What I know about the cheapest way to get around Western Europe (well specifically Belgium/France)
*This post will continually be updated as I learn more
If you’re looking for the CHEAPEST way to get anywhere around Western Europe – Buses are the way to go. Long distance (France – Italy), short distance (Belgium-Netherlands), the bus network in Europe is quite extensive.
There are a whole load of more localized/regional companies, but here I’ll talk about the one that I know has the biggest network and one which I like the most because of quality of service.
International Bus Network
- Flixbus – Biggest bus network in Europe
- Ouibus – French bus company with large network and reliable service *Update Sept 2019
If you get them early enough – you can get these tickets CHEAP. I used to go all the time from Lille to Paris/Brussels to Lille for 5 euros (or cheaper) – compared to a TGV which is around 20 plus euros. For longer journeys, they are even more worth it. For a journey from Germany to Belgium which could cost you anywhere on a train from 60 euros to 200 euros, you can get a bus ticket with Flixbus for around 25.
Another pro for Flixbus is that it has stations in almost every “big” city. It doesn’t just go to major cities, like Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris – you can get to the Belgian coast like Ostend via the Flixbus network.
While notoriously famous for being delayed, the system is now becoming a bit more reliable. Don’t get me wrong, your bus will most likely still be delayed- but if you have the Flixbus app, you will at least see it and not wonder if your bus left without you or not.
Pro tip: always be at the station at least 15 minutes early. I’ve been in buses that leave earlier than declared departure time
Buses in general are clean and comfortable. Normally there is a toilet in all the buses (sometimes they don’t work), and unlimited wifi (which also sometimes doesn’t work). Depending on the bus route, the bus could take a 15 minute break in a rest stop. For longer journeys, this is mandatory.
You are allowed to take one hand luggage to take with you on board (as long as it fits the overhead) and one to store on the baggage area. Like with all travel, I’d advise to not keep any valuables in your big bag, especially if you’re on a bus trip with multiple stops. I normally don’t travel with big bags on a bus so I’ve never had an issue with this.
IMPORTANT: Buy online and never with the driver. Sometimes it’s not possible if the bus is full and it’s ridiculously expensive if you buy it straight.
Another pro tip which is actually kind of difficult to find online, if you are a resident of an EU country (Schengen), but not an EU national, YOU NEED YOUR PASSPORT TO TRAVEL. Sometimes drivers check, sometimes they don’t. If you’re without a passport, you are not allowed to travel with just your residence card. I’ve seen it happen – photocopies are not considered.
My biggest problem with Flixbus (or any bus line for that matter) are the bus stops. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a big city or a small city, Flixbus bus stops can be difficult to find. Previously, they were never well marked, or not even marked at all. Now I’ve noticed that they have started putting Flixbus poles on the supposed stops. Your best bet is still to look on the app or on the website to find out EXACTLY where that bus is going to be. Allow at least 15 minutes to be in the area if you are not quite sure where it is.
Cancellation policies with Flixbus have also become stricter. Previously you could cancel anytime except for the day of the travel and you only use 1 euro as a cancellation fee. The rest return to you in the form of a voucher which you can use for your next trip. Nowadays the cancellation fee goes higher depending on how many days it is before your trip.
*Update September 2019 – a friend of mine recently had an unpleasant experience with a flixbus driver. While I don’t generalize the whole of flixbus driver, it’s made me double think my recommendation about riding them
Ouibus / Bla BLA Bus (2019)
Ouibus is the bus company of the French national train operator, SNCF. That said, its network coverage in pretty extensive in France, but also hits a lot of major cities in the UK (London only), Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Portugal (I may not be aware of others).
I love Ouibus because they make up on most of Flixbus’ weaknesses. Ouibus buses are clean, comfortable and modern. I’ve never been on a ouibus with a broken toilet. Wifi though, from last experience, is limited. Ouibus is also relatively more reliable timing wise than Flixbus. They tend to be more on time and there is always a ouibus guy who you can ask on the bus stops.
Ouibus bus stations are also relatively easier to find. You can normally find it in train stations with a TGV, and the presence of a guy in a jacket gives you some relative comfort in knowing you’re in the right place.
Ticket prices are comparable to Flixbus. For some journeys like Brussels to Lille, I can get them even cheaper than in Flixbus, even when the date of the voyage is near. Always try to compare between bus services if price is the most important factor for you.
Cancellation is also still free up to 30 minutes before your departure. There is no cancellation fee, you get the full amount back as a voucher to use for your next trip.
You are also allowed to take more bags (up to 2) for both hand and stowed luggage.
From my experience, Ouibus is more strict in checking identification. Sometimes in Flixbus you just need your ticket and no ID is needed, but in Ouibus around 80% you need to show an ID.
*Update September 2019: Blabla car was recently bought by SNCF thus are converting the Ouibus to blabla bus. What this means exactly for the service, I’m not quite sure yet!
Final thoughts: Ouibus vs Flixbus/Bla bla bus and buses in general
In general, for myself, if I can get a ouibus for almost the same price as Flixbus, I will tend to take Ouibus just because they have a much more reliable service and more comfortable buses.
These are the 2 lines I take the most for travels in between Paris Lille Brussels Amsterdam. A friend of mine also uses Flixbus a lot for Germany-Belgium trips. I would suggest to check out omio for other bus companies available for your connection.
Buses are your go to option if you’re looking to save a buck. They will always be your cheapest choice, but if you plan far enough (months in advance), you could possibly take advantage of cheap train prices. Take into consideration the amount of hours and the price and see if it’s worth it to take the bus.