Europe by train
Travelling through Europe by train is a unique experience. Yes, you can basically go all over Europe, in various countries, only by taking the train. It is also a great way to meet people, either fellow travelers or locals.
Traveling within a country
In many European countries, people mostly travel from one city to another by train. It is often cheaper than flying and the train allows a better access to remote towns.
In France, for example, the SNCF has a monopoly over the rail network. If you do travel often, there are cards available. For a while, I had the 12-25 card, and I sometimes got trains for 25% to 50% off its original price, which is very nice! The card costs 50€ for the year, so you can easily imagine that it becomes profitable after 3-4 travels.
In Germany, I know that the Deutsche Bahn has the monopoly, being the main rail network used to travel around the country. I have never used it, mainly because it can be pretty expensive (bit more than in France). However, in Germany also you have cards such as the BanhCar 25 that grants you 25% discount on routes.
Traveling around European countries
It is quite easy to take the train to travel from one European country to another. The best option here is to use the Eurail. It gives you various options, as you can choose passes to travel within one country or around different countries. The Global Pass gives you the opportunity to explore up to 28 countries. You can choose between a 5days to 21 days pass, or monthly passes. The Select Pass let you choose 4 countries to which you can travel and then you have the Regional Pass, with which you can choose countries combination such as BENELUX, Germany-Poland or Italy-Spain for example.
Traveling by train allows you spontaneous trips when traveling within a single country since domestic trains do not require a reservation. However, for busy lines between major cities, I would recommend that you book your ticket in advance, as the prices fluctuate. The best would be to book your ticket 1 month to 2 weeks in advance to get lower prices.
Booking your ticket online will save you time and money, if done in advance. Using the rail company of the country to book your ticket might be the best option to travel within the country, but third-party websites such as Eurail will be best for traveling to several European countries.
Most of the time, you will have the options to either get your ticket sent via mail, to withdraw it directly at the train station, or to have an e-ticket (only when you have a fidelity card).
Canceled or delayed trains
Although the weather is the main contributor to flights being delayed or canceled, strikes is what will affect your train departure. I have experienced that way too often in France, particularly known for the SNCF’s frequent strikes. It is very annoying, but you can’t do anything about it. When your train is delayed, either because of a strike or an incident on rails, you might get some of your money back. In the case of more than a 3 hours delay, you can get 50% of your ticket price back, in the form of a voucher for your next trip. However, it can vary, so it might be best to directly ask the train station employees what your options are.
If your train get canceled and your trip is short, opt for BlaBla Car, a carpooling service. I have used it to go from Hamburg to Berlin and back, and it was really nice. It is a good cost effective ride share option.
Perfect for long-distance trips, such as from Paris to Hamburg or from Berlin to Prague. It is a great option for the trip to seem shorter than it actually is, as you can spend the night. The big plus is that you save visiting time, as you travel by night, and you save money on accommodation.
When booking a spot in an overnight trains, you have several options. The first and least expensive one is to book a regular seat, and try to sleep sitting up, which adds no extra cost. A second option is to book a couchette, a bunk in a lockable, private compartment shared with up to 5 people. The third option, and most expensive one, is to book a sleeper, a one-, two-, three-bed compartment, sometimes with a private washroom. These two last options will definitely keep you sain and will allow you to actually get some sleep. Your luggages will also be safe, as these compartments are lockable.
I remember taking a night train once, from Bergerac to Lyon. I had booked a regular seat and I had to change trains on the way, which made it difficult to sleep. However, at that time, it was my only option to get back to Lyon on time for my classes! But I would definitely do it again to travel around Europe!
On the train
When the day of your trip arrives, be sure to be at the train station at least 30mins before your train departure. Most of the time, the train tracks are known 20mins before the train departure, leaving you enough time to find the right track and board the train. In case of a spontaneous trip, you will be able to buy your ticket directly in the train, if you could not buy it in advance. In that case, do not wait for the ticket inspector to ask for your ticket, but directly go ask for a ticket. This will avoid you paying a fee.
Once in the train and in your seat, what is great with trains is that you can keep yourself busy. Bring a book and read, do crosswords, listen to music or watch a movie on your computer. You can also chat with people around or simply watch the passing landscape.
When it comes to luggage storage, there are overhead racks above the seats or spaces at the end and in the middle of each carriage. Be sure to have your luggage labeled with your name, address, and phone number, just in case. The best would be to have your luggage where you can see it, but this might not always be possible.
Now, just seat back and relax! 🙂
Have you experienced traveling through Europe by train? What’s your feedback?
©Copyright- All pictures are my own. Please do not take them without permission. If they aren’t mine, pictures are linked to the original website.