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I live in London. We all know that flying is harmful for the environment but I'm having trouble finding alternative travel options which can price-compete with those under £25 flight tickets, combined with hostel stays in the continent at about £10 per night.

I'm willing to take trains, ships or whatever form of public surface transport as long as it costs me not significant more expensive than flying on the cheapest LCC tickets and staying in the cheapest hostels. Are there any options for me to get from London to various European countries totally on the surface, such as Sweden and Finland, in about £30-50 each way, using a combination of trains, coaches and ferries?

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    You're not going to get £10/night hotel rooms in SE or FI mind. And no, you can't even practically get from London out of the UK for less than £30, although to be fair you should include the travel costs to the airport when factoring in the air fares.
    – CMaster
    Aug 12 at 12:05
  • As a person who has booked recently, straight answer - No. Aug 12 at 12:12
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    You seem to be concerned for your carbon footprint, but are basing your request purely on cost. To me this is nonsensical as the two are not related. While I don't know off-hand how to do so, you really need to compare the total carbon foot print for each journey by say plane with the same totality of all the buses, ferries, trains and hotel stays that you will utilize in order to replace your flight. (Note I am not criticizing your motivations, I'm just pointing out what I think is an error in your methodology)
    – Peter M
    Aug 12 at 13:14
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    Also, until there are some major social changes, your quest will be blighted by the Chicago Convention's exemption from tax on airplane fuel used for international flights, an exemption that doesn't apply to other cross-border transport options. This effectively acts as a price subsidy for flying.
    – MadHatter
    Aug 12 at 13:20
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    Come to India and enjoy cheap trains. :) Aug 12 at 14:02

3 Answers 3

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If you are concerned with cost and carbon footprint you can hitch-hike (local laws permitting).

A Channel crossing by P&O ferry for a foot passenger is about £12 or £13 today one-way. Or you can hitch-hike across the Channel, please see Hitchwiki.

With hitch-hiking you aren't creating any additional journeys.

Also, it depends on the purpose of the journey. For me, getting there is just as much a part of the journey as the destination (travelling) and I don't like staying in one place for more than a couple of days.

Outside Europe, hitch-hiking might not be viable, but there are cheap forms of shared transport such as train and bus services, and on-demand minibuses, shared taxis or jeeps. If you travel the way local people travel, it is affordable, and you'll get a much closer contact with the country than if you see it from a train or hotel window.

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  • In some countries, the local custom when hitching a ride is to pay the driver the equivalent bus fare. Locals don't want a free ride, they just want to get there, and the buses might be infrequent, or they missed it. Aug 12 at 17:36
  • Or you could use ride-sharing sites such as BlaBlaCar, where you pay for your share of the costs. But on longer distances this may be quite significant given the cost of fuel and tolls.
    – jcaron
    Aug 12 at 21:54
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For some European locations National Express isn't a terrible option - the selection of destinations isn't huge at, well, four (and they currently aren't available but should be again at some point) but the cost is probably the closest to your cheap flight target at around £10-20 each way.

A more expensive but far more flexible option would be an Interrail pass - at £157 for a 4 travel days-in-a-month pass it's obviously more than the flights, but it can get you to most places in Europe.

@mdewey's comment about the reservations and Interrail made me check soemthing - the Eurostar has a mandatory reservation fee of €30 London - Paris or €35 London - Amsterdam, since the OP is coming from London that's going to rather significantly increase the cost of the Interrail option! Even if they manage to avoid reservations for the rest of the journey that pushes the cost to over £200!

This brings me back to the coach idea - if booked far enough in advance Flixbus can be reasonably cost effective (probably < £50 each way) at the cost of limited destinations and long journey times.

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  • Note that in many countries even with a pass you have to pay extra for a reservation which is compulsory on many long-distance trains.
    – mdewey
    Aug 12 at 13:03
  • @mdewey IIRC You can avoid those (mostly) as they typically apply on the high-speed and sleeper trains so if someone has the time to spare a slower route using regional trains can be taken to get you somewhere. Whether it's worth doing it that way is a whole other question though! Aug 12 at 13:35
  • The Eurostar reservation fee is making the Interrail a rip off as it's similar to the price of booking a standalone train ticket. I'll look for the FlixBus option. Aug 12 at 15:54
  • @MichaelTsang Depending on your destination you might need to spend a bit of time on their route map to work out which combination gets you where you want to be. The major German cities often have the most destinations available, presumably as a result of Flixbus' German origins. Aug 12 at 16:13
  • In Germany you have cheap train tickets this summer, might work in combination with a bus ticket. (I do not remember till when they do last.)
    – Willeke
    Aug 12 at 18:53
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I can recommend the Rome2Rio website. It will give you lots of options for getting between two places. This includes flights, trains, long distance coaches, local buses, and all sorts of other options.

You say you live in London and mentioned Sweden as a possible destination, so I asked it about routes between London and Stockholm. At the present time, the cheapest option it gives is flying from Stansted to Arlanda with Ryanair. Including transport to and from the airport, it reckons the cost starts at £59. This price assumes you're flexible enough with times to actually get the best fares, and don't need to pay for extras like hold luggage.

The site quotes prices starting at £182 for travelling the whole way by train. This includes a sleeper from Hamburg to Stockholm, so when you compare prices, you should take into account the fact that you don't need accommodation that night. The most expensive leg by far is the Eurostar to Amsterdam, with prices starting at £110 for that leg alone. (Edit: that's according to Rome2Rio; Willeke points out below that you can get significantly cheaper on the Eurostar website at the right times.) This is unquestionably more expensive than flying, though in my experience you're more likely to get the lowest quoted figure on trains than when flying.

If that's is too expensive, another Rome2Rio gives an option to get the whole way by coach, with prices starting at £66. That's a very similar price to flying, and may work out cheaper when you factor in the Ryanair's hidden extras and difficulty getting the headline promotional rates.

Personally, I'd hate the idea of spending 36 hours on coaches, so I might investigate using a coach to get to Belgium or the Netherlands, and then trains onwards. Rome2Rio isn't very good with these mixed-mode options, but you can always search two separate journeys – e.g. London to Brussels, and then Brussels to Stockholm. This tells me I can get a bus from London to Brussels for as little as £10, either with Flixbus or BlaBlaBus, and then trains onwards to Stockholm (including a sleeper), with prices starting at £91. This gives a total of £101. That may be a useful compromise between cost and comfort.

Rome2Rio is great for getting ideas and approximate prices, but you'll want to look at the options in more detail on the train and coach operators' websites. You may find its hard to get tickets at the cheapest advertised prices. I also find the Deutsche Bahn website useful for planning rail journeys in Europe, though it's not great for prices outside Germany.

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    Eurostar London to Amsterdam start at about €45 one way, and as I booked it for that I am pretty sure, it just does not show on the reservation page. You need to be early to book for that price and/or take unpopular trains. And other useful reseach tool for train travel is seat 61, maybe not for the cheapest but surely for the different route options.
    – Willeke
    Aug 13 at 19:46
  • @Willeke – thanks. I've amended my answer to note that. Aug 13 at 20:00

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