By Toby Feldman
This piece was originally published at Student Travel Tips.
Last year, oh so many moons ago – pre-COVID, pre-Brexit-proper, pre-2020 – I was finishing off my year abroad and I was living in Geneva. My life there was good, but by no means great. A mixture of forces contributed to this; there was some family stuff going on, I was struggling to find friends, the finances were not a pretty sight (we’re talking like 5 CHF for a pack of Doritos) and my job at a small human rights think-tank was interesting, but, in the end, not for me. The amount of time I spent actually working compared to that spent clock-watching was becoming perilously problematic as the internship went on, where I began spending more and more time waiting for the day to end, craving a modicum of freedom.
It was by no means a hard life, but when presented with the opportunity to get away and travel, I seized it, tight. Very tight. I was desperate to leave the city and try to reset my mental clock to prepare myself for the final month of living abroad. How did I get this opportunity you may ask? I didn’t just get 2-3 days of holiday you see, but I ended up having TWELVE days off. In Geneva, a banking and diplomacy capital, it is very customary for offices to shut completely over the summer months so that employees can take some time off. This may be grand, but as a student on his year abroad, having this somewhat unceremoniously dumped on you is, in the most privileged fashion, actually quite stressful!
You can imagine: I found out without any real warning that the office I was working at would be shut for a week and a half, all my colleagues (and main friendship group) were heading off on vacation and, therefore, I had no project or purpose in town without my job. I came to the conclusion that my best bet, for the sake of my financial stability, was to get out there and do some travelling! Wahoo? Right? Well… not yet.
“Bus travel in mainland Europe is so superior to the service we receive in the UK and I am sure that, for many, it is never an option that crosses their mind.”
Twelve days is a weird amount of time. It is long enough that you are blessed with real scope to go on some sort of adventure, but it is by no means long enough to justify something truly ambitious. I felt very uneasy about jumping on flights around Europe as I had begun to feel somewhat anxious about the airmiles I had accrued during my year abroad, and I felt truly compelled to try to find a more ethical and sustainable way of travel, and I had to get creative. My solution can only be described as hodge-podge. I had a vague interest in Germany and Austria, so all I did was – here is the kicker – buy some bus tickets.
Bus travel in mainland Europe is so superior to the service we receive in the UK and I am sure that, for many, it is never an option that crosses their mind. Flix Bus, and all the little angelic workers behind this operation, have created a network so extensive and affordable that almost any destination on the continent can be accessed if you are willing to think outside of the box and play around with Google Maps sufficiently. I do not mean this in a condescending way: I too was victim to the ease and convenience of budget airlines, and it really was only on this trip that I challenged myself to avoid airplanes at all costs.
It was through Flix buses (and one emergency train) that I managed to fit Geneva, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Brno, Prague, Nuremberg and Munich again into just 12 days, and it was illuminating – eye opening! I saw that there was another way to travel that does not feed more time and money into the arms of those in charge of that petrol-chugging machine that has dominated the travel industry for far too long.
With a bit of planning, daring and the acceptance that an 8-hour overnight journey may be a necessity for environmentally-friendly travel, the world once again becomes your oyster. This time, however, you burn less fuel!
They say that the wheel is the greatest invention of mankind, and I say that it is about time we start using it again.