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Holiday on the buses: National Express not Orient Express

Top Tips

By James Stone

Travellers admitting to regularly taking advantage of ridiculously cheap flights constantly available to enjoy a weekend break a European capital need to carefully consider their audience these days.

For every friend or colleague who expresses envy at your travels or who is keen to see your holiday snaps, there will often be someone else who tut-tuts at your blatant disregard for the issue of global warming.

Despite increased pressure from environmentalists, the vast majority of travellers are unwilling to give up their cheap flights, with air travel often more affordable and more appealing than any alternative.

However, over the past few years, there has been something of a revolution in overland travel too.

While many holidaymakers and travel writers have been waxing lyrical about the joys of the European railways, the coach has been reinventing itself as an attractive option for those with more time than money.

In America, the Greyhound bus has for decades been seen as the most romantic way of traversing the vast country, inspiring countless books and songs.

Likewise, the 'chicken buses' of South and Central America are often the only way to get around and offer the more adventurous traveller the chance to get close to the local people and their animals for next to no cost.

In Europe, however, the coach has long been the poor relation in terms of overland travel, with a journey on the Orient Express understandably more appealing than one on the National Express.

Again, cost is the most appealing factor of the bus, with one way fares between most of the European cities significantly less than on a train or, indeed a plane.

Students, the unemployed and the more frugal traveller will also see in a long-distance bus journey the opportunity for a night's sleep, thereby saving on a night's accommodation.

Of course, while fans of trains cite being able to see the scenery of a country as one of the greatest thing about the railways, the reality of coach travel is that it invariably involves spending the majority of the time on a motorway, with one major European road looking pretty much like any other.

However, as Jack Kerouac proved with his 'On the Road', it is what happens inside a coach that is often more interesting and memorable than what is happening on the outside.

Being cooped up for hours at a time is an excellent chance to get to know your fellow travellers and exchange tips and tales and maybe even more.

According to a study undertaken by the bus operator National Express, one in 30 UK travellers have found love across the aisle of a coach, while one in 15 people have made long-term friendships as a result of a chance meeting on a road trip.

It is unlikely that coach travel will ever be seen as an attractive option for those who can afford an alternative, and understandably so.

However, as a cheap way of getting around and potentially getting more from your trip than a cheap souvenir, the occasional road trip is a must for the adventurous traveller.


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