A car free holiday is a dream to me. The train is my favourite way to travel. Probably closely followed by ferry.
A lot of people want to travel more sustainably, but it’s easy to think of public transport as just delays and inconvenience.
I’ve never owned a car, and I haven’t lived in a house with a car since I was 13. So I’ve spent lots of hours on trains and coaches. As I don’t have a driving license, I’ve never driven abroad, either.
Here are the benefits of a car free holiday and why travelling by train or coach is a lot easier than you think!
Your holiday starts earlier
Your holiday doesn’t start from when you arrive at your hotel, it starts as soon as you leave your front door.
Changing your mindset in this way adds hours on to your holiday. Get on the train and sit back with a tinned cocktail and a good book.
Ben and I will generally go to the airport the evening before because that way you can relax the whole way. There’s no way you’re going to be late for your flight if you’re already at the airport. Plus, it’s an excuse for a nice glass of champagne overlooking the runway!
A car free holiday means you have more time
If you’ve changed your mindset to start your holiday earlier, you’ve given yourself more time to read, catch up on Netflix, watch a film or just watch the countryside roll by.
The train between Norwich and Manchester takes around the same amount of time as driving, but you travel straight through the Peak District and it’s gorgeous.
Phone signal disappears, there’s no excuse not to sink yourself into the rolling hills and green fields.
If you use the train or coach abroad, you get the chance to take in all the new scenery because you’re not concentrating on where your next turning is. Chat to whoever you’re travelling with, edit your photos or post your Instagram stories.
Plan the transport times at the same time as attraction times
I admit that it takes some planning to use public transport.
But when I’m booking trains, I’ll generally have an idea of what I want to see during the day. So time it for when the attraction opens or closes. Or if you’ve got an extra hour before the train arrives, search Instagram for the best nearby cafes or bars.
You’re right where you need to be
I’ve never had to battle through a city’s one way system, or get to a car park to discover its full, or try to manoeuvre around a multi-storey car park.
Train and bus stations are generally in the middle of towns and cities, so you get right where you need to be immediately, no fuss.
Or, if you’ve caught a bus to an attraction or smaller village, you get off right where you need to be!
Opportunity to talk to people and ask more about the place
This applies in the UK as well as abroad. Public transport is a great way to start a conversation with someone.
Being on a car free holiday means I sometimes need to ask station staff for clarification on whether I’m in the right place or how I buy a ticket. Most people are quite friendly, so I use it as an excuse to ask about where to have lunch, or what their favourite pub is.
Ben and I were in Wymondham, a small town about 10 miles from Norwich, and asked a group of old men when the next train back to the city was. They replied that they didn’t know because they’d never been! It struck up a conversation about how they’ve managed to live their whole lives without visiting the closest city, and what Wymondham had to offer. I don’t know their names but I’ll never forget them.
Are you looking for a break? Here are 4 Alternative City Breaks.
No traffic rules to learn when abroad
If you don’t fancy talking to strangers, most places in Europe have electronic ticket machines with an English option.
I’ve always found them really simple to use wherever I’ve been. The general process is the same everywhere: buy a ticket, get on the train or bus, get off at your stop. There aren’t any new traffic signs to get used to.
You don’t have to figure out if you’re allowed to go on an amber light and whether it’s compulsory to stop at a zebra crossing.
A car free holiday means no roundabouts to manoeuvre around.
It’s a lot less stressful because navigation isn’t your issue.
No need for insurance, no accidents
When of the main benefits of a car free holiday is that if something goes wrong, it’s not your responsibility to deal with it.
For example, in the UK if your train is cancelled the operator is legally obliged to get you to your destination. I’ve been put in taxis before when the weather has taken out a trainline.
I had a delayed train from Haro to Bilbao in Spain, but we just waited in the sunshine for the next train. When we arrived in Bilbao we entered the ticket number into the Renfe website and my card was automatically refunded.
If something goes wrong, there’s no fuss afterwards. You don’t have to deal with a car hire company that thinks you’ve scratched a car when you know you haven’t.
Easiest way to get to and from airports
Airport train and bus stations are so close to the terminals, generally you only have to take your bag straight up in the lift.
On the way back, there’s no returning to the car bleary-eyed from the journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired because there’s someone else to drive you. I genuinely believe it’s safer to use public transport to get to and from airports.
If you are going to get the train/coach to airports, it’s normally worthwhile to get flexible tickets so that if it takes longer to get through security then you can get on a later train. I’ve also booked tickets giving pleeeenty of time for delays but then everything goes faster than expected and then I’m sat waiting for a train when I could have had an earlier one.
National Express and Megabus usually charge around £1-£5 for flexibility, but trains can be a lot more expensive.
Book in advance for the best flexible prices.
Rail travel is cheap outside the UK
The only exception that I’ve seen is the train from Sydney’s airport into the city. This is because the train station is privately owned and not part of the pricing network.
For example, for the 40 minute train journey from Helsinki airport into the city centre, it cost €4.10 per adult.
Similarly, the 20 minute trip from Barcelona airport into the centre costs €4.60.
Want to hear more about Helsinki? Here are 9 Things To Do In Helsinki.
Key benefits of a car free holiday
I know it can be intimidating to be in a strange place and there’s a worry that you’ll get on the wrong train and end up somewhere random.
And I have got on the wrong train in Barcelona before, and been accidentally separated from Ben on the tube in Madrid.
I made a list of some of my travel calamities in this post, but not all of them are linked to public transport!
But it’s really not scary, you just get off at the next stop and figure it out.
Make the journey part of your holiday and learn to be patient. Even if a train is a bit late, what does it matter? You’re not on the way to work.