The Myth of 'Cheap' European Travel

When I informed friends and family that I would be doing my masters degree in Europe for the next 2 years, the comment I heard the most was that I'll be doing a lot of travelling and I thought, naively, that I would probably be going to a different country every other weekend.

Unfortunately, it hasn't really been that easy.

Now, I think the idea that European travel is dirt cheap comes from the perspective of those who have never been to Europe. They've seen the backpackers do it, so they assume it must be easy. From what I've heard from those around me, it seems Americans tend to compare travelling from France to Italy with the ease that one can go from New York to Connecticut. That's not the case.  

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that Dijon is not the top destination for travel, so my commentary on trip duration and price is only based on my environment and the pricing offered to me. Dijon is not an incredibly large city, but it's not a very small one, so my experience revolves around this. Additionally, I'm only talking about travelling to places in Europe originating from France. I'm using the example of Dijon to Milan for most of my pricing in this post. 

To start, allow me to introduce Flixbus: a low-cost bus similar to Greyhound and Megabus in the States that leaves from various different destinations and can get you around for a relatively low price. The buses are pretty clean, offer free Wifi, and sometimes have snacks you can purchase on board. 

The tradeoff for this low cost is that you pay in time. 

The routes are usually long distance, with multiple stops and breaks for the drivers, in which they ask that you get off the bus. To use an example of Dijon, France to Milan, Italy as an example: the route takes 8 to 11 hours to complete, with varying prices depending on the date of departure.

And when I say prices range, I mean they really do range. This is where you need to be strategic in your date picking. For the exact same route, there are two different priced buses. The 100€ bus leaves next weekend, while the 28.99€ bus leaves after midnight on a Wednesday two weeks from now. 


If your dates are flexible, this method of travel can save you a lot. However, for anyone with a job or school, it can be a bit inhibiting. Not only that, but these are only one way tickets, and Flixbus only offers so many buses a day on this route.

I thought that living in France would give me a lot of time to travel around, but due to the constraints of my program, I'm pretty much shoehorned between Saturday and Sunday to do any and all of my travelling (like most students). 

This means, outside of school vacations, I'm restricted to day trips, so taking an 11 hour bus is off the table. 

If we need to go faster, we need to take the train. 

I've used two types of trains in France: the TER and the TGV. The difference between the two is that the TER is geared more towards local travel, and the TGV is longer distance and high speed. Additionally, there's usually a big gap in price. Using our Dijon to Milan route, we can see two different prices, one for a trip next weekend, and one for a Wednesday. Compared to our 8 to 11 hour bus journey, a 6 hour train seems manageable. 

Keep in mind that the prices you see are for one way tickets.

If we were to choose the cheapest fares for any day trip, we would get the following total price for a round trip (booking second class tickets):

Note that it says Dijon to Dijon because it's a round trip.

Now, I am located in the North of France, and here in the North, Paris is the hub for everything.

A lot of journeys either originate or stop in Paris, so if you were to leave from Paris you're likely getting a much cheaper fare then if you're trying to leave from a small town. So a simple solution would be to travel to Paris first and then continue on your way. 

However, a one-way train trip to Paris from Dijon costs €29 at the very cheapest. Factor in food and accomodation at your eventual destination and you'll quickly see the prices go up. My advice would be to do one of the following: either book way in advance, or book at the last minute. 

Though this may seem strange, both options have the ability to save you money. Booking in advance helps you secure your date ahead of time and select your ticket when most seats are still available. Booking at the last minute helps the train get rid of seats on journeys that have not yet sold out. 

Note that the latter can be incredibly risky, so I recommend doing a station booking only if you're travelling a relatively short distance. 

Let's talk about Airbnb prices.

I've heard mixed reviews on whether or not Airbnbs here more or less expensive than in America. Since this is mostly based on location, there is no consistent answer, but I'd like to point out that you can get a pretty decent apartment for less than 90€ a night, which I consider a pretty good deal. 

For example, when I was searching for an apartment in Milan, I found an entire studio apartment for only €45 a day for 2 people. Just like America, Airbnb offers you discounts depending on the length of your stay, so if you're not planning on country hopping and would like to settle for 2 weeks or even a month, you could get a sizeable discount. 

Finally, let's discuss flights.

It is significantly cheaper to fly to most destinations on a discount airline such as Ryanair. Not only do you save money by flying, you also save a decent amount of travel time. See below a screenshot of a sample itinerary going from Paris to Milan. For as low as 30€ you can book a round trip and only spend an hour and a half in the air. 

This comes with the tradeoff of course that these discount airlines are riddled with additional fees such as baggage fees, meals, booking seats, etc, but if you're savvy and go for the bare minimum you won't spend a dime extra. 

I hope this post was helpful in explaining the different ways to travel around and how it can be pretty expensive with certain limitations in place. 

Though there are some very low cost options out there, I would be remiss not to mention what these journeys cost you in time, and I think that's the myth I'm trying to bust here.

 I'm hoping that despite my strict schedule, I can make the most of my time in France and see a lot more of Europe. 

See you again soon! :)