Cheap flights to most cities are on offer every week, and you can scoop up some great accommodation deals at the same time. The sights, smells, sounds and tastes of so many different cultures are ready and waiting for you to explore. Here’s how to discover them.
On the road
There’s nothing more adventurous than a good old-fashioned road trip. One option is joining the annual van tour, which isn’t an organised tour but basically a bunch of vans full of party-loving young people (many of them antipodeans) following the same route around Europe and meeting up along the way.
Because most people on van tours are up for having a good time, major summer festivals around Europe are the main stops. It all unofficially kicks off at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, in July, and ends at Munich’s Oktoberfest in September.
However, if you want to see Europe at a more leisurely pace, buy a van, grab a handful of like-minded mates, and follow your own route.
You’ll find plenty of second-hand camper vans for sale in London, and once you have your own home-away-from-home, you can pack up and hit the road whenever you like.
The best time to buy a vehicle is at the end of the previous van tour season in October – many vehicles will already be decked out with beds, camping gear, a stove and cooking utensils.
Expect to pay about £2000 for a roadworthy set of wheels, more if you’re buying from a used car dealer – though the plus side is that your van will come with a warranty.
Remember the costs of running a vehicle mount up long after the initial outlay. As well as forking out for road tax, you’ll also need an annual MOT (roadworthy) certificate for any vehicle more than three years old.
Think about the equipment you’re going to need: spare tyre, jack, basic tools, a stove, bedding … again, being prepared before you leave is easier than hunting down essentials on the road.
Renting a vehicle can be more cost effective, especially if you can split the fee with some mates.
As for a licence, you can legally drive in Europe using your home licence for one year, after which you must give it up and apply for a UK version. You don’t need to take another test, but you will need to pay
a fee. See dvla.gov.uk
Hundreds of bargain flights to cities all over Europe take off daily from London’s five major airports.
The main budget carriers are easyJet and Ryanair, but your best bet is to Google ‘cheap flights’ and go from there. Often you can get hotel and car hire discounts thrown in as part of the deal. Remember to read the small print. Often the prices of cheap flights are boosted by checked bags, insurance and priority charges, which you can choose not to pay for.
Keep in mind the timing of your trip when booking your flights. Air ticket prices vary depending on the season, date and time of day.
Usually flights are more expensive during school holidays, festival times and ski season, when the airlines are busy. Tickets can also be pricier for weekend travel when working people get some time out to go away. It pays to be flexible with the timing of your flights. The ideal days for flying from London are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
With an InterRail pass you have the option of exploring 30 countries by rail with the classic Global Pass starting from £169.
The pass is valid for Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK.
The InterRail One Country Pass is your best choice if you only want to visit one European country by train. This starts at £34.
InterRail also entitles you to cheaper ferry fares, such as from Italy to Greece. See interrailnet.com
With core train services from London to Brussels, Disneyland Paris, Paris, Lille and Avignon, Eurostar can connect you to more than 100 places in Europe.
If you’re into skiing or boarding, hop on the Eurostar ski train at London’s St Pancras International, and be whisked off direct to the winter resorts of Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne or Bourg-St-Maurice.
You can travel on the Eurostar ski train either during the day or night – daytime offers stunning views from your seat, while if you take the overnight train you’ll arrive bright and early at your destination, with more time on the slopes.