailpass. But sleeping on trains in Western Europe is not for everyone. Leave Eurailing to the crowds and find yourself a nice, out of the way slice of the old country, by
car, boat, bus, or bicycle.
Hop the Bus
Plenty of buses offer hop-on, hop-off passes similar to railpasses, but at cheaper rates than trains. Like railpasses, some bus passes are good for all of Europe, while others are usable only in certain countries or certain regions. Buses are more versatile than trains, serving untouristed areas — some even offer door-to-door service, accommodation and tour options.
Take a Plane
Short on time but want to get from the UK to Europe without breaking the bank? Try one of the new low-cost European airlines. Go, EasyJet, Ryanair, and Buzz fly from small UK airports to many European destinations. Some of them encourage online booking and ticketless travel. Easyjet has its own Internet-only discount car rental service. Some companies are offering $99 flights around Europe this summer!
Just because you don’t want to Eurail doesn’t mean you don’t want to travel by train. Many Western European countries, as well as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Balkans, have their own individual railpasses. The European East Pass covers Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland in addition to Austria and the Czech Republic.
Or you can forget about passes altogether and take a slow train through Bohemia, enjoying the Czech countryside en route to Karlsbad.
A Boat of Your Own
Heading through the Greek isles, the Mediterranean coast or down Ireland’s Shannon River? Rent your own sailboat or motorboat and cruise at your own pace. Boat rentals can be bareboat or crewed, so you don’t have to be an old salt to rent one.
For more information on self-cruising Ireland, see WHISKEY AND WATER.
Barge your way through the waterways of Europe and you won’t have to change hotels even once! Sign up for a luxurious barge cruise in Western Europe, or rent your own budget barge. Or start in Tulcea, Romania, and take a “ponton” boat through the Danube Delta, Europe’s greatest wetlands.
Bike and Barge
Like the idea of a barge, but need a little more activity during the day? Many companies offer bike and barge holidays in Holland, and some are offered in other countries. If you tire of riding your bike, just stay on the ship and laze around. Most bike and barge trips are in well-touristed areas.
Bike your way around Europe, camping at night or staying in inns. Some travel agencies offer gourmet bike tours, or DIY bike trips. Bicycle Beano even offers vegetarian bike tours of Wales! Go with a group or independently. If you want to have a bike for day trips or for journeys around town, you can rent bikes at many European train stations. Many of them come with built-in locks, but take your own for added security.
A bike tour truly gets you out into untouristed Europe. You’ll stop in towns too small to merit public transport. France’ Loire Valley is popular with bicyclists, as is Austria’s Donauradweg trail and much of the Netherlands.
Ferries ply well-known routes between Greece and Italy, and between France and England. But you can also move on from mainland Europe to Scandinavia, from there taking a coastal ferry along the fjords of Norway, or to the Baltic Republics via Tallinn. Or stay on the mainland but go east, first taking a ferry from Vienna to Budapest, and then sailing up the Danube from Budapest to Esztergom.
A self-drive car is convenient for families, and is essential for wilderness areas such as Lapland, or for geographically isolated areas like Brittany. Rentals aren’t limited to cars, either: consider renting a camper-van to save on accommodations, as well. A short-term lease (minimum 17 days), such as Renault’s popular “purchase-repurchase” plan, can be cheaper than a rental, saving the driver money on taxes, insurance and daily rental fees. Most rental companies also offer leases. Make an advance booking from the States to get the best rental rates.
For great deals, check out the various fly-drive packages offered by airlines and tour companies. Ireland’s Fly/Drives are famous and also include vouchers for lodgings!
In Europe, remember that fuel costs more, some countries are left-hand drive, and you need to request an automatic transmission in advance. Spain and Hungary require international driver’s licenses, and each country has its own safety requirements.
For more information on driving, renting and leasing in Europe, see Rick Steves’ GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE TO DRIVING EUROPE
Hitch A Ride
It is also possible to “hitch,” through a shared ride service such as Moto Europa, Allo Stop Provoya, and Mitfahrerzentrale (MFS). You must share costs with the driver, but it’s a great way to meet people and travel the continent inexpensively.
Be A Wild One
Escorted and unescorted motorcycle tours combine the off the beaten path access of having your own vehicle with power. Ride through the UK, the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Dolomites, or Liechtenstein. Just make sure you have an international driver’s license with motorcycle endorsement before you leave home, as Spain and Hungary require it.
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