Alternative Way to See the World #3: Explore the Canals of Europe

the interesting phenomenon of a canal bridged over a river

Shortly before my nineteenth birthday, I joined my then-boyfriend and his family on an eight-day vacation boating through Burgundy. The boat coasted the winding waterways at less than five miles per hour, cruising the contours of the countryside and providing an ever-changing panorama of the French landscape. We stopped at small villages to eat lunch, collected wildflowers and picnicked alongside the canal, visited abandoned castles, played pétanque and giggled at baby ducklings and grazing cows (okay, that was just me). On warmer days, we tied an inner tube to the back of the boat. One person would float lazily along while the others dipped their toes in the water, satisfied by the sunlight bronzing their cheeks. At night we rested on the boat decks, marveling at a sky unbothered by light pollution.

Boating reminded me of an elevated form of camping. We enjoyed all aspects of nature while still having access to comfortable amenities and the landscape was always refreshed. Similar to a road trip as well, though not nearly as cramped and certainly more relaxing. Drifting down the canals is great for anyone who needs a calming vacation but still wants to indulge in the culture of a foreign region or country.

Available countries: France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Germany

Benefits: no experience or license required; the rental companies provide all necessary training and maps.

Restrictions: operating the locks and bridges requires moderate strength and mobility.

Cost: the research I’ve done suggests that a ten-person boat averages about 2500€ a week for the rental, fuel and lock fees. A fully equipped kitchen and linen is generally provided as well.

Further reading:

Of course, canal boating is just one of many ways to explore the world by water. Kayaking, sailing, yachting and cruise ships offer completely different experiences and operate on continents outside of Europe. Having yet to do these, I’ll leave you to post in the comments your experiences and cost-saving tips!

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