I used to love hopping in a car, hitting the open road, and cruising to unknown destinations. European road trips are so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend one. And the truth is, despite the reputation, road trips in Europe have never been expensive or difficult. There’s various ways to get started. You could get lucky, and soiree though twenty-eight countries in a 350-Euro borderline-vintage French-hatchback. Including a country that doesn’t exist. Or, grab a cheap rent-a-car. Finances aren’t normally the problem here – European road trips are accessible even if you’ve been unemployed for over a thousand days straight, and you’re counting each glorious additional day like it’s a gift from the lord baby Jeebus himself. Because the thing is, I never loved going to work each day. However, I love hopping in a car and taking European road trips. But, I used to, too.
“No, I don’t need a car to see Europe. I’ll just catch a train. I prefer to be slavishly stuck with a rigid timetable. I’m opposed to stopping at my leisure, and walking outside in the fresh air is not for me. I choose to sleep in a dirty small bunk bed with three other snoring strangers who may or may not be criminals, in a room that smells like stale two minute noodles and old socks.” Said nobody, ever. “Why the fuck does it take a train eight hours to travel 137km’s, why is it so fucking hot in here, why don’t the fucking windows open and have you seen the fucking state of that toilet? Fuck this, next time, I’m renting a car.” Said, many.
Suspiciously, I’ve noticed more than a few deviously untrustworthy “articles” about Eurail train passes lately. They all opine the joy of European train travel, and conveniently forget to mention that a road-trip, in a car, is hands-down the best way to see Europe. It makes sense. Europeans invented the automobile. Europeans invented the road trip. This is a continent made for cars. Europeans also invented freeways without speed limits, easily concealed tiny bottles of high-strength alcoholic beverages, and, thankfully, airbags, aspirin, and those cool machines that let you speak with a robot voice, even though you’ve long since severed your spinal cord and lost all ability to control most of your muscles.
However, the point is not to focus on the incredibly common occurrence of horrific car accidents on European roads, but to remember that trains are also fraught with danger, so if you’re going to take a chance, do it on a European road trip. Because, Europe isn’t a big place. The number of road trips available within Europe is limitless. You’re never too far from another culture-filled city, picturesque village, or remote scene of abandoned and decaying communist-era dystopian beauty. Deciding where to go isn’t necessary. Just decide to go. From that point, the logistics are simple – obtain a car, and drive it somewhere. If you forget to pack something, don’t worry, Europe has shops everywhere these days.
click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article
Last week, I took the opportunity to road-trip through four countries in six days. Belgrade, Serbia. Timisoara, Romania. Zagreb, Croatia. Budapest, Hungary. It was an easy drive, filled with four distinctly different cultures. Meals were taken at unknown road side restaurants in Croatia. Picnic lunches were enjoyed with vistas of Hungarian lakes. Rakija was extensively sampled in Serbia. In Romania, I tightly clenched my valuables and struck up conversations and with the locals – semi-homeless and friendly-in-a-slightly-menacing-kind-of-way and probably alcoholic locals, but really, you just don’t get to meet those kind of people on a train, do you. My peoples. Well, of course, unless you’re travelling on a train from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. Or, on any train that passes through East Croyden. Or Bromley South. OK, sure, trains do have a fair assortment of semi-homeless alcoholics, so there is that.
But, believe me, for everything else, a car is a much better way of seeing Europe.
Tomorrow, I’m heading to Vienna.
I’m catching a train.
* the first photo is of Belgrade, Serbia. Still my favourite European city. Apologies to email subscribers, I have a technical issue which means the first photo of each post is not being included in the email. A fix is coming.
PS, Personal update, for continuity: I recently passed a milestone – 1000 days since I quit my last job. Currently, I’m working on a few long-term articles, planning for the 2016 Yomadic “untours”, checking out Italy and Austria, and doing my best to learn Hungarian. A language where “megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért” is a real word.
In just a few weeks, I’ll leave Budapest, take another road-trip to Istanbul, and meet up with the gang for the first Yomadic Iran Untour. Cutting edge tourism, at it’s finest.
15 thoughts on “Why You Should Never, Ever, Catch a Train in Europe”
Good on you for trying to learn Hungarian. We have a couple of friends in Budapest that you should really meet, great people.
Cool! Send me the details, I’m here for another few weeks and love to meet people!
Seriously, what you write about trains is quite silly. Not every train is filthy, not every compartment smells stale – you should be a bit more specific on which trains you had these experiences. That a train has a rigid timetable isn’t really news and yes, it won’t stop for you to get a coffee on the side of the ‘tracks’.
But then, you arrive in the middle of cities, you don’t need to find parking and you’ll also arrive usually rested. To compare train safety and accident rates of trains with the ones of cars is a highpoint of nonsense. This article is disappointing to say the least.
I grew up in Europe and I took a huge amount of train rides in all possible directions, you name it. I do have a faint idea of what I’m talking about – do you?
Yes, I do know what I’m talking about.
hey bro, chill :)
Hey Nate, when are you going to be in Istanbul? I will be there after May 9th if you guys have time to meet, let me know :)
Hey Ilke – I will be there on the 13th…. just for a few days. I’ll send you a message…
Hey Nate, I kinda love this article. :)
I can see why you might get annoyed at people pushing train tickets, but personally I love both trains or cars, preferably a combo. One trainy benefit is taking an overnighter – kinda misses the point of overland travel somewhat, but occasionally it’s nice to get some sleep while you travel and reduce extra accommodation costs at the same time. Or use the opportunity to get drunk with some friendly randoms, without the worry of needing an electronic voicebox thingy later.
Can’t believe I missed that excellent ‘spomenik’ in Podgorica! I only made it to the bus station though, on my way up to Durmitor. Hope your tours this year go well, they sound great.
Yo Peter… yes, that spomenik is reaalllly impressive, worth checking out next time you’re in the area.
I actually agree with you – a combo is best. But, if I had to pick a winner, it would be the automobile. Some of the best times of my travel life have been on a train, and I’m not giving them up any time soon (I’ve probably caught ten since this article was published) ;)
There’s always room for a train.
Besides, whilst I’m sure it’s not impossible, it’s much easier to get drunk between countries on a train, albeit, less exciting I’m sure!
I agree with the drunk part, Chris ;)
I think i still would like to find an old ducati or ktm or reliable scooter and tour europe. Even though i have my harley, i would like to travel sort of in conspicuous. There is a great polish biker site where he travels on what looks like an old hondayamsakisuzki…and the images he gets of these side trips are just stunning. Dripping with such stately decay.
Hope all is well, and still enjoying your tales from colorado
P.s. Whats with all the intense anger and violence in Australia these days? I thought that was only a USA gig.
Hey Laurance. Motorbike might be the best method of all. If I settle down somewhere, I’ll definitely pick one up.
As for Australia, I know. God damn. What is the country coming too, and why did we decide the only way is the USA way ;)
Hope you’re well too mate.
just made a mini-road trip through Czech Rep to western Poland. Who knew Polish gas stations had such tasty and unpronounceable snacks? Good times. Great roadside restaurants that we never would have stumbled upon if we bussed or trained it.
Now in Athens, we grabbed the hire car and went for a cruise up to Marathon- to be honest it was a total shit of a trip – endless traffic lights on 2 lane roads – took ages, and Marathon town – meh. But, the Argentinian bbq veal restaurant at the top of Marathon Lake = nirvana. Packed restaurant, overflowing car park in the true Greek style of I’m-parking-wherever-the-fuck-I-want. It was literally in the middle of nowhere on top of a hill but full with drunken cheery families on long tables. So much healthy respect for the man behind the grill wearing an apron stained with delicious meat juice and oregano salt. That stuff you ain’t going to find on the train.
But to get to Vienna, Yep, we too ditched the car. You just don’t need the hassle of parking – especially in a walking city /place with decent subway system then the car becomes a total pain in the arse.
Rebecca, we’re on the same page here. Everything you say is what I love about European road-trips.
And, why sometimes the train is the best choice.