38 countries in 2.5 years

I added up all the countries we visited in the two and a half years we were away from Australia and the total came to 38. (Or a nicer, neater 40 if you could England, Scotland and Wales separately. ;) Here is the grand rundown!

38 countries - 17% of the world

(Cities listed are those we stayed overnight for one or more nights and don’t include day trips or other places we visited on the way from one to another.)

JULY – DECEMBER 2010

Before settling in the UK we spent almost half a year travelling around Europe. This was something we’d always wanted to do and we thought once we’d achieved it we’d feel a sense of satisfaction and completion – gotten it out of our system, so to speak. Buuut, if anything, it only made us want more.

  • SINGAPORE
  • THE UK: London, Bristol, Wales
  • THE NETHERLANDS: Rotterdam, Amsterdam
  • BELGIUM: Brussels, Bruges
  • FRANCE: Tours, Toulouse
  • SPAIN: Barcelona
  • PORTUGAL: Lisbon, Porto, Faro
  • SPAIN: Seville, Granada
  • GIBRALTAR
  • MOROCCO: Fez, the Sahara desert, Dades Gorge, Marrakesh
  • ITALY: Milan, Levanto, Rome, Sant Agnello
  • CROATIA: Zadar, Mukinje, Split, Dubrovnik, Zagreb
  • MONTENEGRO: Kotor
  • BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Mostar, Sarajevo
  • HUNGARY: Budapest
  • AUSTRIA: Vienna
  • CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague
  • POLAND: Krakow
  • GERMAN: Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg

(flickr collection)

Total travel time: 21 weeks
Total cost including all transport, accommodation, food and expenses: ~AU$16,000 per person

2011 – JULY 2012

We then lived and worked in London for 19 months but we tried to squeeze in travel whenever we could. After all, it’s easier to pop over to Paris for a few days from London than is is from Melbourne, so we had to make the most of it while we were over there! As well as weekends and day trips to various towns around the UK (and a week each driving around Scotland and Cornwall) we also visited:

JULY – DECEMBER 2012

By this time I’d started this blog and did my best to post at least once for every country we visited. If you kept up on this second trip by travelling along virtually with us via this blog, thank you and I hope you enjoyed the ride!

(flickr collection)

Total travel time: 20 weeks
Total cost including all transport, accommodation, food and expenses: ~AU$18,300 per person

(I feel like we actually travelled more cheaply in 2012 than we did in 2010 but I think the reason we spent more money is because the second trip included some particularly expensive countries (Scandinavia, Japan, etc) and the Trans-Mongolian leg cost a lot because it was privately organised tour and we also had to secure three pricey visas to undertake it.)

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To rail pass or not to rail pass?

Is a European rail pass worth it? Always wanting to get the most value for my money, this is a question I agonised over in the months leading up to our 4 month journey in 2010.

We knew we wanted to travel by land wherever possible and mapped out a rough circuit which ended up taking this shape:

Map of Europe

At the time I was researching it, a 15 day pass (for use over 2 months) was going to cost AU$1,100 per person.

Cons:

  • We wanted to travel for 4 months so we would have required two passes. But…
  • The first 2 months were going to be interrupted by Morocco (where the EU rail pass doesn’t apply) and we didn’t plan on making 15 trips before Morocco.
  • The second 2 months were going to include Italy (cheap rail anyway) and the Balkans (better to travel by bus) so we wouldn’t have gotten our money’s worth there either.

In other words, our plans didn’t include 2 solid months of travel in countries covered by the pass.

I briefly considered a French-and-Spain-only pass but again, we weren’t planning on making enough trips in those countries for that to be worthwhile.

In the end I decided we’d be better off just buying point-to-point tickets and I budgeted AU$3000 per person for 4 months. We ended up making 41 trips (mostly by rail, but some by bus and a couple by ferry or plane) which cost a total of AU$2440 each. This works out to be an average of AU$59.50 per trip – the rail pass would have averaged at AU$73. (And 13 of the trips we took wouldn’t have been covered by a rail pass anyway.)

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So for us, buying individual tickets worked out to be cheaper – and more convenient – than a rail pass.

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Some points worth bearing in mind:

  • It really depends on where you’re going, how long you’re travelling for, and how quickly you plan to move on from each place. There are other rail passes available, such as the 15 or 21 continuous day passes (you can travel as much as you like within 15 or 21 days), which if you were planning a 2 or 3 week blitz of Europe would be great value… although the pace might not suit your plans.
  • Different countries offer different rail pass options. Since I was coming from Australia I was only looking at the options (and prices) available to Australians.
  • Obviously, all my prices are 1.5 years out of date (I should have written this earlier :P). Rail pass prices have since dropped, but this is probably the result of today’s better AU-EU exchange rate. I think point-to-point travel still would have worked out cheaper for us given our chosen itinerary.
  • Rail travel was most expensive in France, Spain and Germany. If you were only planning on travelling in these countries a select pass (or individual country pass) would probably be worth it.
  • If you’re not pressed for time, it’s significantly cheaper to travel by bus in Spain than by train. This is great for shorter distances (eg Seville-Granada) but probably not worth it for long journeys such as Barcelona-Madrid.
  • Rail travel was cheapest in The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. A rail pass is probably not worth it for travel in these countries unless you plan on making a LOT of trips.
  • Even if you have a rail pass some countries (such as Spain and Italy) require mandatory seat reservations which reportedly can cost more than buying a single one-off ticket.
  • Also, in Italy you can often save a lot by taking slightly slower trains – from memory you could save something like 50% by taking a 30 min longer journey. (I noticed this particularly for trips between Rome and Naples.)
  • Rail links are not brilliant in the Balkans (eg Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia) but the buses are convenient, efficient, cheap, comfortable, and I think sometimes even faster than the trains!
  • It’s not relevant to the EU rail passes, but as a side note: train travel in Morocco is extremely cheap. (But very slow.)
  • We bought all our tickets at the relevant station a few days before or on the day of departure and never had any problem with getting seats (although we had to sit in separate carriages from Lisbon-Porto).
  • We tended to find the ticket prices were pretty standard and didn’t seem to fluctuate like UK train tickets or airline prices.
  • However, if you’re prepared to book in advance you can save significant money on German trains by buying online. (You can even do it while on the road, you’ll just need to find access to a printer to print your tickets.)
  • Often you can buy tickets from machines (which always had an English menu option), otherwise we usually found the people behind the ticket counters very helpful. We were usually able to use English (except in Toulouse, but we got by in limited French), and when we had a slightly complicated request for the ticket office in Barcelona we wrote all the details down on a piece of paper with the help of a phrase book and handed that over. (The guy that served us was amused and somewhat chuffed we went to the effort.)
  • The only tickets we bought online in advance were our bus trips in Spain, which I think was worth doing because from memory those buses were pretty full. (It would also be worth buying any high-speed train, eg Eurostar, tickets in advance because those prices do get more expensive the closer you buy to your date of travel.)
  • We always travelled second class. Personally I always found this perfectly comfortable and the times I have ridden first class there wasn’t enough of a difference to justify paying extra. (The exception to this would be overnight trains where I do think it’s worth paying more for a private cabin.)
  • If you’re planning on doing a lot of rail travel in Europe I highly recommend buying a copy of the latest Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable before you set out – ours was invaluable for planning ahead. (In the case of buses in the Balkans, your best bet is just to visit the station and look at the timetable posted on the wall as any info you find online might not be accurate.)

For any more info about rail passes or rail/bus/ferry travel in general I can’t recommend The Man in Seat 61 more highly.

If you’re curious how much each of our point-to-point tickets cost click the link below!

travel costs table »