What’s the best way to travel around Europe – car, plane or train?

Like a lot of people, we love travelling abroad. There are so many places we are yet to visit and, now the kids are getting older, it’s something we want to prioritise. With holiday season beginning, and Europe on our doorstep, I’ve been investigating which mode of transport is the most cost and time effective. 

Here’s what I discovered…


At first glance, flying generally looks like an affordable option. Flights can be as little as £20 per person, which could make it cheaper than other modes of transport, particularly if you’re travelling alone or as a couple. Use Skyscanner to quickly compare the cheapest days and times to fly. Make sure you read my Skyscanner guide to find out how to hunt out the best prices!

Having said that, flying comes with a lot of hidden costs to consider, such as…

  • Fuel for the journeys to and from the airport
  • Airport parking
  • Luggage charges
  • Seat booking fees
  • Car hire / transfers

School holidays can also make flight prices soar so it could be worth looking at other means of travel. And, for some nearby destinations, it may actually be just as quick to drive. By the time you have considered journeys to and from the airport, check in times, flight delays, baggage reclaim and transfers – flying may not be worth it.



I actually really like travelling by train. It’s much more enjoyable than being squashed on a plane and comes without the hassle of airport wait times and checking baggage. We used trains to travel across Italy before we had the children, and it was easy and relaxing, plus we could enjoy the scenery.

Cost wise, travelling by train can be dearer than those ‘£20’ flights, but factoring in all the other airport costs, it might sometimes work out cheaper, depending on your destination. However, as with flying, you do have the issue again of incurring more transport costs when you visit new places without a car, plus getting to and from the train station, as well as station parking charges.



Long car journeys can be tricky with kids but driving does give you more flexibility than travelling by train or plane. You can stop to stretch your legs and you can pack as much junk as you can fit in your car without having to worry about baggage allowances. Apart from the ‘I need a wee’, ‘I’m boooooored!” and ‘Are we there yet?’ comments, it probably is the most practical way to travel with a family. And, if you have the time, you could plan in some extra adventures along your route.

On top of this, all of those cheap train and flight costs add up quickly when you have a family! Whereas in a car, there are no hidden costs. Plus, you’ll have free transport to explore the local area when you reach your destination. And, with high school-holiday travel costs, driving is usually the most affordable option.


A quick comparison

Let’s put it to the test! I’ve compared travel to Barcelona, for the 3rd-10th August 2020…

To fly…

  • Cheapest direct flights, found using Skyscanner: £415.
  • Flight time from London: 2 hours 20 minute flights, plus 2/3 hours check in each side.
  • Night flights to keep costs down.
  • Two 20kg bags: £100
  • Seat booking started at £6 per person, per flight – almost £50 for a family of four.
  • Drive time to and from the airport – around 1.5 hours each way, 3 hours in total.

Total journey time: Around 10-11 hours, plus transfers

Total cost: Around £565, plus transfers/car hire and airport parking


To train…

  • Cheapest travel by train, found using Trainline: £378 each way
  • Journey time from London: 10 hours 22 minutes
  • One train change included in France
  • Could request four seater booth, no charge
  • No baggage charges for up to 3 bags per person
  • Check in 30 mins before
  • Drive time to and from the London station – around 2 hours each way, 4 hours in total.

Total journey time: Around 15.5 hours, plus transfers

Total cost: Around £756, plus transfers/car hire and station parking


To drive…

  • Journey time from Kent (no need to head to London): 15 hours
  • 900 miles to cover
  • Cost of petrol for our car: £90
  • No hire car or transfers needed
  • Might want overnight accommodation half way?
  • Return ferry from France £122, or £160 for Eurotunnel crossing
  • Tolls charges to consider en-route

Total journey time: Around 15 hours, plus crossing to France

Total cost: Around £212/£250, plus tolls and 1 night extra accommodation if needed


So what’s the answer?

To be honest, the answer to this question is not clear cut. Driving will usually be the cheapest option, unless you’re travelling off peak and without the kids. But, it may extend your journey time, and can be stressful for the person behind the wheel. Plus, you can find some great flight and train prices if you avoid popular travelling times. And, travelling by train can be really relaxing.

To help you decide which is best, ask yourself these questions…

  • What time of year are you planning your visit? Is this peak holiday season?
  • Can you travel at unsociable times of day?
  • How large is your family?
  • How much baggage allowance would you need?
  • Will you need transport to and from the airport or train station?
  • Will you hire a car when you arrive?
  • Where are you visiting? How long is the journey time?
  • Do you like driving abroad?
  • How quickly do you want to get there?

Wherever you choose to go, and however you decide to travel there, have a lovely summer! 😀


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