Planes, trains and automobiles

By Rachael Kroot
Published December 20, 2011

“There’s no sense in staying in one place when a new language, sights and sounds, and cultural identity are waiting just around the corner.”

– Sarah, studied abroad in Madrid

Does this sound like your life philosophy?  Then get up and get moving on your way to Europe!  Not only is the continent filled to the brim with unique cultural destinations, it is also extremely easy to travel from one place to the next, which means you can always keep moving and seeing new things.

If you’re attached to the idea of driving a car, unfortunately, you will have to let that thought go for a moment.  Renting a car abroad can be stressful and expensive, especially if you’re under the age of 25 (most rental companies will either turn you down or jack up their prices).  In fact, the best way to travel around Europe is by using public transportation.

Uh oh… Did you roll your eyes at the phrase “public transportation?”  Then you must be reading this from the United States.  Luckily, public transportation has a very different connotation in Europe.  Why exactly is it so much more popular over there?  It’s simple; it’s affordable, accessible and hassle-free.  This is especially good news for students.  If you are hoping to make the most of your time abroad in Europe, consider the following modes of transportation:

  • Planes: Obviously, planes are the fastest way to travel long distances.  And in Europe, they can also be the cheapest way to go!  Believe it or not, budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet have made air travel affordable even for students.  Lauren, a traveler from the United States who studied abroad in Florence, says, “Air travel feels extra convenient, especially in relation to options available in the USA. Airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet have built reputations as no-frills, inexpensive options (though they may tack on extra fees if you aren't careful). Booking reasonably-priced flights days in advance is easy to do, which makes spontaneous travel more affordable.”  What could be more fun than a spontaneous flight to Amsterdam?
  • Trains: Trains are totally underrated over here in the United States.  This is probably because they are extremely expensive and don’t always stop where you want to go.  Lucky for you, Europe has some affordable and convenient rail systems in place.  For instance, you can travel to most countries by purchasing a Eurail pass.   Options like the open-ended Eurail global pass allow you to hop on any train across 22 countries for a period of two week, and are especially popular among students during spring break.  What is the best part about trains?  You can enjoy the scenery out the window as you go by!
  • Busses: Busses are cheap and they go just about everywhere.   Local busses are especially helpful if you’re flying in and out of an airport outside of the city.  National busses are great if you decide to go on a last minute adventure to a small beachside town.  Plus, international busses are available if you’re really trying to travel on a budget.    For example, did you know you can take a bus from London to Paris?  Even the English Channel can’t stop a bus in Europe from reaching its destination!

Traveling between countries in Europe is like traveling between states in the U.S. except that it’s also a learning experience.  The truth is, language barriers can make getting directions and reading signs a challenge.  Luckily, you can almost always find somebody who speaks English.  And if not – well, then you’ll be that much more proud of yourself when you get on the right train, or have that much better of a story to tell when you get on the wrong one.

Either way, you will find that taking public transportation in Europe is an essential part of the study abroad experience.  As Sarah puts it, “The toughest part of learning to navigate Europe’s public transportation is deciding what part of the world you want to experience next!”  Where will your next ticket take you? 

Looking for more information? Check out our study abroad student guide to learn more.

Rachael has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and studied abroad in London during the Spring of 2009.