Despite ongoing clear evidence to the contrary, college age kids continue to flock to Western Europe lured by the idea of a carefree summer backpacking around famous places, all spontaneous and free. Perhaps the parents who often seem to be footing the bill have something to do with that romantic notion, with fond memories of their own travels long ago giving their tales a nostalgic glow.
Well kids, times have changed. Charlie Leocha, my colleague over at Tripso, sent his niece over to Europe this past summer and was shocked at how regimented and just plain crowded the continent has become. Travel to Europe by Americans dropped some 15 percent this summer, but as he noted, other countries have been more than happy to pick up the slack.
This means the idea of spontaneous travel has gone out the window. You now have to book most of your hostel beds in advance. Hostels! You also have to book most of your transportation in advance, so forget that idea of just wandering where the road takes you (as you can still do in most of The World’s Cheapest Destinations—though maybe less comfortably.)
Charlie had his niece and her friend get two-week Eurail passes and “They had problems at every stage of their rail journey.” You still have to make reservations, you still have to pay a fee every time, and you still have to stand in line. Conflicting advice is the norm in some spots and old assumptions are usually wrong. Here are his new rules of European rail travel.
Some countries are exceptions, like Switzerland and much of England. I’ve found in my research that France and Spain can be a breeze if you plan way ahead and aren’t there during the summer. Eastern Europe’s trains aren’t as crowded and can be both pleasant and cheap. But in many cases, especially in the summer, you’re better off catching a cheap flight or a bus instead.