My husband and I are trying to arrange to visit 7 of our former foreign exchange students and their families. We are trying to keep our costs down but are becoming so frustrated with trying to book trains. Our plan is to fly into Paris, then head south to Spain, and Italy, up to Germany over to Slovakia then to Minsk. We want to rent a car for most of the trip but are hesitant about driving to Minsk. Anyone have any experience with this? Thanks!
If you want to keep costs down, it is usually cheaper to fly rather than take long-distance trains, and it certainly will be quicker. You can use the website or an app Rome2Rio to get a general idea of transit options between cities. And the website skyscanner.com will show you the costs and flight options for the budget European airlines.
If you haven't booked your transatlantic flight, plan on flying into one city and out of another -- you can book that with the multicity option on airline websites. That should also save you some money.
Finally, you mention driving. Are you aware that there usually is a very large fee associated with picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another?
Sherry beat me to it. For each leg of your trip, compare both times and costs of trains vs. flights vs. driving. In many cases, given how far apart your destinations are, flights will be cheaper and faster, even when you factor in the extra time it takes to get to the airport. Remember that for flights within Europe, you usually only need to be at the airport 60-90 minutes before takeoff (of course, you have to check with each flight to be sure).
From Italy to Germany to Slovakia, trains will probably work. From Paris to Barcelona, there's now a 6 hour high speed train; for other parts of Spain, flying is faster. From Spain to Italy trains take a long time - fly. And from Slovakia to Minsk, you'll want to fly, even though it will almost certainly require a connection. However, if you're leaving from Bratislava, there are direct buses to Vienna airport, which will have a much larger selection of flights.
Not only will renting a car in one country and returning it in another be expensive, but many car rentals cannot be taken into countries that were formerly behind the Iron Curtain. A friend of mine had pre-booked a Mercedes at Munich airport for her drive to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest with her family. When the rental office found out that the car was going into the Czech Republic, that put an end to the Mercedes. So, if you are going to rent a car, be sure it's OK to take it to all the countries you will be entering.
What a nice idea. And how good of you to have hosted so many exchange students...
Can you share the major cities you need to travel between? Countries is OK, but we can only guess Barcelona or Seville or Madrid, and the answers can be quite different.
Is it only one stop in each country?
The distances you want to travel are quite long. Most of it would be done best by flying. Then you can rent a car at the airport. By the way why is your question under Beyond Europe? All your destinations are in Europe.
Thank you so much for your ideas and feedback. We have decided to do a flight from Seattle to Moscow, train to Minsk, train back to Moscow then to Paris. We want to start and end our driving there since it was really expensive to pick up in one city and drop off in another. We have decided to forego Spain for this trip...but Italy, Germany, Slovakia and France will be our major countries. I still need to check if we can take the rental car to Slovakia...if that is a problem we will train in from Vienna. Thank you again for your help.
Just to clarify my story about my friend: she was not allowed to take the Mercedes into the Czech Republic, but was then given a different car which she could take there from Munich without problems. Even more then her, her kids were really set on that Mercedes and were disappointed - but they all survived and had a great trip.
This brings up the second lesson of the tale (the first being, let the rental car company know all the countries you intend to take the car to): when you book a rental, you are only guaranteed a class of car, not a specific model. The language will always read something like "Volkswagen Passat or equivalent."
So, you should certainly be able to get a car to go into Slovakia, as long as you arrange it in advance; you may also have to pay more than for a car just staying in former Western Europe.