It may not always be the fastest route, but train travel, especially in Europe, is truly the best! Coming from an area in America where public transport is practically non-existent, getting use to train travel was a treat while living abroad. I often use the train system when abroad to get from place to place. It its is great to get to ride through the countryside and see things you wouldn’t normally get to see while driving or even flying on a plane. Admittedly, it can be a long trip, and not always cheaper. For example, it’s about 180 Euros and 10 Hours from Madrid to Paris. If you have the time it is definitely worth the experience. Here are some tips that I have picked up along the way.
1. This may seem obvious, but do your research. Even if just a little. If you are looking for a day trip from your central location, look around on the map to see where you can get to and what there is to do there. Know how long you would prefer to be on a train and act accordingly. I most recently traveled by train back and forth from Madrid to Salamanca and Villavilliosa. This was about a 2.5 hr trip and that is about right for me.
If you are not looking for the train experience, research ticket prices to see whether taking the train or flying would be cheaper. In Europe, if you plan to just bounce around, there are a variety of Eurail Passes that are worth exploring. The global pass lets you hop on and off in 5 or more different countries. Depending on the country, prior seat reservations on particular trains may be required.
2. Be prepared. I’m a busy graduate student at the moment, so I utilize my time on the train accordingly. Being on a train is a great time to stretch out a bit and catch up with a book or work. If you are taking an over night train, or a longer trip, be sure to purchase bottled water before hand, as water on most trains is usually not potable (drinkable), and bring a change of clothes with you.
3. Sometimes it’s a scramble for a seat, sometimes there are assigned seats. My recommendation is generally to purchase train tickets ahead of time if you can. That way you can assure yourself a seat.
4. Traveling with a friend, whether for conversation, or safety in numbers, is always best! Planning a few days away in Italy, we found that it was actually cheaper to fly Ryanair to Milan rather than flying straight to Venice. We flew to Milan and then took a short train ride to Venice. It is always interesting to see the people you meet on the train.
5. Pay attention to time tables and know that all times are local (if you are crossing timezones for any reason, like if you go from London to Paris).
Lastly, just sit back and enjoy!
Everyone needs to experience train travel at least once. Watch out for all the things you wouldn’t get to see otherwise, if you were flying or driving yourself.
Buen Viajes, Gnomies!