May 1, 2009

See Europe by Train

5 Things to Choose Right Rail Pass or Fare

Whether you are a first time traveler or a repeat visitor, there is never enough to know about trains in Europe, especially if you’ve never used it before. Selecting a perfect rail pass or train fare for your trip can save you money, time and travel hassle.

Before you decide how you travel in Europe, by air, car, bus or train, at least 5 things you should consider when choosing a train fare/pass, such as:

1. Are you traveling light?
2. How long is your trip, and how much time you intend to spend in each of your destinations?
3. Are you traveling alone?
4. Are you traveling within one country, or you’re crossing the borders?
5. Are you comfortable with unfamiliar train terminals? Are you willing to be?

There are many delicate nuances that go into the decision about which rail pass and/or ticket to buy.

Seeing Europe by Train

Seeing Europe by train is an experience of its own, because it offers, depending on a location and fare, a very convenient sit-down accommodation that is clean, fast and exposes you to some rural and urban sightseeing of a country you’re visiting. Some countries is even advised to be seen by train, as you cover a longer distance, deal with no car rentals or buses of any kind, and the public that take train could be an I interesting cultural experience as you get to see many different locals getting on and off who would could even befriend.

Just think of Before Sunrise kind of experience that some of you might call a “too good to be true” travel experience, but if you are like me who has used many rails in Europe, and other countries, you’d know it’s true and can happen – meeting interesting people on a train, whether you are traveling solo or in a company.






However, while in Germany, France and U.K. you might be sure of getting comfortable experience on a train, in countries like Italy, one should consider paying a higher price for a ticket to be in the ‘lounge’ area of a train, rather than in the common area where most of the locals would ride standing up. Of course, same might happened with last minute deals all around Europe, but a country differs from a country, and while it might be all right to stand, in other trains, you’d rather make sure you have a lounge area, which is cleaner, safer, cozier, and more comfortable.

If you are booking in advance, at least a day or two before your train ride, you are always guaranteed to have an assigned sit-down seat at a good price. If you are buying your ticket at a train station then you might be agreeing to whatever is available at this time.

(Eurostar, British Rail Class 373 at St Pancras railway station. this train has just arived with the 14:59 service from Brussels Midi. Photo by Oxyman, Wikipedia.)

Know How Local Rain System Works

Even if you know how your local train system works, it is not always the way it works in other countries. “When in Rome do as Romans do”, as they say.

That is, for example in Italy, when you buy a ticket, say from Rome to Florence (approximately a 2.5 hour ride) your ticket will not say Rome-Florence, it will rather list an end destination of some other city in that particular direction because most of the trains take off from one point to a longer ride to the end point, and your destination might fall in between of that direction.

So, when you buy a ticket, make sure you talk all details out with a ticket sales person at the booth, asking for from what track the train will take off, what direction you should look for, what is the proceeding stop before yours, etc. Never rely on understanding and figuring it all out on your own, because when you travel, solo or not, you are in a state of when too many things to do in too little time. Not only you might need to look after your belongings, but also make sure that you are all set for your next destination (map-, hotel-, and currency-wise, etc.) So, ask it all out! I did it all the time, and it saved me the headache of getting on a wrong train that might or might not make a stop in my destination town.

A Few Tips to Consider When Choosing a Train Deal

Look for the situation that best suits your travel plans.

1. Rail Pass to travel alone and visit a variety of locations in same country: A pass will cover certain number of days within a specific amount of time, usually it’s a month.
2. Rail Pass to travel with someone and visit a variety of locations in same country: A pass will save you money by offering a group discount, even if there are just two people.
3. Point-to-point tickets for short trips between nearby towns: A pass could be the best deal for short distance trips.
4. Rail Pass to visit a combination of cities, towns and villages: You might be surprised to learn that some small towns (especially villages) don’t have train stations, so if you’re planning to visit on a certain little place, find out if there is a train station.
5. Rail Pass for the age 60 and older: Yes, in Europe passes for youth and seniors are cheaper. Consider looking into it when buying a ticket/pass.
6. Youth Rail Pass for those under age 26: In Europe, there are still deals for young people who are older than 21 and they are pretty, pretty good.
7. Rail Pass for toddlers and pupils: For travelers aged between 1 and 10, there are deals from half-price to free passes.

There is an ultimate site for all train passes, information and fares, Eurostar.


(Travel by train in France. Photo by French Travel Connection)


Individual European Rail Sites

These sites would provide you with more concrete information on a specific country.

1. Germany - Deutsche Bahn. For the Germany Travel Rail Map, click here.
2. Italy - Italia Rail.
3. France - France Rail Pass, which allows you to build your trip, customize the features, and show destinations around France in an interactive map.
4. Spain - Traveling by Train in Spain.
5. United Kingdom - go to Brit Rail, or to National Rail UK.
6. Ireland - Irish Rail.
7. Greece - Greeka.

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