Student Life: Travelling across Europe on a Limited Budget

Iris, an 18-year-old student, is embarking on an exciting adventure this summer. Together with her friend Victoria, they have planned a trip across Europe, exploring four countries: Serbia, Greece, Hungary, and Germany. What makes their journey unique is their decision to travel primarily by train, with occasional bus rides. As students, they have a limited budget, and their aim is to experience the thrill of independent travel without relying on their families. With eager anticipation, they are ready to dive into the culture, history, and beauty of these European destinations.

Why Choose Train Travel over Flying?

One of the primary reasons Iris and Victoria have chosen to travel by train is the significant cost difference compared to air travel. Flights tend to be considerably more expensive, often exceeding the total expenses of their entire train journey. Additionally, opting for train travel allows Iris to carry unlimited liquids, such as face cleanser, shampoo, night cream, and sunscreen, without having to worry about additional baggage fees.

Selecting the Perfect Itinerary

The idea for this grand adventure originated from Iris’s older sister’s friends, who undertook a similar journey using Interrail in 2022. Intrigued by their stories, Iris decided to plan her own trip this summer. After conducting extensive research, she determined that Interrail was the ideal option for her and Victoria. The Interrail Pass provides access to 40 railway and ferry companies in 33 countries, allowing them to explore Europe with ease.

Their first task was to decide which countries to visit. Novi Sad, Serbia, was chosen as their inaugural destination, where they will be attending the renowned EXIT music festival. Next on the list is Athens, Greece, a place dear to both Iris and Victoria’s hearts due to their shared fascination with Greek mythology and the desire to explore ancient ruins. Budapest, Hungary, attracted their attention due to its stunning architecture and cultural significance. Lastly, Berlin, Germany, was chosen for its vibrant nightlife and rich historical background, including the iconic Berlin Wall.

Iris stumbled upon the EXIT festival in Serbia while browsing the Interrail website for exciting activities to include in their itinerary. Serbia had not been on their radar initially, but the affordable ticket price (£100) convinced them to seize the opportunity. With Victoria’s approval, they added the festival to their spreadsheet and proceeded to create a curated list of countries that piqued their interest. Amsterdam and Prague, although enticing, were eliminated from consideration due to their high costs, while Italy was deemed too distant from their other planned destinations.

While choosing the countries, Iris carefully considered their affordability and proximity to one another, ensuring a budget-friendly and convenient travel experience.

Saving Money on European Train Travel

To optimize their limited budget, Iris and Victoria made use of the Interrail travel planning tool for most of their train journeys. However, they encountered some challenges as Serbia and Greece were not well-connected by train routes. As a result, they had to book buses for those legs of their journey. Navigating buses proved to be more difficult than trains, as they sometimes found themselves dropped off at the wrong destination or confused about the bus terminals’ locations.

One particular bus company, Flixbus, gained a reputation for its poor customer service. When Iris and Victoria needed to rebook tickets due to a missed bus connection (which was not their fault), they faced higher prices and received no compensation. Despite such setbacks, they persevered, knowing that their journey would still be worth it in the end.

For train travel, the Interrail Planning Tool came to the rescue, simplifying the process of creating an itinerary and making necessary reservations. While most trains allowed them to board simply by displaying their Interrail Pass on their phones, a few trains required additional seat reservations. Iris opted for a combination of trains with and without reservations, striking a balance between convenience and affordability.

Budgeting for a Memorable Experience

One of Iris’s primary concerns was the cost of long-term travel. With careful planning and the advantage of cheaper reservations accompanying the Interrail Pass, they managed to keep their expenses in check. The total cost per person for their 4-country European adventure amounted to an impressive £428, covering over 4,000 miles of travel across 30 days.

The breakdown of their expenses was as follows:

  • Train travel: £261
    • Eurostar: £28 each for the London-Brussels and Brussels-London routes
    • Train reservation from Bulgaria to Hungary: £10
    • 4-days-in-a-month Interrail Pass: £195
    • All other trains: £0 (included in the Interrail Pass)
  • Bus tickets: £167

Even though their expenses were relatively reasonable, they could have saved even more money by limiting their travels to countries with well-connected train systems.

Strategic Planning with the Help of Spreadsheets

To streamline their journey and ensure they had all the relevant information at their fingertips, Iris created a detailed spreadsheet. Inspired by her mother’s successful travel planning method, she arranged the spreadsheet to include a day-by-day breakdown of their itinerary, accommodation details, and travel plans.

The second page of the spreadsheet contained essential information about each train and bus they would be taking. Departure and arrival times, along with any necessary reservation details, were meticulously recorded. By having all this information in one place, Iris hoped to minimize any confusion during transfers and keep her parents informed of their whereabouts, considering that mobile connectivity might be unreliable at times.

Additionally, the spreadsheet featured a budget tracker, allowing Iris to monitor her spending habits and ensure she stayed within their predetermined budget.

Interrail: Available for Everyone

Interrail is an excellent option for European Union citizens, providing them with an affordable means of exploring the continent. Non-EU citizens can enjoy a similar experience through the Eurail Pass. As Iris and Victoria are both under 25, they qualified for a discounted pass, making Interrail an attractive choice for budget-conscious teenagers and young adults seeking independent travel opportunities. However, they were aware of the trade-off: longer travel days compared to flying. For example, their journey from London to Novi Sad in Serbia took nearly 48 hours.

Traveling by Day or Night: Pros and Cons

During their travels, Iris and Victoria predominantly opted for daytime train journeys, reserving night buses for longer trips that allowed them to sleep through the travel time. To curb boredom during the train rides, Iris packed a deck of cards and the book Dune to keep her company. Although night travel sacrificed a night’s accommodation cost, it posed challenges for a restful night’s sleep. Daytime travel offered the advantage of being awake and able to enjoy the passing scenery. Both options had their merits, and the girls were prepared to make the most of whichever mode of transportation they chose.

Safety Concerns and Precautions

Ensuring their safety during the trip was a top priority for Iris and Victoria. As they planned their train transfers, they decided to remain in well-populated areas of the stations until they could make their connections. By sticking together, they hoped to minimize any potential risks. In case of early morning arrivals, they planned to locate open cafes or similar establishments to grab a bite to eat and wait until the day fully commenced, avoiding any empty or unfamiliar surroundings.

Embracing Experiences and Creating Lasting Memories

Having traveled extensively with her family, Iris was excited to embark on this independent journey with her friend. It provided her with an opportunity to explore the nightlife of Budapest, experience Berlin’s vibrant club scene, visit ancient Greek sites in Athens, and connect with fellow music enthusiasts at the EXIT festival in Serbia. Iris anticipated encountering some challenges along the way, but she viewed them as valuable life lessons that would enhance her long-term travel skills. This trip held the promise of unforgettable memories that would accompany her for years to come. Before she began her first year of university and embraced a more serious phase of life, Iris relished the chance to see the world and embrace new experiences.

Iris plans to document each country they visit through blog posts, inviting readers to ask questions that she will address in future articles. This way, she hopes to share her experiences, inspire others, and create a dialogue about the joys and challenges of independent travel.

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