Budget Travel: Transportation

I believe that travel should be accessible to everyone and that money should not stand between someone and their dreams. Though this is too often the case, I did find many easy ways to save money while I was traveling. Last week I wrote about a couple of the accommodation resources I used to save money and shared my experiences with them. This week I want to continue by writing about ways that I saved money on transportation.

When you think of traveling of course you think of the flight, where you’ll be staying, what you’ll be eating, and all the rest, but it seemed that the most stressful part for me was figuring out transportation. Of course there are a dozen ways to get rides— ride sharing apps and public transportation such as trains, buses, and subway systems are wonderful resources.

I will discuss some of the transportation methods I used in my travels and provide some insight on what did and didn’t work for me as a budget traveler.

Popular Ride Sharing Apps: Uber, Lyft, My Taxi

Most people know about these apps already. Coming from a more rural area and already owning a car, I have not had much use for these apps in the past. An unfortunate side effect of this is that I forgot to download them before I left the United States. Since I didn’t have an international data plan for my phone, I was not able to receive the mandatory text message that would have allowed me to create an account. So though I did not use Uber or Lyft, my spot of advice for you is this: download the apps before you leave home! This may seem obvious to other people, but in the last minute rush of preparing for a trip, downloading Uber and Lyft were not that high on my to do list.

My Taxi does not exist where I come from, but some European countries use this as their primary “ride share” app. This was the case in Ireland, where I was told Uber and Lyft were practically non-existent. Really, it’s a taxi summoning app, so the prices are not usually as great as Uber or Lyft, but it still really comes in handy when you’re freezing your butt off on a street corner at 7:00 am in Dublin looking for a ride to the nearest ferry.

A Special Word for BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar is a ride sharing/ carpooling app that is a wonderful resource for people trying to save money on rides, as long as they have an open schedule in their travels. It works like this: Say I am planning on driving from Paris to Lyon next Saturday and want to make a little extra money and provide a service. I list my car and trip— including time of departure and possible stops along the way— and set a price per seat available in my car. Once I’ve done this, people who need to travel from Paris to Lyon can check the app to see if anyone is also going that way. If so, they can request a seat in my car, pay through the app, and there you go! Most rides that I saw on the app were about 20 to 30 euros, depending on distance and the host.

Though as was the case with Couch Surfing, I ended up not personally using the app for a ride myself, but it was always one of the first places I checked to scope out potential savings on my transportation.

Flixbus

There are multiple long-haul bus services in Europe, but I found myself most comfortable (and saving the most money) with Flixbus. This is a great option for both long and short distance travel, as it is super affordable and the buses usually seemed to be punctual. My overnight ticket from Genoa, Italy to Friedrichshafen, Germany was about 45 euros. To put this into perspective, the train tickets that I looked at— which granted were much quicker, though did have a good deal of train hopping involved— were about 180 euros! So obviously my wallet and I agreed that Flixbus would be the way to go.

Now I am not going to make it sound like this was a perfect experience. Most of the long distance trips happen overnight and transfers are often involved. This meant that I spent a chilly hour and a half in Zurich, Switzerland at 2:00 am on a little bus bench in the near dark, desperately hoping my life didn’t turn into a horror movie. I had a similar experience on my way to France, when I found myself on another overnight bus ride (with Flixbus) and once more found myself in Zurich at a time a bit too long before sunrise. So I have been to Zurich twice, and have yet to see it in the light of day.

That being said, if you are someone who can sleep on a bus (unlike me), and don’t mind the early morning hours, Flixbus is great. Honestly, though it was sort of miserable for me at the time, I didn’t regret those long-haul overnight trips because I always arrived in a new location with the dawn or early morning light and was always too excited about the next adventure to be too tired or dwell on my less than perfect bus ride.

Hop-On Hop-Off

This is a popular tourist bus service that you can find in most cities and tourist destinations. At first I was a little skeptical. They never seemed like the best way to see a place and really experience the best of what there was to offer. When I went to Barcelona, it was my first time exploring a big city alone. I did a lot of walking and riding the underground, but some places that I really wanted to see— museums, parks, and the like— were a little too afar for me to feel comfortable making my way there alone in a city where I didn’t speak the language or have a deep understanding of the culture.

So I caved an bought a two-day pass. There are two circuits around Barcelona, meaning I could see one end of the city one day and the other side of the city on the next day. When you buy a ticket you must print it, they won’t let you show your confirmation on your phone. If you don’t have a printer you need to make your way over to their office (near the city center in the case of Barcelona) to have it printed before you can get on the bus. This can be a serious hassle, but at least now I (and you) know!

When you get on the bus you will be given a receipt that you must keep on you (it needs to be shown every time you get on the bus) and a pair of headphones. Every set of seats has a headphone jack that allows you to tune in to the radio system that provides you with an audio tour of the city as you are driven around. (The greatest part of this feature was that it was available in about a dozen languages!) Most buses had a top open-air deck, where you could have a panoramic view of your surroundings. I felt very much like a tourist, but it was still fun.
The great thing about the Hop-On Hop-Off bus was that you could be picked up and dropped off at any of the predetermined locations— as listed on the maps that they give you. A new bus would swing around every twenty to thirty minutes, so you never had to wait long in one place if you didn’t want to. It was great to know that I had a way to get back to where I started as long as I planned things right and was aware of my time.

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus was a great supplemental service for my time in Barcelona. The two day pass cost me about 40 euro, but for two full days of travel around the city without the worry of finding metro stations or catching rides, it was worth the price and I considered it a deal. If it had been my only method of exploration, I would have missed so much, but as part of a greater adventure, it was wonderful for helping me see the city, gain insight into its history and culture, and get from place to place safely, quickly, and rather affordably.

Trains: Trainline and Trainline EU

Trains are my favorite mode of transportation. They are (usually) fast, clean, safe, and comfortable. If I could take a train everywhere I go, I would. There are many train services. Each European county has its own sort of train system of course, and many of them have apps that you can download to purchase tickets (like OUI.sncf in France), but this can be difficult to keep track of if you are visiting multiple countries.

The two services that I used most often for booking train tickets were Trainline and Trainline EU. Trainline is primarily used for trains within the United Kingdom, and Trainline EU is for most of the countries within continental Europe. I found these sites to have the most affordable options, and I always managed to find a train that was going where I was headed.

Though I adore trains, they do tend to be much more expensive than other transportation methods, and the variation in services between countries can be exhausting to deal with at times. There are passes for extended stays that can make this a bit easier, which will allow you to buy the single ticket and use it as many times as you want within a certain time period, but these are often extremely expensive and some of them need to be purchased while you are in your home country and cannot be purchased while you are already abroad. So if you have some extra money, want a super open travel schedule, and don’t want to deal with booking tickets as you go, train passes are a valid option.

If I could have taken the train everywhere I went, it would have been ideal, but as a budget traveler that is often not the case.

A Word on Underground Services

The two underground systems that I used were in England and in Barcelona. This is probably the best public transport method available in most cities. I have noticed that it takes some leaning though. I found myself lost and confused a multitude of times, and ironically, the attendants in England did not seem to be much more helpful to me than the ones in Spain (and the latter and I didn’t always speak the same language). If you plan to use the underground for an extended period of time, I suggest purchasing passes (there are various types based on zones and lengths of your stay) and always trying to arrive early, just in case you find yourself a bit lost (like me).

These were just a few of the transportation methods I used while abroad. Most of my motivation for using these particular services was the ability to save money so that I could travel longer. There are many other resources that I may explore more on another adventure or in another blog post, but for now, there it is!

If you have any suggestions for other affordable modes of transportation, let me know in the comments!

(Image is from the morning that I arrived in Friedrichshafen after a long 11 hour Flixbus ride and watched the morning break over Lake Constance with somebody special)

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