Getting to travel Europe by train this past summer was a dream trip come true. Although deep down I think I always wanted to do it, it wasn’t until I found myself on a train from Geneva to Salzburg that it hit me: it was happening, and this was something I’d been hoping to experience for a long time.
Figuring out train travel in Europe is a little intimidating, though. Before my trip, I spent some serious hours figuring out my route, how many trains I’d need to take, and if I should buy a Eurail pass (don’t all train travelers, after all?). It was pretty f’n confusing, to say the least. It seemed that every site I visited had different advice—but after a bit of digging (and reflecting on my own experience), here’s some advice on ticket-buying, gear to have, and other tips that can help you plan out your own trip!
Eurail Pass vs. Buying Individual Tickets
Although many tourists opt for a Eurail pass for its flexibility and sheer prominence in search results, it’s not always the most cost-effective. It is, after all, geared towards foreigners so it’s designed to simply make your life as a traveler easier, but you pay for that luxury. It also doesn’t include seat reservations, which are required for some trains and must be bought separately.
When I priced my journey out, I discovered it was over €200 cheaper to buy individual tickets with each country’s train system. More work on my part? Sure. I had to purchase about 6 individual tickets, but it saved me quite a bit! (ps Nomadic Matt has a great post on if Eurail passes are worth it)
Quite honestly, the only reason I was able to figure out the price for each leg of my trip was because of The Man in Seat Sixty-One. Bookmark this site now. You simply choose your origin city and destination city, and it will provide you with all the websites to buy your tickets à la carte.
The bottom line: buying tickets individually is a little more effort, but it tends to end up more budget-friendly. For long-term travelers with fluid plans, a Eurail pass is something to consider.
Train Travel Must-Haves
Tips for Easy Travel
- When booking, you might be faced with some add-ons. It’s up to you if you’d like to splurge—I spent the few extra Euros to guarantee window seats and bottom sleeper couchettes.
- Check the news a few days before your trip. Hopefully you never have to deal with this, but rail strikes do happen. Having a backup travel plan in place will definitely save you some heartache.
- Be on time! Train travel in Europe runs meticulously on schedule. Leave yourself some buffer time beforehand. Oh, and for that matter, make sure you’re at the right train station to begin with, since many European cities have more than one.
- Check your platform and train number, and check it again.
- Have your power converter handy. You’ll likely have access to an outlet, giving you the chance to charge your phone, computer, and other electronic devices.
- BYO. Food options in train stations tend to be plentiful (they’ll often have grocery stores), so stock up on whatever you might want for the journey. Wine is also a-okay, just don’t forget a corkscrew!
- Don’t leave belongings unattended. No matter how trustworthy the person sitting next to you seems, don’t give anyone the opportunity. (see the list of must-have items below for my favorite gear to keep things secure)
- Get off at the right stop. I know, this sounds silly, but if you’re in a place where you don’t speak the language it can be easy to make this mistake. Pay attention to the signs you see at the train stations, and set an alarm for a few minutes before your scheduled arrival time to give you the chance to pack up your things.
- If you’re going a long distance, consider an overnight train. You won’t get quite as nice of a sleep as you would in a regular bed, but it’s kind of awesome to wake up in a completely new place. Also, it means no need to buy accommodation that evening.
So what countries do you think you’d want to travel through Europe to see by train?
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