Four wheels went missing on a coach trip from Paris to Berlin. By Travis Lewis
Coach travel is one European transport option that offers flexibility at a great cost, as Travis Lewis found out when he went from Paris to Berlin.
I was about to embark on 10 days of major coach travel through four foreign countries with complete strangers. Seriously, we hadn't even made it to heady Amsterdam yet but I had to ask myself - was I on something? After suffering through the horrors of bus travel in my younger days, I don't know what made me think I'd enjoy this.
I didn't go into Busabout with the greatest of expectations. Recalling bad memories from teenage school field trips – paralysed limbs crushed against reclining chairs, vicious catfights to claim the back seat throne and living with the toilet demands and motion sickness issues of fellow passengers – I figured there had to be far enjoyable ways to discover the delights of Europe. But I could not have been more off track if I tried, because Busabout is not simply another transport option to see the sights of Europe. For the duration of your pass, it's a way of life.
As a keen globetrotter who avoided package tours like the plague but who also didn't want to completely cut myself off from civilisation while on the road, I pleasantly found it the perfect mix of both organised and independent travel.
During my short 10-day stint from Paris to Berlin, I discovered it the ideal way for both virginal and seasoned backpackers to completely throw themselves into what this captivating continent has to offer.
Everyday travel hassles such as co-ordinating transport connections, finding yourself on the wrong route or even discovering a decent place to eat in a foreign environment are taken out of your hands which leaves you with plenty of time to have an amazing adventure. That's not to say all things are catered for and you are totally stress-free, it's just that with this way you escape being burdened with the often forgotten mundane tasks of daily travel.
The bus network has clearly been designed with indecisive backpackers in mind. While months can be spent mapping out a detailed trek taking in all the highlights, whole itineraries can be scrapped on a whim after hearing of yet another 'undiscovered must-see' destination or happening party town.
And as I found out after deciding to give my battered immune system a break from Amsterdam to explore vibrant Berlin for a few more days than planned, this is what Busabout is set up for. You can mould your journey as you go along.
And that's what's so appealing about it – planned chaos. You can stay somewhere for as long as you like, or as little as you like. You're not locked into a tight, unrelenting schedule like you may be with other choices of travel around Europe.
While admittedly not as regular as train travel, coaches run through each destination every second day so you're never going to be far from being able to continue on your journey.
One of my major concerns before I started this trip was long days spent wasted in a coach being driven from city to city; time which I thought could be far better spent exploring exciting new places and getting under a strange city's skin. When compared with the ease, speed and obscenely low cost of travelling by air around Europe, it seemed the poorer option.
Busabout ensures this is not the case, and time spent on the road becomes part of the overall adventure. Whether it be getting to know fresh faces on the coach, saying goodbye to old ones, regrouping after a particularly mind-blowing destination to swap tales, or looking forward to discovering upcoming places, the journey always seem to run effortlessly smooth.
Regular service stops allow for toilet breaks and a chance to stretch your legs so you don't feel like you're bailed up in a cramped coach for your entire adventure, as I first feared. An on-board entertainment ensures time spent hurtling along the bitumen goes by relatively unnoticed.
It's hard not to get wrapt up in the intoxicating atmosphere of coach travel and instant friendships that seem to strike up between like-minded free-spirited travellers in such a confined space. People on board are all essentially after the same thing - to have the time of their lives.