Europa League final: How to get to Baku on a budget - by Race across the World's Alex Speck-Zolte

Darron and Alex in Cambodia
Father-and-son Darron and Alex Speck-Zolte hitchhike in Cambodia

The challenge:

  • The Europa League final - Arsenal v Chelsea - in Baku, Azerbaijan, distance to travel 4,000km (about 2,500 miles)
  • No direct scheduled flights between London and Baku in the week of the final
  • Get there by 23:00 local time on Wednesday, 29 May, via the cheapest possible method


The challenger:

Step forward Alex Speck-Zolte - the 20-year-old star of BBC's Race across the World.

Alex and his dad Darron made it from the UK to Singapore the long way round, 12,000 miles over land and without taking a single flight, on a strict budget of £1,329 - and only a paper map for directions. They were competing against other teams to try to win the race and claim the £20,000 prize.

So plotting a budget route from London to Baku should be a doddle, right?

Below, Alex - who was a virtual travelling novice before his trip across the globe - offers his advice to fans travelling from England to Baku for the final on 29 May.

No smartphones or Google Maps to see here...

Step one - London to Dusseldorf... set off on 24 May!

Father-and-son Darron and Alex

"Fans should set off on 24 May to make it to Baku on time, so that's five days before the game. Yes - it will take THAT long.

"An overnight bus will save you cash on accommodation.

"The game isn't scheduled to finish until gone midnight Azerbaijan-time, so it may be best to find a place to rest your head after drowning your sorrows/celebrating a European trophy win."

Estimated cost so far: £30 (not including food and drink)

Estimated travel time so far: 11 hours

Estimated arrival time: 10:00 local time, Saturday, 25 May

Step two - Dusseldorf to Budapest

Alex Speck-Zolte and his father Darron, travelled from London to the far East

"This stage all depends on what your budget is and how much time you have. It's far more pricey to travel by train, but it's much quicker.

"Whichever method you choose, it won't be comfortable... but at least you've got a football final at the end of it, right?"

Estimated cost so far: £68 via bus (not including food and drink)

Estimated travel time so far: 30 hours

Estimated arrival time: Sunday, 26 May (time dependent on departure time from Dusseldorf)

Step three - Budapest to Thessaloniki

Alex Speck-Zolte during his trip

"OK, so any fans who are dreadful at time-keeping will need to make an extra effort to catch this bus, as there is only ONE per day - miss it, then you're in a pickle.

"This journey takes you from Hungary to Greece. Every day of the week the bus sets off at 11:00, except for Saturdays, when it departs at 16:00 local time."

Estimated cost so far: £143 (not including food and drink)

Estimated travel time so far: 46 hours

Estimated arrival time: 03:00, Monday, 27 May

Step four - Thessaloniki to Istanbul

Alex Speck-Zolte with his dad Darron during their adventure

"There's no time to rest or sightsee when you get to Greece as you'll need to hop on the 10:00 bus to Turkey.

"If you don't catch this bus, you're in for a long wait until 22:00 for the next one.

"But the good news is, this connection is relatively short compared to the others."

Estimated cost so far: £183 (not including food and drink)

Estimated travel time so far: 54 hours

Estimated arrival time: 18:00, Monday, 27 May

Step five - Istanbul to Tbilisi

Alex Speck-Zolte arrives in Baku

"This section of the journey is a bit of a killer and will take about a day on a bus, but it's cheap and includes a stop-off in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

"We did a day's work at an art shop here to earn some much-needed cash for the rest of the journey - it was an interesting place.

"Time for a refuel? Most places in Turkey give out their version of tea called cay for free. And head to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul like our Race Across the World rivals Natalie and Shameema did. As a Liverpool fan I wanted to go to Istanbul with it being such an iconic place from our famous Champions League victory in 2005."

Estimated cost so far: £212 (not including food and drink)

Estimated travel time so far: 78 hours

Estimated arrival time: Tuesday, 28 May (time dependent on departure time from Istanbul and stop-offs)

Step six - Tbilisi to Baku

Darron and Alex Speck-Zolte arrive at their hotel in Baku

"The train takes longer and is more expensive, and only runs once a day - at 20:30. You have two chances to catch the bus - 21:00 and 23:00.

"We were tense by the time we made it to Tbilisi as were were unsure whether we would escape elimination in the race (the last team to arrive at a destination on this leg of the challenge were sent home).

"But Arsenal and Chelsea fans probably won't be competing in a race, so hopefully they won't be as stressed as we were!"

Estimated total cost: £217.40 (not including food and drink)

Estimated total travel time: 86 hours

Estimated arrival time: 05:00, Wednesday, 29 May

Step seven - Baku

Fairmont Flaming Towers
Alex enjoyed the luxury of the Fairmont Flaming Towers but warns that the futuristic hotel is expensive

"We already had a place to stay arranged in Baku, because it was one of the checkpoints on the route.

"We stayed in the Fairmont Flaming Towers which was a real treat as we'd been so used to sweaty, dark, uncomfortable buses, so it was nice to have some luxury - but it was pricey.

"We visited the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, an odd building that looked like a spaceship to me - fans should check that out.

"It took us 14 days to reach Baku, but that's only due to the fact we had to earn money along the way and stopped to look at scenery.

"I'm a Liverpool fan and although I'm gutted we missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City, I hope we can go one better in the Champions League final.

"But I'll be watching from my sofa - no more eating crickets and sleeping on the floor of a train for me."

Alex's top travel tips

  • Travel during the night.
  • Never assume anything - double check everything.
  • Grab food from local shops and markets - in Thailand a $1 bag of crickets was crunchy, gave us an energy boost and was great for the budget.
  • Just pack essentials - I packed a heavy bottle of aftershave and regretted it.
  • Try to blend in with the locals - so no football shirts, flags, banners or chanting.

Please note: All prices and journey times are estimated at the time of publication.

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