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Last Updated on 23/12/2020

Discover No-Fly Holidays, a series of features aiming to inspire you to travel well without ever needing to book a flight. Kicking things off is my No-Fly Holiday experience travelling from London to Barcelona by bus back when I was a student in 2016. Here’s how I got on: 

No-Fly Holidays: Why I chose to travel by bus

 Image of coach with mountains behind for No-Fly Holiday.

Admittedly, the environment was not on the top of my list when I chose to travel from London to Barcelona by bus. I was a penniless student with more time than money and a determination to see the world (nothing’s changed much there). It was the summer holidays so there was no chance I was going to get lucky with a flight. It was bus or nothing. 

I was a little dubious of the bus at first. It brought to mind long school coach trips with raucous classmates and someone at the back lobbing the odd sweet down the aisle, but my friend and fellow travelling companion managed to twist my arm. 

Megabus was offering a jackpot of a return ticket to Barcelona for just £67 each. It had a pit stop in Paris so we jumped at the chance to extend our stopover and steal a few extra days in the French capital. The return was a little more heavy-duty, with a whopping 26-hour bus journey awaiting us. 

READ MORE: The Best 5 Ways to Visit Europe on a Budget

Our trip looked something like this: 

Note: During the first journey to Barcelona we stopped in Paris for 2 days. On the way back we had a 2.45-hour wait in Paris which is not accounted for here. The whole journey came to 26.30 hours. Also note: France is an hour ahead.

Note: Megabus has become Flixbus and has since discontinued their bus journeys to continental Europe under that name. There are still plenty of different bus companies who can get you there from as little as £37, including Flixbus. Have a look at busbud to find a route. 

The Megabus No-Fly Holiday experience 

Image of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

We had booked a bus to drive through the night to Paris to save valuable daylight hours and money on accommodation. The Megabus was more functional than luxury, but it was comfortable, albeit with slightly aggressive air-conditioning. 

Sleeping was a bit of an issue for me, but it always is no matter what the mode of transport. When it comes to sleeping in transit, there are two types of traveller; those who can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, be it plane, bus or airport, and those who can’t. Being the latter, I didn’t sleep a wink. 

If you do choose overnight transport and sleep is a concern, it might be worth shopping around to find a bus company that suits your needs. Flixbus does well on comfort and still remains affordable. I’ve also compiled a brief sleep essentials packing list which you can find below. 

READ MORE: Packing? Hey, It’s Okay! (Habits All Travellers Are Guilty Of)

The journey to Paris was smooth if not a little sleepless. A midnight ride on the ferry across the Channel to Calais broke up the hours on the bus and we arrived in Paris bright and early the next morning. After spending a few days roaming the streets of Montmartre and spooning ice cream into our mouths outside a café at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, we hopped back on the bus to Barcelona.

READ MORE: 9 Top Tips for Travelling Solo Around New Zealand

It was another overnight journey but by this time I could take it in my stride. I was excited because it was my first proper trip to Spain. (I had been once for a day during a family holiday to Southern France but I don’t really count it). 

The journey from Barcelona was a little more challenging for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with the bus itself. My bag had been stolen the day before. Luckily it didn’t have any important things in it but it meant that I had to carry the rest of my belongings rather unceremoniously in a bin bag.

The icing on the cake was that we had both somehow run out of money so between us we could only buy a huge bottle of water and a packet of crisps to last until London. As you can imagine, our circumstances put a fair bit of strain on the journey. 

READ MORE: How to Be a Fearless Solo Traveller

Packing essentials for a No-Fly bus trip 

Image of a bag with items for a holiday.
  • Sleeping mask – they do turn the lights off at night but with the extra light filtering in from outside, you can create your own private space to catch some sleep.  
  • Earplugs – for when you’re unlucky enough to get a group of chatterboxes onboard…or a snorer. 
  • Sleeping aids – these can be in the form of sleeping pills, an app to help you sleep or lavender sprays. Whatever works for you. 
  • Thick comfy socks – you will definitely want to take your shoes off on board. 
  • Jumper – buses can be notorious for their aggressive air-conditioning so bring one just in case even if you’re somewhere hot.  
  • Food – buses will stop at service stations along the way but you’re never quite sure when that will be so it’s a good idea to pack snacks and something more substantial for meals throughout the day. 
  • Entertainment – there’s no entertainment on board, although some buses are now kitted out with WiFi, so remember to pack a book, iPod or tablet.  
  • Extra bag – large bags will be placed in the hold under the bus so make sure you have a small bag with you for everything you might need for the journey. 

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No-Fly Holidays: Alternative routes 

Travelling to Barcelona by bus was the perfect option for us because being students, we had more time than money and we were able to take it slow. However, if time is an issue for you then an alternative route to consider would be the train. Here’s how you could do it: 

Note: Prices and hours are subject to change depending on time and train you choose.

6 tips for a No-Fly Holiday to Barcelona 

Image of Park Guell in Barcelona
  1. Pack well – make sure to pack a small bag with all your travel essentials to make your trip more comfortable. 
  2. Pack food – you can never guarantee when your next meal will be, so pack snacks and meals where possible. 
  3. Book an overnight bus to save money and time that could be spent at your destination.  
  4. Break up your journey and stop off for a day or two en route. 
  5. Book tickets in advance to get cheaper rates and if possible, avoid peak season (mid-June through August). 
  6. Have fun – buses are a slower form of travel but they’re also the most relaxed. You get to sit back and watch a country’s changing landscape from the window and make friends with interesting fellow travellers on board.  

READ MORE: 5 Essentials for Any Backpacker’s Packing List

London to Barcelona by Bus: Verdict 

Image of Barcelona for No-Fly Holiday.

This No-Fly Holiday to Barcelona by bus was an adventure, to say the least. Would I do it again? Yes, but I would break up the journey a little more and perhaps spend a few extra days in the South of France. Being 26 hours for each journey, it’s not designed for those short on time but it’s a great budget-friendly alternative to the train or flying. On the whole, the trip had its ups and downs, but my No-Fly Holiday on the bus to Barcelona is an experience I will treasure forever. 

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