It isn’t always easy to travel Europe on a budget. One of the biggest ways I saved on my overland journey across the Mediterranean coast this summer was sticking to long distance buses as my means of transportation. Flying might have been easier. Trains might have been more romantic. But my shoestring budget had other ideas, and I found that bus travel actually has plenty of its own charms. Why should you travel Europe by bus?
Flying may be quicker, and the plethora of budget airlines in Europe might not even break the bank. But long distance buses in Europe are considerably more comfortable. While I haven’t pulled out a tape and measured, I’d put money on the fact that the average bus seat is larger than the average plane seat. Bus seats are also only two to a row – no dreaded middle seat. And on many of the buses I took in Europe, the coach was not fully booked, so I was often able to have an entire row to myself. In 10 years of flying, that has happened to me maybe twice on an airplane.
Aside from the seats themselves, there are lots of little ways buses are more comfortable than planes. When packing, you don’t need to worry about your liquids. You can simply pack your bag and go. There’s no security line to wait through. You don’t have to take off your shoes and x-ray your laptop and grovel at the TSA’s feet to get to your destination. Checking your bag and reclaiming it on arrival are five-minute processes, not hour-long waits. Many buses in Europe have on board WiFi and power points so you can charge your electronics – huge plus! I’d rather have that as a perk than a plastic wrapped airline meal any day.
In Eastern Europe especially, where online booking is less common, you can simply go to the bus station and hop on the next departure. It is not nearly as easy or affordable to book a last minute flight. Travel by bus is ideal for the traveler who likes to wing it.
Like travel by train, travel by bus comes with excellent scenery. When you travel overland, instead of flying, you see so much more of the country you’re in. I’ve gotten to enjoy views of everything from rolling hills in the south of France to turquoise waters off local beaches in Croatia.
Airports are never in the middle of the city center. Bus stations and stops can be. Even the farthest I’ve been dropped off from my hostel is only five kilometers. I may have grabbed a taxi or local bus for convenience, but when I feel like stretching my legs, I can walk that far without much problem. I’d probably never be able to walk all the way from an airport to a central hostel.
Many of these perks are shared by train travel, and a lot of folks will tell you to shell out for a Eurail pass. I love trains and there’s certainly a romance to a continental train journey that a bus ride will never be able to match. But getting from point A to point B for just 10 euro is worth the cost in romance! Flixbus in particular has rock bottom rates all over Europe. You just can’t beat the price of traveling by bus. You can also book overnight buses, much like overnight trains, and save yourself a night of accommodation expenses. Traveling overland is economical in every way.
One of the most unexpected ways I’ve found travel by bus to differ from flying is the people. It was the best kind of culture shock to board an overnight bus from Montpellier to Paris and have the gentleman in front of me turn around and ask if it was alright for him to recline his seat. I think if that happened on an airplane, the world would stop turning! But this was something of a norm on buses. I’ve certainly encountered nice, helpful people on planes, and I’ve had a nightmarish seat mate on a bus ride before. But overall, people appear to be much more considerate of one another on long distance buses than they are on planes.
More comfortable than flying and cheaper than trains, traveling Europe by bus hits a sweet spot for budget travelers. In Western Europe, book with Ouibus whenever possible. The seats are the most comfortable, I’ve never had a late bus, and the power points are between seats, so the aisle seat occupant doesn’t have to reach over the person in the window seat to plug in. Where Ouibus doesn’t cover you, Flixbus will. In Eastern Europe, don’t worry about booking online. Just head to the station and go. For planning overland travel – getting time and cost estimates, or ideas of where to go – use Rome2Rio and its corresponding app FetchMyWay.
Want to see the bus-heavy overland travel route I planned through Europe? Read about my planning process with Rome2Rio.
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