The Forgotten Joys of Flight-Free Travel

| © Theresa Klein / Getty Images

Planning a big post-pandemic Euro trip for 2023? Ditch the plane, and travel overland instead. After all, it’s not always the destination, but the journey itself that makes the best memories. Here’s why overland travel – once a necessity of the past – is my favourite way to get around.

Travelling without flying is just easier

Several years ago, I embarked on a five-week plane-free tour of Europe, which started in Prague and took me via 11 different European cities to my final destination: Venice. From Vienna to Bratislava to Budapest, Zadar to Zagreb, I combined trains, buses, shared shuttles and ferries to work my way across the continent – and didn’t spend one minute in a check-in queue or being pestered at a security gate.

Arriving into Budapest on the train was a breeze

I had no need to worry about my luggage fitting in a sizer or squeezing all of my liquids into a ziploc bag. When you travel by train or bus, you can typically bring whatever size luggage you want – although don’t forget you’ll be the one carrying it everywhere, so I make a habit of packing as light as I can! Some long-distance coaches in the Balkans charged a small €1-2 fee for luggage to go in the hold, but most coaches in Europe have one or two pieces of hold luggage included. This made my five-week adventure much easier and less stressful.

For a city-lover, there’s nothing that beats the convenience of being able to just step off the train or bus into the heart of the action. Airports, on the other hand – particularly the ones used by budget airlines – are often found way outside the cities they serve, often requiring some mode of ground transport – metro, taxi or train – to get you into town anyway. It not only saves you time and hassle, it can be a money-saver, too.

Prague was a beautiful place to start the adventure

It’s surprisingly social

Sure, you can chit-chat with the person sat next to you on the plane – but there’s nothing like surviving a death-defying, nine-hour bus ride over narrow, winding mountain roads to turn a stranger into a friend. On the night train from Budapest to Belgrade, I ended up sharing a compartment with a sweet (but sloshed) Russian couple. We stayed up late, chatting for hours over an endless trickle of vodka, and the following night, they invited me out to party with their Serbian friends around the city. Connecting with them was a real highlight of my five-week adventure – and I don’t think we’d have bonded in the same way, or even exchanged so much as glances, if we’d have been sitting across the aisle from each other on a plane.

The stunning St Sava Orthodox Cathedral is one place you can’t miss on a trip to Belgrade

It can be far better value – but you need to do your research

Interrail/Eurrail passes are gaining popularity as more and more people are looking to travel Europe by train. These passes typically allow you to travel on any train journey for a set number of days within a designated period of time (ie. 15 days of travel within a 60-day period). However, many of these train trips will still require a seat reservation booked (and paid for) in advance. These train reservations can add up over time, particularly if you’re needing several reservations for connections on one travel day.

Rail passes also limit you to travelling only by rail, obviously. It simply didn’t make sense to get a rail pass for my five-week trip, as there isn’t as much rail infrastructure in the countries I visited in the Balkans – it was easiest to make most journeys by bus. Research routes in advance to see what will work best.

Regardless of what ground transport you choose, you’ll likely have much more flexibility travelling by rail or coach. Flights can be expensive to book last-minute, whereas if you’re wanting to be more spontaneous you can often get away with booking a train, bus or ferry the day before or on the day itself. Some journeys are worth booking in advance – and fares can sometimes increase – so it’s important to do your research beforehand.

Croatia was one of my favourite destinations in the Balkans

Rail Trips with Culture Trip

Culture Trip has a new collection of Rail Trips – itineraries that focus on travelling by rail as much as possible. We do all the planning for you, so you don’t have to lift a finger after you arrive. You can simply sit back, relax and watch the world go by as you speed from one unforgettable place to the next. The Central European cities I visited make up the majority of the itinerary on our 10-day Berlin to Budapest adventure. We’ve also got an exciting seven-day trip through the Scottish Highlands, which includes a trip on the incredible Jacobite Steam Train. Or, you can explore Northern Italy by rail on our 10-day trip. Whichever Rail Trip you choose, our Local Insider will be on hand to make sure things run smoothly.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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