WHY I CHOSE BUSABOUT (AND WHY I'M GLAD I DID)
I had dreamed of going on a big Eurotrip for quite a few years, but at the beginning of 2017, I had nothing holding me back and I decided that it was time I finally took the leap and BOOKED IT! I had 3-months to organise everything before I boarded my plane to Paris for my 4-month solo Eurotrip, but the biggest issues I had were where to go and how to get there. Although the distances between most places in Europe seem quite small in comparison to Australia, I still had no idea which cities to prioritise visiting, what the safest and most economical mode of transport was, etc. I considered planes, trains and automobiles, but I just found myself getting confused. When I heard about Busabout, it seemed like everything I was looking for. It hit all the main big cities, as well as beautiful small towns in each country, it was safe and economical and relatively hassle free for the passenger. I can only speak from my own experience, as I haven't backpacked around Europe in a different way to provide a contrasting personal comparison, but this is why I loved my Busabout experience:
As a solo female traveler, safety is my number one priority. While I've never personally had any issues while traveling solo through South East Asia, I always prefer to be cautious. Before coming to Europe, I'd heard stories of friends that put their backpacks (containing their passports, laptops and other valuables) in the overhead compartment of a train and then had it all stolen from them by a departing passenger. Likewise, I'd heard of taxis speeding off with people's luggage in the boot; or neighbouring passengers being inappropriate on long overnight bus trips... Awkward. On the same note, I prefer to have a lot of flexibility and room for spontaneity and adventure while traveling, so a guided tour with a consistent group didn't really appeal to me.
So when I heard about Busabout, it sounded like a perfect solution, and it has been. All of my luggage is safely underneath the coach or inside the locked coach during rest stops (so I can leave my stuff on board with my seat, as everyone gets off together). There is a guide who is there to oversee everyone and everything and let me know any important travel updates (in English!), so I can easily relax, watch a movie or sleep and not have to worry about anything. Despite having the advantages of a guided tour while on board the coach, I then get the advantage of arriving at a place and having total flexibility regarding where I stay, who I spend time with and where I go. In my opinion, even just the safety aspect of this service justified buying my unlimited Busabout pass, as I couldn't think of anything worse than not feeling like I could relax on long travel days.
2. Onboard Guides
As I said before, I don't consider myself the type of person who would choose a guided tour around Europe, simply because I think traveling is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone a bit, and if you're not having to organise the specifics of your own trip, or meeting anyone outside of your own tour group (who are usually Australian too haha), it wouldn't quite be the type of trip I'm looking for (in saying that, I know people who have had a ball on tours, so remember this is just my opinion!). However, I've found that when I've traveled before, I've missed out on a few important things to see and do, and most importantly, I missed out on a lot of the history of wherever I was. While I've still had a great time experiencing a culture and place by just being in it, I now realise that having the context of its history makes my experience so much richer and means that I'm becoming a more rounded person/traveler.
In regards to Busabout, one of my favourite factors was that there was a guide on board that gave explanations when entering a new city/country about the history, culture, fun facts and must-see places to visit. Even simple tips on how to
navigate the rest-stop that we're pulling into is so helpful (for example, in Italy you usually pay first and present your ticket at the counter; in Germany you have to pay for toilets, but it's redeemable in products, etc). The other thing that I find super handy is being taught how to say the basics in the language a that is relevant to your next destination - it's amazing how being able to say 'please', 'thank you', 'hello' and 'goodbye' can make such a difference to the way you're received in another country (and I also just feel so much better by at least trying to make an effort before resorting to English).
Aside from all that, the guides are also young people that are passionate about traveling, so I've picked their brains a lot about what to see and do all over Europe and the U.K., as well as just had really interesting chats about our different travel experiences. I've totally rearranged my trip about 4 times now, and the guides on board have helped shape my destinations, catering to what my interests are and the places they have fallen in love with along the way. I've found the guides to be super helpful and knowledgable, and it's always nice to see a smiling face at 8am when you're boarding a 14-hour coach ride haha.
3. On board tech facilities
It's common knowledge that wifi is pretty much your lifeline when traveling in 2017, so having wifi on board is pretty great. Admittedly, the wifi isn't amazing, but it does the job! It doesn't allow you to use Instagram, YouTube or Snapchat, but you can use Facebook, Facebook messenger, FaceTime and normal internet sites and apps to book accommodation and plan out your trip on board. I got a SIM card with loads of data within the first 2-weeks of my trip, so I didn't use the on board wifi much after that, but it was still handy. The Busabout portal also offers movies, documentaries and some other bits and pieces, so that's pretty convenient to pass the time too. Oh, and USB chargers on the buses are also awesome (TIP: the top plug charges faster than the lower one!). Can you guess by my technology obsession that I'm a Gen Y?! (Note: there aren't toilets on board, but you stop every 2.5 hours anyway).
4. Meeting people on board
This is my favourite part of my Busabout experience - meeting people on board and making great new friends. I have been so lucky with the people I've met, whether it was for just one night, for the 3-days we were in the same city, or even someone that I've had multiple reunions with along the Busabout routes (it's such a nice surprise when you see a familiar face when you get on to the bus!). I've met such a huge range of people on board, from a young couple on their honeymoon; a 70-year-old woman who won a travel voucher and was backpacking and partying her way around Europe; a big group of Aussies who had just graduated high school; a man in his 80's who is running marathons in all different cities around Europe; quite a few people my age on their university holidays; and a 40-year old woman who had dreamed of doing this trip since she was 20 and has finally quit her job and gone for a year. You're certainly never bored on board!
The good thing is that if you get along with people really well, then you can continue to hang out with them for as long as you like, and can easily change your plans to have the same travel route. On the other hand, if you don't connect with anyone on the bus (or there's people you really can't stand... it happens sometimes), you're not stuck with any of them as soon as you step off the coach.
I remember the moment I clicked "process" on the Busabout website and saw that I'd just spent $1799AUD in the blink of any eye. It was a scary moment... However, I had thought long and hard about whether to buy a rail pass, or use a mix of planes, trains and other services (blah blah car, buses, etc), and when I weighed up the costs and hassle involved with each of them, I decided to just book Busabout. To be honest, even the few times I've had to catch other transportation (because I missed a coach orwent off the Busabout route), it has been so expensive that I think my Unlimited Pass was the best investment I've made. Considering I've traveled to destinations all over Western, Central and Eastern Europe, I was pretty impressed.
Additionally, I received a 10% discount for making an 'early bird' booking in March, and 10% off for being a student. TIP: make sure you have a student card from your travel agency with you, not just the one from your university. I saw a few people get caught out because of this and had to pay back the 10% difference while on the coach - not fun!
When I left Australia, I thought I was really organised, with my sectors all booked for the 3 months I was spending in Europe. Then sadly my friend had a death in the family and couldn't travel through France with me for the first 2 weeks as we'd planned, so I had to start my Busabout route earlier. And then I got to Italy and realised how hot it already was in May and decided I should probably go to Spain and Portugal right away, instead of waiting until the end of July as I'd originally planned (best decision I've made - it was still boiling hot!). Then I realised I had time to fit in the Eastern loops, so I changed my plans again and rebooked all my sectors.
The moral of the story is that travel should generally have a nice balance of organisation and unpredictability, so having the flexibility to change your plans is really important. I know that some buses and trains offer a refund policy, but a lot of the time it is a huge hassle to get the money back and it still costs you a booking or changeover fee. Another perk is that if you miss the Busabout coach that you were booked onto, then you don't lose your ticket, you just hop on the next one in two days time. I've only had one experience during July when I couldn't book onto the bus for the amount of nights I wanted in Berlin, as the coach was full. So instead I stayed only three nights in Berlin and five nights in Budapest instead of the other way around. It worked out well in the end anyway, as Berlin had record rainfall when I visited!