To say that Switzerland is quite small is like saying that Lindt chocolate is fairly tasty, or that Roger Federer is pretty popular. Perhaps if we ironed out those pesky mountains or filled in those darned lakes, it would seem a bit bigger, but who in their right mind would want to do that? From a traveller’s perspective, one of the country’s greatest attributes is its compact size, namely because it makes getting from one part to another simple. I use the word “simple” loosely here, because we can’t forget the tiny matter of the Alps which stand in our way. Luckily for us, though, Switzerland’s trains are like metal mountain goats without the terrifyingly large horns.
Earlier this month, the university gods blessed us with a reading week which I spent, erm, not actually doing any reading. Leaving my friends holed up in the bibliotheque, I unleashed my inner tourist and bought a four-day transport pass granting unlimited travel in Switzerland. My landlords bid me farewell with warnings of rainstorms and landslides destined for that week, but I foolishly ignored them, content that my Primark trainers and travel-sized umbrella would withstand whatever weather came my way. Whoops…
I’m in the process of writing a tedious minute-by-minute account of my adventures (I jest) but in the meantime, here are some tips for getting around Switzerland on a budget. Nope, amazingly “Switzerland” and “budget” aren’t antonyms!
As I keep going on about in my other posts, the public transport system here is flippin’ brilliant and super reliable, but rather expensive. It would be wise to invest in some sort of travel pass if you’re here for more than a couple of days, because buying tickets all the time can be a hassle and you really don’t want to get caught without one. Unlike the UK, it’s quite common not to have conductors on buses/trams/some trains, so although it seems tempting to go without, it’s not worth the huge fine.
If you’re in Switzerland for a holiday rather than studying or working abroad, then the Swiss Pass is for you. Allowing unlimited travel for your chosen period on all forms of transport as well as free entry to hundreds of museums, it’s invaluable for the intrepid tourist. For my cross-Switzerland trip I bought a four day continuous pass for 204 Francs (about £135). It might sound expensive, but bearing in mind that a return ticket to Zurich from Geneva is 168 Francs, it’s a drop in the ocean!
For those in Switzerland for a longer period of time, consider investing in a half fare pass. Just as the title says, it enables you to get your train tickets half price and is easily recouped if you make just three cross-country journeys a year.
As well as public transport, car sharing or covoiturage websites such as BlaBlaCar are very popular as well as a cheap mode of inter-city transport. They’re also a brilliant way to practise your target language if you’re lucky (unlucky?) enough to be with a talkative driver.
Finally, if you’re feeling particularly sporty, some cities have a Boris bike-esque scheme like Genève Roule. Just like London, though, motorists enjoy a love-hate relationship with cyclists so be on your guard!
Feel free to comment with any more travel tips 🙂