One of the easiest ways of traveling through Europe is by train. The train systems all throughout Europe are highly accessible and have some of the most beautiful scenery.
Not only is traveling by train more environmentally friendly, it is also one of the cheapest ways.
Of course the train isn’t the only option to road trip, you can take a car, camper, motorcycle, bike or a plane. How you travel is up to you. I do focus on traveling by train in this blog, although the information also applies for the other forms of road tripping.
Before you go
Before you start with your journey it is recommended to think about countries where you want to go, and which cities you want to see.
Grab a map of Europe on Google maps or on paper and make a route you think you would like to follow. I always plan out the main places I want to visit and how much time I think I want to spend there. But stay flexible because your plans can always change on the road.
I thought I wanted to spend 3 days in Valencia, turns out on my first day, that all stores/shops were closed due to announced protests for 3 days. So after one day I left Valencia and went to Madrid for 5 days instead of 2.
After you decided where you want to go, you can buy a train pass, or train tickets (or plane tickets, ect.).
If you want you can book place to spend the night; a hotel, hostel, air bnb or with friends/family. Because I like to be flexible I booked my hostels/hotels the day before I went there.
There is a company: Interrail/Eurail, that offers “Global” passes and one country passes. The global pass is valid in 33 countries in Europe. You can buy the pass 11 month before you start traveling or even a month before. For the one country pass you can choose from 29 countries and travel within their borders. There are many passes from which you can choose, you can travel from 4 days in 1 month up to unlimited for 3 months. Check out their website for more information on the train passes and the right option for you.
The other option is buying tickets on the go. Which means you go to a train station and buy your preferred ticket there. Keep in mind that this could end-up being way more expensive that buying a train pass.
Some routes/trains require a reservation, so make sure to do this in time. Many major train stations have a travel office where you can reserve train tickets and seats on trains in other countries.
While I was traveling through Europe I noticed a lot of people traveling with their Interrail pass as well. Not just students, young adults but also families with kids. It was a good conversation starter, because you were basically doing the same thing.
I mentioned before that you can stay in a hotel, hostel, air bnb, coach surf or stay with friends/family. It all depends on your budget and personal preference. I stayed 22 days in different hostels, all in a private room. And the other 8 days in 2 hotels. Especially in Eastern Europe it is pretty cheap to get a nice hotel for the same price you get a hostel room in Spain or France.
Depending on your budget you can make a decision where you want to stay for the night and how many nights you stay in one place. I mostly stayed in hostels and a few hotels. For example in Warsaw (Poland) it was only €12,- to stay for a night including breakfast and dinner. In Barcelona (Spain), I choose to stay in a hotel with a nice pool, because I wanted to tan a little after traveling for almost 2 weeks.
There are some skeptical thoughts with staying in hostels, and especially as a solo female traveler. I only had good experiences, I always keep my guard up, and stay alert of my surroundings. My main reason to stay in hotels was; you need a crazy amount of likeminded people in the common areas. I did choose for solo/single rooms in each hostel, I carried my professional camera and laptop with me.
Some people love staying in shared rooms within hostels. I was just 20 when I went on my interrail journey, this was my first solo travel journey. Me and my family agreed that I would only stay in private rooms, just for my own safety. I stayed in a shared (female only) room in Budapest, but upon arrival they told me that there was no “roommate”. Which resulted in a massive room with bathroom and kitchen for myself.
I would recommend staying in a hostel, especially if you travel alone. It is one of the easiest ways to meet (likeminded) people. Lots of solo travelers stay in hostels, and most hostels organise (free) tours through the city for the guests.
I booked my stays the day before or even the day off. This allowed me to be flexible and gave me the freedom to check out a city before deciding where I was going to stay. I used Booking.com and trivago to book all my stays.
For my fellow solo travelers, in many situation you will notice it is cheaper to book a room for 2 people than a solo/single room. Book the double room and if they ask questions, your partner is joining you later, ask for 2 keys.
There are a few “rules” I use while booking a stay:
– Needs to have at least 15 good reviews
– Close to a public transport station
– Private room (depends on your personal preference)
– Free WiFi
– Breakfast included or not (depends on the city)
Deciding where you want to go, and in which order might be the biggest struggle. Europe has so many beautiful countries with many places to go. And most of the time you don’t have the time to see every city you want due to travel times between places.
Are you more a nature fan and want to hike? Then head to either Norway/Sweden/Finland or Austria/Switzerland. The nature is absolutely stunning.
Are you more of a city person? You can choose to visit several capital/major cities in different countries.
My itinerary was the following:
Starting in Eindhoven (NL) – Berlin (D) – Warsaw (PL) – Budapest (H) – Zagreb (HR) – Venice (I) – La Spezia (Cinque Terre) (I) – Marseille (F) – Barcelona (E) – Valencia (E) – Madrid (E) – Bordeaux (F) – Paris (F) – Eindhoven (NL)
I had an 1 month train pass, which meant I had to do a lot in little time. As an European myself, I had it pretty easy choosing where to go, because I have been to many cities before. All of the cities during my trip were new for me, except Berlin. I did not use any “night” trains, as a solo female traveler I thought it would be safer to travel during the day. Which is totally up to you. If I would travel by interrail (train) again I would definitely take a few night trains, because staying awake for a 8-10 hour train ride during the day is kinda a waste of your valuable time.
In which order you travel does not really matter. There are a few tips I would like to share when it comes to travel order:
- Look up what the estimated travel times are between one place and the other. Sometimes it makes more sense to travel to another city first and then to the following. I experienced this when I traveled to Barcelona. I wanted go to Madrid and then Valencia, but the travel time was a lot less if I went to Valencia and then to Madrid. So I switched up my route.
- A train ride of 8 or more hours hard. Some train routes are crowded and you can’t really walk around within the train during the journey. I had a train journey from Warsaw to Budapest which was estimated for 7.5 hours but turned into 10.5 hours due to border control and some people on the train not having their papers on order. During this journey we could not get out of the train, because the stops where only 2 minutes. Walking within the train was quite impossible since everyone had their luggage in the path and the train was full. It was the only long train journey I took, all the others where less than 8 hours, and very spacious, good air conditioning and time to walk around at the stops.
- A blanket + pillow. Even though I didn’t take any night trains, I almost always slept a few hours in the train. I would recommend bringing a tin blanket and a small/neck pillow. Not only are these in handy when you want to catch some sleep, in most trains the air conditioning is. really cold. I wore mostly shorts with a shirt or a dress, which resulted in cold legs and arms. I bought my blanket and pillow on my second day and didn’t regret it at all!
- Backpack or suitcase? This will always be one of the major questions. I travelled with a backpack, which allowed me to be flexible, and easy to maneuver. A suitcase might allow you to bring more stuff with you, but you also carry way more weight with you. My backpack weighted 15kg when I left and 17kg when I came back home. Bring whatever you feel comfortable with. If you travel by train it is much easier with a backpack because they can be stored in the overhead spaces.
Where to go?
Europe has a lot to offer. I mentioned before that is totally up to you where you travel to.
Some places that I recommend, and would love to visit (again):
- Cinque Terre
Let’s talk money
One of the most asked question I get is how much it costs to travel. Well for the trip I described I spend about €1.500,- for this road trip. Including the train pass, hostels/hotels, taxi’s, food and entertainment.
You can spend as much or little as you like when you travel. I was by myself and made my choices based on safety, fun, and didn’t do something because I wanted to save money.
If you want to stay at hotels only and go for a fancy dinner every night, you will spend more than I did. I spend about €12,- per night.
A bunch of hostels and hotels have great offers for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. Check them out if you want to save some money.
I just asked locals where they would recommend me going for the meals and snacks, which resulted in eating amazing local foods, and learning about their culture. On average I spend about €25,- per day on food and drinks.
In terms of entertainment, I mostly went to a bar, beach, or stroll around the city. I did buy some souvenirs, and went on a city tour in Budapest.
I bought a new backpack for this trip, which was from an outdoor store in The Netherlands called Bever. My backpack was €170,-. Besides the backpack I also bought a hammam towel and 2 micro vessel towels for a total of €35,-.