Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Travel Costs through Europe

Travel Costs through Europe

I just spent a month traveling around the south of Europe, with a small backpack and on trains and buses. I had a lot of places to visit and not enough time to walk, plus, the temperatures were generally just above or below 38C/100F – definitely not my kind of weather to be out walking in.

I traveled over 4,600 km (2,900 miles) in Spain, France, and Italy. I kept track of the costs for future planning purposes with the question in mind: is there really great value in Eurail passes? The short answer seems to be No.

Overall, I paid on average 0.11 € per kilometer (= $0.25 per mile) traveling mostly by 2nd class train, once by 1st class, because the 2nd class seats were all taken, once by sleeper-train in a 6-person cabin, and often by bus. Trains get fully booked in the summer.

An Adult Eurail Pass for a month of travel costs $1,199 (=850€). For the distances I traveled in the month, I would have been paying 0.18€ per kilometer (= $0.41 per mile) if I had purchased a Eurail Pass. [Were I a youth, which is under 25 by their definition, I’d have paid $799 (=567€) for the pass working out to 0.12€ per kilometer (=$0.27 per mile), about the same as without a pass, but there are often discounts at the station for youths anyway.]

With a Eurail Pass, one tends to stick to the trains to travel long distances. Wonderfully, buses go places trains don’t. The train-traveling crowds are thick and heavily burdened with enormous backpacks or wheelie luggage. They go places where the trains go. These crowds are not met on buses, which, for long distances, are quite modern and comfortable – restrooms far less skanky than on trains – and run more frequently than trains. My bus travels cost a mere 0.07 € per kilometer ($0.16 per mile).

Midway between bustling historic Genoa and the crowded but gorgeous Cinque Terre lies Portofino, a village on a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean. Nearly as gorgeous as the Cinque Terre, it completely lacks the crowds because it has no train line.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of convenience versus cost. For example, from Madrid to León, Spain, I stepped onto a bus within minutes of arriving at the central bus station, paying 20€ for a 5-hour ride. The alternative would have been paying 43€ for an hour and a half ride by train, after waiting for 3 hours. I’d have gotten to León at about the same time either way, by bus, I had a quiet relaxing ride where I could ask the bus driver some questions and have another 20€ in my pocket; by train, if there were a ticket still available – Spain is notoriously short on trains – I’d have been surrounded by other people’s luggage in the aisles and the ride would have been noisy from both the crowds and the lurching of the train itself. Whatever floats your boat.

Costs vary by country, clearly. In Spain, I paid an average of 0.11 € per kilometer (=26¢/mi); in France it worked out to 0.16€ per kilometer (=36¢/mi); and in Italy, a mere 0.07€ per kilometer (=16¢/mi). Though the comfort of trains varies by country, their lack of punctuality was equal. Clearly, I wasn’t traveling in Germany where the punctuality, comfort, and network are hard to beat.

Interesting comparison: Arriving back in the US, I visited for a few days in San Francisco before heading back to Denver. Preferring the train to the plane, and having a few days to spare, I chose to take the Amtrak so I could experience the mountains from the unique perspective of the train. With an advanced-purchase ticket, the rate calculated out to $0.07 per mile (=0.03€ per kilometer), traveling a distance of about 1,260 miles (=2,000 km). Big difference, but proportional to the price of fuel, it seems.


Compostelle 2008 said...

Thank you for this information! I have been trying to convince my partner that travelling by train can be economical for years now. This will help!

Thank you for this blog, it has been interesting and fun reading about you pilgrimages and your travels.

Michèle from Ottawa (Canada

Rita said...

Excellent post. My husband prefers to rent a car. But to me, trains and buses are so much more relaxing. Yes, it's true that cars do give you more freedom to stop when and where you want and go to more places that trains and buses do not go to, but parking is always a problem.
Thank for this infromative post, i will make sure that my hsband reads it, although it may not change his mind.