A few summers ago I went travelling for six months around Europe. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
My plan changed slightly as I went along, as all the best plans do, but during my six months in Europe I visited a few destinations in Spain, Morocco, France, Monaco, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and finally, Poland. Along the way I also went to the Seville Festival, EXIT Festival and Cannes Film Festival too.
Here’s a rough outline of the final route:
A Six Month Gap Year in Europe
It was an expensive six months, horribly expensive (think £4k), but I ate and drank whenever and whatever I pleased and didn’t really scrimp and save. Some of my friends from England came out to meet me too – which instilled the ‘screw it I’m on holiday’ mentality, rather than the saving for long term travel one which I should’ve adopted.
It was an incredible trip, and a perfect option for that long university summer.
Here’s a few tips for you to plan your route from what I learned along the way.
Transport around Europe
I always opted for the cheapest method of travel, no matter how long it took. I used overnight transport to save on accommodation, although to be honest I was sick of trying to get comfy on a bus by the end. Here’s the route I took, and the cheapest method of transport between.
London [plane] Barcelona [bus] Valencia [bus] Madrid [bus] Cadiz [bus] Seville [bus] Tarifa [ferry] Tangier [bus] San Sebastian [bus] Biarritz [bus] Perpignan [bus] Marseilles [bus] Montpellier [bus] Nice [bus] Cannes [bus] Monte Carlo [train] Genoa [train] Rome [train] Florence [train] Pisa [train] Brindisi [train] Venice [ferry] Zadar [train] Belgrade [bus] Budapest [train] Vienna [train] Prague [train] Tabor [car] Bechyne[train] Krakow [bus] Auschwitz [plane] London.
As you can see in Spain and France it was generally the bus, in Italy the train, and a mixture for the rest of the trip.
I did look at InterRailing but for my purposes it didn’t work out. If you’re travelling fast and want to get around the most countries possible it’s a great option. I was staying longer in each country and having a good look around rather than a quick look around for a month and moving on.
Always take note and remember the unique rules for each country when it comes to transport. For example, we got in a bit of a sticky situation with the train guard in Italy after we didn’t know we were supposed to validate the ticket in the yellow machine before we even got on the train. I used my A Level in drama and managed to play the dumb damsel in distress and he soon moved on without charging us. Close one though.
What did we do all day?
One of the best travel experiences I’ve had, and a great way to save money in somewhere expensive like Europe, is to check out Workaway.info. I did three placements:
- Two weeks painting villas and gardening in Conil in south Spain
- Two weeks building paths, chopping wood, gardening in Puglia, south Italy
- 10 days mowing fields and cleaning gutters in South Bohemia, Czech Republic
At each of the projects I worked for more or less five hours a day, five days a week, in return for some sort of accommodation and food. Looking back all were brilliant experiences, although at the time the one in Italy was tough. She made us work a lot, but it was actually good because it turned into a sort of fat camp as she’d get so drunk she’d forget to feed us and I worked hard in the sun all day. Lost a few pounds on that one! The host in Spain just left us to it, and the host in the Czech Republic, John, is still a good friend now.
So that was six weeks of our 16, what happened to the rest?
In Spain I worked on an English immersion camp for kids. I earned £250 cash for the week, got free food and accommodation and got my flight into Barcelona paid for. What a deal!
As I said I went to a few festivals too. I covered around 3000 miles so quite a bit of my time was spent in transit. Once I hit the big cities I’d do all the main attractions and have a good look around but experiencing Europe in the way and time I did meant I could chill out too. I read a lot of books in parks and on beaches during the trip, and even did a few paintings with a watercolour set I picked up.
One of the great things about Europe is the amount of things there are to see and do for free. So. Many. Churches. There are also parks, beautiful scenery, architecture and a rich history to follow. If you need a guide just download an app or buy a book at a local shop.
Food in Europe
I wasn’t the most conscientious of budget travellers to start off – eating out at least once a day in a cheap bar. I soon realised though, that if I carried on I wouldn’t last long. My favourite meal quickly became a whip around the supermarket and some bread, cheese and ham. I also had a few pizza takeaways in the parks in Italy, croissants and a bottle of wine in France and amazingly priced steaks in Serbia. The best thing to do if you’re looking to save money on food costs in Europe, but don’t want a diet of noodles, is to eat what the locals eat, where they eat it.
I actually didn’t drink very much on the trip, and stayed away from the bars and pubs that I knew would eat up my money. Instead I’d enjoy a shop-bought bottle of wine in the park with friends, or a few local beers.
If I was to do the trip again…
I would look at more working for money opportunities, so I could’ve travelled for longer. Things like working at festivals, teaching English, or working as an activity instructor would have been great.
I’d like to say I’d eat more noodles to save money, but really, food is such an important part of travelling for me that I enjoyed every mouthful.
I’d do another Workaway project. It was such a good way to get to know the local community, save money and to have a break from the cities. We did have another one booked in France, but unfortunately had to cancel.
I would have saved more money beforehand, but having said that, whatever you have is just never enough. I’d originally planned to go back through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the top of France to get the Eurostar back, but I ran out of money and just had to get a flight back from Krakow in Poland, complete with a maxed out credit card in my pocket.
One of the biggest expenses was travel and accommodation. If you have the time cycling would be a fun way to get around, and you could camp too.
I would’ve learnt some of the local language. I was useless.
The six months were a brilliant adventure and having said all this, really, I wouldn’t change a thing.