This Millennial Train Ride Through Europe Should Be On Your 20s Bucket List
When I embarked on a whirlwind trip through Eastern Europe this summer, I anticipated a bit of frenzied chaos: five nights, five friends, five countries, and three cities. (Well, technically five cities if you count the Warsaw and Frankfurt layovers, which of course, I do.) The Warsaw airport gives a flavor of the country — filled with modern art and smoking lounges. (It is Europe, after all.) My friends and I were traveling the romanticized way, on a millennial train ride through Europe, with Eurail.
If train travel reminds you of star-crossed lovers trekking across the country in black-and-white movies, it likely feels like a bit of a throwback in today’s world of cheap plane fares and last-minute trip bookings. As a result, train travel has reached Wes Anderson-levels of nostalgia and glorification — which is fitting, considering my trip felt like #AccidentallyWesAnderson from start to finish. Walking amongst the vivid pastels of Prague’s Old Town Square and the quirky Art Nouveau buildings of Vienna, I felt like I was starring in a remake of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Once I finally arrived in Hungary’s capital, I was taken aback by the decadent party scene at Budapest’s neo-Baroque Szechenyi Baths.
Every moment on my journey brought a new adventure, and I had never felt so thoroughly immersed in so many different cultures in such a short period of time. Eurail allows you to capitalize on the close proximity of many European cities. The train ride may only last a few hours, but once you arrive, you’re in a vastly different world. I never anticipated the ease of travel, affordability, and adventure Eurail would offer my travel experience. These are six reasons why this millennial train ride should be on the top of your bucket list.
1. There Are Endless Geotags
The train ride from Prague to Vienna was only about four and a half hours, and Vienna to Budapest was only three hours total — less than the time it takes to drive from LA to anywhere during rush hour. The Old World has its advantages. America may stretch from sea to shining sea, but the countries in Eastern Europe are easily traversed on land. Say hello to Budapest, and wave goodbye to Vienna, all in one afternoon.
2. It's Squad Friendly
The endless options for your itinerary are not to be underestimated, and the entire experience is good for group travel. (Because if you didn’t visit a new country without an assortment of your besties, did you really travel?)
For millennials, STA Travel is also a great resource for affordable, extremely Instagrammable activities. Just decide how many countries you want to visit and reserve your Eurail pass. Then say, "Bonjour," (or "Szia," or "Hola") to a new country (and vastly different culture, landscape, and cuisine) every morning.
3. No Passport, No Problem
Thanks to the EU, I only had my passport stamped twice during my entire trip — when I arrived in Germany, and when I departed from Hungary. Though the memory hoarder in me may long for a more cluttered passport, the variety of destinations were certainly well-documented on my Instagram feed. (Duh.) The multitude of geotags belied the seamlessness of the journey: I ordered a glass of champagne and watched the rolling countryside pass me by.
Another benefit? Not having to wait in endless lines at security. Not having to chug your bottle of water and remove your earrings every time you cross an international border is a priceless luxury, as far as I'm concerned.
4. You'll Experience The Beauty Of The Countryside...
Speaking of plane travel, I’d like to quote the infinite wisdom of Ferris Bueller: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it." Train travel lets you slow down and rest up for your next adventure.
Are the Austrian hills really alive with the sound of music if you can’t see them below the clouds? The trains (and train stations) vary by country, but each one allows you to watch the land unfold around you as you travel across the continent. You really experience where you are, versus jetting from place to place.
Lean back while you look out the window. Train travel allows for the seemingly impossible travel command: Get comfortable. The leg room afforded by train travel is incredible. Unlike economy flights, where you’re stressed out over the tray table and your neighbor’s selfish usage of the armrest, train travel with Eurail allows you to luxuriate in relative seclusion.
Word to the wise: Upgrade to first class. The price increase is negligible, and it’s so worth it. In other words, #TreatYoSelf. To paraphrase Fergie, we may not be flying first class up in the sky, but we’re riding it in style down on Earth. Sometimes, the best part of the destination is the journey getting there.
5. ...And Many Different Cultures
My travels through Prague, Vienna, and Budapest were nothing short of spectacular. The diversity of culture, language, and cuisine was breathtaking. Traveler's tip: Eastern Europe languages are harder to learn than the more accessible Romance Languages. Study up before you go.
Something that requires no translation, though? The beauty of the architecture and winding city streets. If you have yet to visit Prague, you must Czech it out. (And if my pun didn’t make you (Pra)haha, I apologize. I can’t resist.) But you wouldn’t be able to resist the colorful city, seemingly designed for Instagram.
Vienna’s the most beautiful city (in my honest opinion), while Hungarian spas give new meaning to the term “bath time." But it’s not all sightseeing — it’s also about engaging with the local customs and culture. The best way to do that? On the dance floor, of course. I first visited these cities when I was studying abroad, and it was comforting years later to discover that European men are still unafraid to dance. (Step up your game, males of America, because the Europeans have that fancy footwork down pat.)