Going from Sweden to Portugal — lessons from the anxious traveler

TLTR

I took a ferry, 7 trains and a night bus to get from Gothenburg (Sweden) to Coimbra (Portugal). Despite me booking the journey very late, I managed to get all the tickets mainly through local apps. Thanks to a lot of luck and some traveling skills, I made it in time to all my planned destinations. To sum up the lessons, make sure to have the right apps on your phone depending on where you are traveling — and be ready for some adventure!

Part 1: Getting there

In this section, I will describe how I prepared for the travels, the troubles I encountered and the details of the actual travels.

Preparation

My plan was not to travel in one big chunk of time, but instead to make sure to make stops, because I know how destroyed I always feel after a day or two of sitting in a transportation. That meant I planned to travel for several days, with stays overnight in a couple of cities. The way I chose the actual trajectories comes from searching for different combinations between cities and comparing 1) journey duration; 2) How cheap/expensive/accessible are hotels at the cities; 3) possibility to do the smallest amount of transportation changes.

Journey

My journey started on Thursday 18:45 23rd June in Gothenburg, Sweden, and finished on Monday 5:55 morning in Coimbra, Portugal. On the 23rd I went to work (with my backpack) and at the end of the work day I had out to the ferry. Here I ate some food I bought before, bought a beer and chips and after a stroll on the deck I went to my room to chill. In the morning, I took a train from Kiel to Hamburg and from there further on to Kahlrsuhe. From there I was supposed to take another train, but because it was one was an hour late and would make it impossible for me to take my last connection to Strassbourgh. Hence, as I was getting of the train in Karlsruhe, I quickly searched for the earliest train to Strasbourg in my SNCF app and it showed me a direct train in ca 30 minutes, which I bought and took instead. In Strasbourg I stayed over night — as a way to avoid backpain, I walked around for at least an hour. Strasbourgh is quite interesting place, given the mix of French and German influence.

An old house in Strasbourg
German looking like Strasbourgh
Salamanca

Part 2: Lessons learned

In this section I will try to summarize the things that I found helpful during long and very long distance travels with train, bus and simialr trasportations.

Good digital orientation

First of all — the most useful thing (except the mindset) is my smartphone. I think if I would not have it, I would not travel this extensively (or maybe I would but it would be so much more stressful, because it would require having access to less information and talking to many more people :)) ). Before the trip, I will download:

  • Good tarif — actually the first thing I got was a more proper tarif, so that I can have 25 Gigs or so. Especially in EU, where the roaming is gone, this allows me to access any necessary information I might need when dealing with changes.
  • Tickets — make sure you know where you will find your tickets — it is good to download them into your phone but also print out if necessary.
  • Google maps — download to offline use any places where you will be staying; alternatively stopping by for a bit longer or switching train stations.
  • Global traveling apps — Omio or Train line are apps which help you to purchase tickets over longer distances at once. The issue is that they do not always have access to all the actually available tickets (especially Train line is quite stupid in this and let’s you purchase the ticket at first only to do the check if the tickets actually exist a bit later, so it might look like you bought them but you actually did not.
  • ==> The tickets on the web will then all display “Ticket is being refunded” or something like this, despite that the ticket actually will be purchased — this is because once only ONE ticket in the whole buy is not possible to buy, all of them will have this stamp.
  • ==> If the purchase of the particular ticket was actually successful, you will find it in the web version (but not the app).
  • Local traveling apps — some of more global apps (Train line or Europass) do not have access to all the tickets on the local level; in a similar way, you cannot buy all the tickets crossing borders through all the local apps (for example tickets to France from Germany are not possible to buy through DB app but only through SNCF). My solution is to identify which countries I will go through, the name of the local train provider and then download their app.
  • Flix bus — I do not like taking the bus, because I cannot work in it, but it is a useful alternative to have in case one would get stuck somewhere.
  • Uber/Bolt or whichever other apps that can get you around the city — in case you oversleep or end up at the wrong bus/train station, these are useful apps to have by. In Spain, Uber was non existant but there was a different version of the same version available.
  • Google translate — not only the app, but also downloading the language packages of the countries you will be staying or crossing.
  • Booking.com/airbnb — or any other app that helps you to fix a quick accommodation.

Moving

One of the very demanding aspects of traveling for several days is the constant sitting down. My solution is that during the longer breaks in between the trains I try to choose an interesting target in the city and head out towards it. During the evenings (or whenver I have a really long break) I would walk around the city at least for an hour — then it is nice not to necessarily aim for touristy things, but just to wonder around. It will leave you in wonder, I promise. Next, during the longer legs on trains, it is good to stand up every hour or so, go the bathroom or get a drink or so. Finally, when waiting for a train at the platform, you can spend the couple of minutes stretching your body.

Food

SNACKS are the key part of your survival! For every journey, I bring nuts, knackerbröd, some fruits/veggies and a big bottle of water. The main reason for it being that if you will get stuck, arrive late when everything is closed, you will not be thirsty and hungry. It is often easier to make decisions or deal with stress when not super thirsty and hungry!

Mindset

And last but not least, the most crucial part of such journey is the mindset. If you are taking a train over half of Europe (or just to the close by city — looking at you again Deutsche Bahn!), you might not make in time; trains might be delayed, cancelled, re-routed, exchanged for buses. What works for me the best for the whole journey, is to focus on the current step and only the very next one and not more. Accept that maybe I will be late and maybe will not make the meeting, conference, workshop (In those moments, ask yourself: what will happen? Will someone die? Will horrible things happen to you as a direct consequence of you missing out?). For me, the point not so much about the journey or about the goal but about the mental, physical and spiritual state we find ourselves when we reach the goal.

Conclusion

To sum up, taking trains through half of Europe was an awesome experience and I definitely want to do it again. I have learned many things not just from the journey but during it. I can highly recommend trying to take trains for longer travels in Europe!

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