A few years ago, my wife and I were invited to a wedding in the English countryside outside of London. It was a great excuse to take some time out of our busy schedules and enjoy a bit of a vacation.
But she and I had been to London a few years earlier, and while we loved the city on the Thames, it made sense for us to take advantage of one of the great aspects of Europe — the ability to travel within the continent easily and inexpensively.
Whether your preference is by air or by train, traveling within Europe is typically fairly easy and comfortable. And with the pound currently hurting after the British exit from the European Union, taking a trip using London as your base and adding a side excursion elsewhere on the continent may be a great way to expand your vacation and see a new city.
However, there are some key things you should consider to prepare for your journey and to make your travel run a little more smoothly.
Europe has an amazing network of airline routes between major cities, many of which are incredibly inexpensive if you book at the right time. The two most popular carriers are Ryanair and easyJet, which offer one-way flights between European cities for mind-bogglingly low costs. For instance, you can hop on a Ryanair flight from either Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted airports in London and head to Barcelona on the sunny eastern coast of Spain or the culture-rich city of Cologne, Germany — all for as little as less than $30 USD one-way. Sites like Skyscanner specialize in scouring budget airlines' prices to find your best deal.
Another advantage of flying within Europe is the sheer number of airports within countries. EasyJet offers flights from London's Gatwick Airport to more than 15 different airports throughout Italy, making it easy to fly to the destination of your choice rather than flying directly to the main hubs of Italy (like Rome or Milan) and driving to outlying cities.
Tips: Don't forget, you're flying no-frills airlines. While we've become accustomed to paying for checked bags, things we often take for granted — like snacks and even overhead storage space — may be added expenses on intra-Europe discount carriers.
Remember, the airline you take from the U.S. will be different from the one you'll use to fly within Europe. If you have multiple flights planned, be sure to avoid scheduling a flight too close to when you're due to arrive from the States. It's easy to get delayed, and you'll have to go through customs when you arrive, so it will take more time to get off one flight and onto another. Plus, a missed connection can seriously impede vacation plans.
Speeding through the countryside of Switzerland, a coffee in your hand, daydreaming about your next destination: easily achievable on Europe's amazing train network (less advisable when driving yourself). The rail system is another great way to explore without the stress of air travel or the confusion of renting a car and navigating roads in a foreign land.
Among the most popular options is Eurail, which gives you the chance to travel on nearly any European railway in almost 30 different countries. You can purchase a pass based on the number of countries you want to visit — a first-class, four-country pass through France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland is about $500 USD, depending on how many days you'll be traveling. Jump off the train and explore for a few hours, then grab the next one to get to another destination.
Tips: Consider an overnight train ride to get a longer distance from one city to another. Not only will it save you the day of travel and give you more time to see the sites, but it means one less night in a hotel. However, if you're prone to motion sickness, consider taking some over-the-counter medication before the ride to avoid discomfort while you get some well-needed rest.