It’s true. Taking trains around Europe is almost like a right of passage. ‘Everyone’ does it, it’s fun, unique, and can get you pretty much anywhere. A Eurail Pass also allows you to play loose and fast with your plans. Want to stay an extra day in a particular city? Not a problem. The pass will still be good the next day. There is a lot of good to say about a rail pass when touring Europe.
But (and this is a big one) they can be very expensive. A three country Eurail Pass that’s good for five travel days over the span of two months will set you back at least $406. If you break that down by travel days, it comes out to just over $81 per day. Not bad, but you could do better.
Taking the bus
I’m not talking about a city bus (though, depending on where you go, you should take advantage of that, too). I’m talking about taking a bus from city to city as a cheap alternative to the train. I took the bus from Berlin to Prague for under $40. If you’re traveling with someone, that’s less than $80. The least you’d spend on a two country Eurail pass is $300+ dollars. $600+ for two passes.
If you have a specific itinerary that you need to stick to, taking a bus may be the better option.
Bus ticket experience vs Pass experience
The company I used was Flixbus. And compared to the trains I took, it was more or less the same experience. In a way, it was less stressful. I had a guaranteed seat. The Eurail Pass doesn’t guarantee you a seat on any particular train. The pass is more like flying standby. You’ll be able to get on the train if there are seats available. If not, you’ll probably have to wait for the next train. Now, there were a few of times when I was on the train and people were standing because they couldn’t find a seat, but from what I understand, that’s frowned upon.
You can reserve a seat on a train (but that costs extra and you’re already shelling out at least $300).
Everyone seems less stressed
I think a large part of it is the guaranteed seat, but everyone seemed to be a lot less stressed on the bus. At least for me, having a guaranteed seat was a big reason why I was less stressed. Something else that I think was a factor, was that people knew what to expect. There was more of a set schedule versus kinda "winging it" when you get to the train station.
For example, when I was headed from Switzerland into Germany, there were several connections that I had to make. When one of the legs was delayed, I ended up missing one of the connections I wanted to make. I was able to catch another train about a half-hour later, but it was stressful nonetheless. This is less likely to happen to you if you get a bus ticket.
Just as much room (possibly more)
Here’s the thing: on a bus, because you’re guaranteed a seat, you’re guaranteed a certain amount of personal space. On a train, if you can find a seat, you’re also guaranteed that same amount of personal space. But if you find that you have to take a train ride on a more popular route, you may also need to stand (therefore, you are guaranteed no personal space).
Even if you have a seat, you may find your personal space invaded by backpackers who can’t find a seat standing next to your seat with their human-sized backpack dangerously close to wacking you in the head every two seconds. This actually happened to me. I was sitting on the train headed north toward Frankfurt when at one of the stops a bunch of kids clambered into the car I was sitting in. When we stopped, there were already zero seats available. Meaning, these college-aged kids had nowhere to sit or put their luggage. So they just stood in the aisle with their luggage. That will not happen on a bus.
You should certainly consider taking a bus, or two, or three to tour Europe. It certainly can be a cheap alternative to ‘railing’ across the continent, and there’s evidence that busing is becoming more and more popular.
For example, something that’s already a hit within many cities in Europe are hop-on hop-off bus tours. For those unfamiliar, these are tours where you basically buy a ticket that allows you to get on and off as many times as you want within a certain amount of time. The tours typically hit up tourist hot-spots.
Well, what’s becoming more popular is a bigger version of that. Hop-on hop-off tours around Europe. Yes, around the whole continent. Now, those are, obviously, going to be a bit more expensive than a normal bus ride between two cities, but it’s an easy way to see a bunch of amazing areas of Europe.
Another way to make the most of your next European trip? Use my free travel library. It has tips that’ll make the next trip you take a breeze. All you need to do is sign up below.