Planes, Trains & Automobiles – Getting Around Europe

Hi Frugalistas!

My last series of posts focussed on the finer points of the Eurail pass and getting the most out of your pass to travel around Europe.  But how do you decide how best to get around?  Here, I discuss some things to think about when deciding whether the train, a plane or a car is best for your needs:

Once you have sorted out your basic itinerary, it’s time to think about how you are going to get about:


Planes in Europe can be very expensive depending on the airline you use.  Business class seats within Europe are particularly expensive and do not offer the same level of comfort or service that you might be used to on longer haul flights.  Even economy seats in Europe can be quite expensive, and often have very restrictive fare rules.  The other thing to think about is whether a plane ride will actually save you time – you need to factor in the time getting to the airport, checking in, going through security etc, then collecting your luggage and traveling to your final destination before you decide if the plane is really going to save you time.  Personally, I try to avoid the plane within Europe, and much prefer to buy a first class rail ticket.  I find the train more convenient, more relaxing, and on many of the faster intercity trains (such as the French TGV or the ICE train in Germany) closer to business class comfort for the price of a cattle class plane ticket.

Cheap flights – but how cheap are they really?

There are multiple discount airlines operating in Europe.  If you do need to travel a longer distance they are worth considering.  When looking at ticket prices make sure you understand what exactly that price is buying you – often you will be charged extra for checking luggage, using the airport check in rather than the online, food and drink, and inflight entertainment.  The other thing to do your research on is which airport the airline uses.  Discount airlines can often use more peripheral airports, or even airports that are in a completely different city to where you think you are going to – for example, Beauvais airport which some of the cheaper airlines use for Paris, is 80km and a 90minute bus trip to the western edge of central Paris (Porte Maillot) or a EUR100+ taxi ride.


The train is my preferred method of point to point travel in Europe for trips of less than 7 hours or so, and for getting from smaller town to smaller town.  A first class seat on the train beats a cheap airfare for comfort, space and convenience for me every time and is a relatively easy splurge if that’s the only first class ticket you can afford to buy on your trip.  High speed trains will take you from central Paris to Avignon in the time it would take you to travel to Charles de Gaulle, check in and go through security and wait to board, and takes about a third of the time it does to drive.  If you are doing a deal of traveling and want to go by train, do invest in a Railpass.

Paris to Avignon in 2 hours by TGV – compare this to a plane or by car, and it comes up trumps!


Where a car comes into its own is if you are wanting to travel as part of a group (usually at least 3 of you will make it cheaper than the train) or if you want to travel or stay in more rural areas.  They are truly horrible in cities so don’t even think about having a rental car in any city in Europe.  Rental cars in Europe can be quite expensive, so to make sure you can book the smallest car possible for your group, traveling light is the only way to go here – again the one carry on bag strategy will save you real money!

Cars come into their own for traveling off the beaten track – Montsegur in Southern France

In addition to renting the car, think about these costs before you decide if a car is right for you:

1.  To pay for all the waivers etc so you won’t be out of pocket if you have an accident, add anything up to EUR500.

2.  Allow about EUR2.50 per litre for petrol.  Check out the fuel efficiency for models you are looking at to calculate your approximate fuel cost for your rental period.  Many European rental cars are diesel – your fuel cost will be slightly higher but your efficiency will be much greater.  If we are renting a car I assume it will be a normal petrol vehicle and pocket the saving if it turns out to be diesel.

3.  Allow about EUR10 per day for road tolls.  All European major highways are toll roads.  The method of payment varies from country to country, but assume about EUR10 a day regardless of how you have to pay!

4.  Allow a similar amount for parking fees – plus whatever your hotel wants to charge you to park in their carpark.  Any town that has any sort of tourism will expect you to pay to park your car – sometimes a long way from where you want to visit.  If you are determined to drive in a large city, factor in EUR25-50 a day for parking, plus whatever a packet of headache tablets and a marital counsellor will cost (if you are driving with your spouse!)

Balance out cost, time and relaxation factor, do your research and make your choice wisely!

Photo credits:

Train –

Plane –

Car – author’s own

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5 Comments on “Planes, Trains & Automobiles – Getting Around Europe”

  1. janeisawake 25/08/2012 at 7:46 pm #

    any thoughts on buses for city to city transport?

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 25/08/2012 at 8:06 pm #

      Personally I’ve never used them because I like the train. I believe the bus service between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam is very good and much cheaper than the Thalys train that runs between those cities – I’ve taken the train on that route instead. As for anywhere else in Europe I’d be grateful for any readers’ advice like you!

      Thanks for dropping by!


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