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Cheapest ways to travel around Europe

Friday 6th January 2012

The strength of the Euro and the high cost of living in Western European countries can be a bit daunting for a backpacker on a budget, but one thing you don't need to spend a fortune on is travel.

Most European destinations have budget options that make your life as a gap year traveller or summer backpacker a lot easier. Cheap hostels and accommodation in most towns and cities for starters, and then there are some great cost effective travel options for your trip too.

If time is of the essence, then flying is your best option for getting from A to B. Compared to the USA, Canada or Australia, Europe is not a massive continent. You can fly from Helsinki to Madrid in less than four and a half hours. Most countries also have airlines that offer cheap flights to other European destinations. In the UK EasyJet flies from 16 airports, and offers 500 routes across Europe and into other continents. A current example of the kind of prices EasyJet offers are flights from London to Paris in January which start at £25.99 one way. Ryanair is EasyJet's biggest competitor, offering ludicrously low prices such as a current flight to Frankfurt from London for £9.99. Other low cost airlines in the UK include Flybe, Jet2 and BMIBaby. Getting a really low cost flight depends on when you want to fly (Sunday's or midweek are usually cheaper), at what time you want to fly (early morning or late night is best), and being flexible in your travel dates. Most of the airlines websites have a page where you can view the cheapest flights for that month. All the low cost airlines have a reputation for adding costs to your booking once you have been drawn in by the amazing deals - you will have to pay tax on top of your basic flight price (although some airlines like BMIBaby show prices inclusive of tax), and then pay additional fees for your luggage, for paying by certain types of credit card, for optional insurance and sometimes for reserving a particular seat. For speed and convenience however, cheap flights are hard to beat if you just need to get from A to B.

If you want the journey itself  to be part of the travel experience, then travelling by train or bus may be more appealing. Inter-Rail are the best-known provider of rail passes for European destinations. You can choose a youth pass which means you can travel by train every day for a month around up to 30 European countries for just £371. If you don't want to spend that much time travelling, or you don't have a full month, other pass types are available. Trains in Europe are mostly pretty good, although they do vary according to country. In the UK, the train network is run by several different providers, so the standard of service does vary. Trains in the South East of England and on main routes across country can get extremely busy at peak times, so it pays to travel on a weekend rather than mid week, and at offpeak times (ie between 10am and 3pm) to get the best ticket prices. Doing a lot of travelling around Europe by train without an Inter-Rail pass could work out to be expensive and difficult to budget for, but it is possible.

Travelling by road can be a cheap option if you go for the bus. Coach travel in Europe is in general very good value for money, the main disadvantage being that long journeys take a lot of time. Eurolines offer a journey from London to Paris if you are under 25 for just £25. They also have routes to Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Longer journeys can be done overnight or take up to 24 to 30 hours. If you don't mind travelling on a coach for that long (and the coaches are very comfortable) and you aren't on a strict deadline, this is a really good option. Other bus companies specialise in youth travel, so those long bus journeys are turned into an opportunity to meet new people and socialise. Busabout offer "hop on, hop off" passes as well as tours and trips to festivals across Europe. They are currently offering 20% off all passes if you book before the 26th of February 2012. With the "hop on, hop off" pass, you can stay as long as you like in each destination - one of the longer routes for example includes Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Venice, Rome, Florence, Nice, Barcelona and Madrid, and can be done over an 8 week period. This trip as a student costs £799 (before the 20% discount if booked by the deadline.)

So whichever way you choose to travel around Europe this summer, you can be sure that there will be a budget travel option for you.