A few years ago we went on a pretty aggressive road trip through France and Switzerland. We weren’t 100% comfortable with the train systems, thought it be too expensive and wanted the freedom of exploring the country at our pace. So, we rented a car and had our GPS, paper maps and playlists planned, we were all set.
The freedom of having your own car to scoot over to a neighboring town for lunch without looking at a train schedule had its advantages and we were able to see the French countryside while listening to Edith Piaf but, we decided that the public transportation in Europe was too good not to take advantage of the next time that we traveled there. Here are some tips and benefits for traveling Europe by train.
- Download the app Omio
This app is great for comparing between trains, buses, and flights across Europe. It will organize it by what’s cheapest or by what’s the fastest. You can save money by comparing and then booking directly with the company, like Thalys, FlixBus, or EasyJet. Do you want to sit on a train for 6 hours for $65 or hop on a plane and be there in under 2 hours for $61. It’s all about your preference.
- Don’t buy the Eurail Pass
Or do….just make sure you read the fine print! We almost did this and then after some research I found that it really wasn’t worth the money. It would have been over $1000 for Andrew and I to have 6 trips with the EuroRail pass, but even though you paid for your ticket that doesn’t mean that you have a seat on the train. You need to pay extra for a seat reservation which for a 2 week trip could cost an additional $500.
- Check Train Monitors
There are so many trains going through Europe at all times. This means that multiple trains could be passing on the same track just minutes apart. Make sure you know exactly what track your train is arriving on, the train number, and the time. You may think that your train to Paris is arriving early but come to find out it’s actually a train to Amsterdam! So now you’re on your way to enjoying stroopwafles and tulips instead of croissants and the Eiffel Tower.
- Don’t rule out the bus
We took the bus from Bruges to Lille and it cost us only $9 each and took little over an hour. The train on the other hand would have cost $23 each a took 1hr 38min because of a transfer.
- Watch out for a Strike!
One downside to the train system in Europe is that the workers tend to go on strike. Most of the time they are polite enough to give you notice though. Be sure to pay close attention to the news when you are planning your trip and also while on it. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do if there is a strike but in case it does happen, buses are usually available.
Benefits of Train Travel
- European trains are known for their punctuality, they are on time over 90% of the time. This means that you can travel without the worry of a traffic jam, wrong turn or flight delay.
- You can meet some very interesting people. On a train to Brussels we met a gentleman who was the head of marketing for Louis Vuitton, on the way to Amsterdam a guy who helped design Beats by Dre. Who knows if what they told us was true but you never know who you may meet and it also gives you the opportunity to practice your language skills.
- You can bring what you can carry! There are no liquid restrictions when you travel by train and they don’t care if you bring your own food. So, grab that bottle of red, a crusty baguette, cheese and ham and hop aboard.
- If you’re feeling antsy you can get up and walk around. You can always take a break while driving but you lose time, with the train you remain on schedule while still having the opportunity to stretch your legs.
- You’re traveling like a local! Taking the train is part of daily life for most Europeans. Train travel is well organized and the networks are very efficient so why commute to work by car or drive to the neighboring country? The train (or bus)is the way to go.
When it comes to planning your trip you need to plan for what’s best for you. If you love to drive and take road trips by all means rent a car. If you like the security of having your tickets all paid for, buy the pass! This way of travel works for us. When we went on a multi country train/bus trip in 2018 we went from Paris – Brussels -Bruges -Lille- Amsterdam- Berlin-Amsterdam and spent about $550 for travel for 2 weeks. Not too shabby.