For one reason or another, Britain is obsessed with Europe.
Even the Brexit campaign could not deny that the continent is our hottest tourist destination, making up 80%of British holidays abroad at the annual cost of £16 billion.
We hate Europe but, actually, we love it.
Perhaps the last relic of the ‘Eurotopia’ envisaged in the 1970s, Interrailing has long been a rite of passage for students. The principle – freedom to discover cities from Dublin to Dubrovnik without consuming your maintenance loan – has only widened in appeal. Yet, the concept lags behind the digital age so crudely, reliant on paper passes and meticulous planning, that it may as well use steam trains.
Trends are shifting, however, and there is a whole listicle’s worth of services to help you backpack across Europe without wasting half of your holiday hanging around on train platforms and, more excruciatingly, queuing for tickets. Here are three ways of taking back control that we can get behind.
Plane: Norwegian Airlines
If ever you wanted evidence of a shrinking world, the best airline in Britain is now Norwegian. The low-cost carrier is also making it possible, offering cheap and comfortable flights from the UK to 106 destinations, including 15 student hotspots such as Barcelona, Berlin and Budapest for under £40.
All summer long, Norwegian has been my gateway to Spain.
For the easiest access to coastal treats like Marbella, Benidorm and Valencia, or cultural centres in Seville, Córdoba and Granada, no established British airline can compete with its two-and-a-half-hour routes to Málaga and Alicante.
Beyond the great destinations, Norwegian showed me what truly to expect from low-cost air travel in the 21st Century.
There is no messing about at the airport, either, thanks to the Norwegian app, which looks after your boarding passes and notifies you of flight information and gate details.
On the plane, the native flight attendants were so helpful that I lasted the whole holiday without TripAdvisor and so bursting with banter that Steve from Clacton-on-Sea would have been ashamed.
Needless even to mention, then, that Norwegian is the only airline that can provide free Wi-Fi in mid-air.
“BlaBla Whah?” you might ask. When a delayed flight left me stranded in southern Spain last June with just some expired coach tickets and a barely-comprehensible local flight attendant to guide me, I certainly did. It turned out, eventually, that my only hope of an alternative airport transfer was also the most economical, efficient and sociable form of transport available.
While it remains low-key in the traditional confines of Britain, BlaBlaCar has grown into the biggest long-distance car-sharing platform in the world. The web and mobile service offers a safe way to hitchhike across cities and countries for little more than a token payment towards petrol, as well as the guarantee of meeting like-minded natives and other travellers.
Unlike Uber, the site is geared towards prolonged journeys and non-professional drivers looking to fill empty seats for trips that they would otherwise have made alone. Price controls keep the cost at a minimum, meaning that you could travel from London to Paris this weekend for less than £30. A return ticket on the Eurostar, however, would cost £245.
A sort of Tinder for motorists, BlaBlaCar helps you discover people with similar driving preferences. Users can upload a bio, rate their chattiness on a scale of ‘Bla’ to ‘BlaBlaBla’ and reveal whether they dislike music or are all about that playlist. And it works.
A hospital worker called Encarna, who rescued me from the airport en route to Almería, drove as smoothly as she smiled and felt like my guardian angel, whilst boy racer Jose María and his Mercedes convertible enabled me to live my childhood fantasy on a day trip to the Alhambra palace. My God, did he love a good playlist. Normal car journeys will never match up.
A sister company of National Express, the expanding network of Eurolines coaches excels in countering deficient public transport routes throughout Europe.
Its accessible service connects city centres to city centres according to trending itineraries, using modern, air-conditioned coaches with a range of mod cons that Cinderella could only have imagined.
Abandon your sickening memories of school trips on coaches. Premium vehicles make Eurolines the leaders in long-distance travel – and probably for a lower price than your French exchange. You can experience Paris, Amsterdam or Brussels for just £15 each way so that you can visit Europe more often or turn far-flung continental romance into a reality.
Last year, Eurolines worked with this website to facilitate all kinds of adventures, especially in Budapest, as part of our Student Travel Writer competition. Anyone could still emulate those entrants this summer by buying a 30-day unlimited travel pass from £210.