Getting around a city is one thing, but getting around a country and even a continent is another. Luckily, Europe’s geography lends itself to a form of travel that doesn’t require soaring through the air or dealing with traffic on the ground. Europe’s train system offers an alternative to costly flights and long, self-made drives, especially to those traveling on budgets and without cars. There are so many aspects that go into train travel, but overall, it is the simplest and easiest way to travel around countries in Europe if you follow these tips and suggestions!
I absolutely adored taking trains around Italy. Trains are not nearly as common in the United States, so it was exciting to experience a new kind of journey. I took regional trains in Tuscany, overnight trains (by accident) to Bologna, and my favorite, Frecciarossa, to Milan and Naples. All of my train experience thus far comes from traveling around Italy – so that will be where my advice is coming from. But you will still be able to apply the tips I am offering in order to save money on train travel and avoid mishaps or delays!
- Pay attention to the specific ticket you are purchasing – When looking on websites after searching for tickets, a lot of the results all look the same. This is how I ended up on an overnight train instead of a normal train to Bologna! In Italy, specifically, there are regional trains, Intercity Notte trains (night trains), and Intercity trains. Night trains during the day are not bad to take, but they are set up with their own little rooms instead of normal trains that have aisles. For maximum comfort, pay attention to what train is associated with the ticket you are purchasing and assure that it is a high-speed and modern model.
- Look for discounts based on group size, student status, and more – Train lines offer tons of discounts and special deals based on various factors. You can almost always find youth or student discounts as well as senior discounts. Deals can also be based on travel dates or length of travel if you are purchasing a round-trip ticket!
- Early bird gets the cheapest train – If you are really trying to save some money and have a flexible travel schedule, then early trains are for you! Stations will be empty compared to the midday bustle which makes for smoother travel
- Use websites like GoEuro to identify the most ideal form of travel for your trip – Sometimes trains aren’t the cheapest or most efficient way for getting around Europe, especially if you are going away for only a weekend and don’t want to waste your time traveling! GoEuro compares prices and different means of transportation (planes, trains, and buses) to ease your European travel planning.
At the Station
- First Step: Pay attention to the departures monitor – Once you arrive at the station, you’ll want to locate the big monitors central to the station before you go onto the platforms that list the departures. There are a few things to keep in mind while trying to find your train on the screen – first, it is listed by departure time so don’t freak out if you don’t see yours up yet. Trains leave every minute so it’s likely it won’t be listed until close to departure time. Once you find your train on the list, it will continue to move up until the gate/platform is posted next to it and that’s when you should go through the gate to get to your train! Always be double checking so that you don’t get on the wrong train.
- Don’t arrive too early – I would almost always recommend getting somewhere early when you’re traveling and don’t take this the wrong way – DEFINITELY ensure you will be able to make it to the station in time for your train’s departure. However, train stations usually don’t have much there to do and you will not be able to even get to your train anywhere from 5-15 minutes before it is scheduled to depart.
- Stay attentive to your belongings – You should always be doing this when you are traveling in Europe, but especially at busy times, a train station is packed with people! This makes theft and pickpocketing a lot easier to get away with, so always keep track of your belongings while you’re waiting at the station.
On the Train
- Settle in – Trains are actually a very comfortable way to travel long distances. Regional trains are less luxurious but every Frecciarossa trip that I took had accommodations that made traveling enjoyable and comfy. One huge bonus about train travel is that you can bring luggage! There is typically a luggage rack above the seats, but also space in between seating where you can slide your carry on luggage behind you. My favorite seat to get was one that was part of the 4 passenger seats – so two seats facing two other seats rather than the kind of seating you see on a plane or bus that only faces one way. These four-seaters had trays/tables, a little trash bin, and outlets if my memory is not mistaken. These amenities made the travel extra convenient.
- Avoid the dining cart – I loved the feeling of going to the dining cart on the train – it felt like quintessential European train travel! However, if you’re on a budget, the train food is not going to be your friend! I also didn’t have the best experience with Italian employees at the dining cart since I was American – and for the most part, I can speak their language, so I didn’t appreciate their dispositions! I think grabbing a cappuccino or munching on a croissant in the dining cart is a fun experience to have once, but don’t plan on having a whole meal!
- Provide yourself some entertainment – From my experience, most people aren’t very social on the train and I didn’t have access to WiFi most of the time (at least good WiFi). So, make sure to bring a book or journal or any other thing you can think of to pass the time as you look out the window towards your next adventure.
I hope these tips are helpful and if you have any questions or you think I missed something, let me know with a comment! I would love to hear about your train experiences in Europe!
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