They say half the fun of a vacation is getting there. If you’re talking about traveling Europe by train, then I wholeheartedly agree. It’s an adventure unlike any other, filled with beautiful scenery, excitement and valuable time spent with friends.
And that’s just the fun part. The true benefits come in the logistical aspects. First off, trains are more dependable and timely than airlines. With high speed intercity trains going 200 miles per hour between major towns, you’ll arrive at your next destination in no time.
They also save you precious vacation hours often lost while waiting in an out-of-the way airport. Why take a taxi to an airport an hour outside of your location when a train picks you up and drops you off in the middle of the city? And the only lead time you need is to be ready to jump on 10 minutes before the train leaves the station (There are a few exceptions like the Eurostar).
Did I mention that coach class on some trains are equivalent to business class on a plane? And best yet, trains allow you to bring all the food and drink your heart desires. Stop by a local market, pick up cheeses and snacks, bring along your wine and white linen tablecloth and enjoy a picnic while traveling the countryside. (Trust me, it’ll be much better than buying the food sold on the train.) Then take advantage of the onboard Wi-Fi to upload all your photos to the cloud to free up space to capture the next leg of your journey.
There are even a few sleeper trains left in Europe. Save time by leaving at night, sleep on the train and awake refreshed to discover a new city the next morning. In Spain, you can even book a sleeper car that includes a private shower. Or experience the romance of trains on a scenic trip over the Swiss Alps or through the vibrant tulip fields in Amsterdam.
Have I convinced you yet? Or maybe you’re wondering about costs and how it all works. There’s a variety of options to choose from. You can buy point to point tickets, which are cheaper, or rail passes, which give you greater flexibility. Passes range from two countries to the full European Union and can cover a week to three months. There are countless combinations I can help you explore. Since passes don’t designate travel on specific days, the capacity on trains is often controlled by seat assignments, which can cost an additional $5-$30.
With so many options, of course prices are going to vary widely as well. But to offer one comparison, a flight from London Gatwick to Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is $112, including tax, baggage fees and seat assignment. If you factor in an hour to get to the airport, one and half hours to check in, an hour and twenty minutes flying, and an hour from CDG into the center of Parish, you’re at five hours of travel time. A similar trip by train, going from the center of London to the center of Paris takes two hours and twenty-three minutes and costs $64, with no luggage fees and no seat assignments.
As with most things, though, the more you know beforehand, the better experience you’ll have. I give my clients pocket travel guides to help them navigate the ins and outs of train travel, with several useful tips. One of the most important is if you’re traveling with others, put in place a runner system. Many trains will arrive five minutes before they depart again. When you enter a train station, locate the train board—the TV monitors displaying arrival and departure times. Park all of your bags in a pile and leave everyone standing around them while the runner identifies out how the train station is arranged. They need to locate the elevator, find which platform is where and be prepared to show everyone else where to go.
When the trains arrive, always stand in the middle of the platform. Trains are very long and each segment is a coach. There could be forty coaches on one train, and because trains pull apart and reconnect, first class doesn’t mean you’re in front. When the train slows down, you can spot your coach number and move as a group to board. Again, everyone stands huddled together while the runner finds your seats and where to store your luggage, and then directs the group to their location. It’s a tried and true system that will inevitably save you stress and confusion.
Interested to find out more? Attend one of Travel Central’s Discover Europe by Rail seminars or contact me at Leatta@vacationsdepartment.com.
Note from Leatta: This was written by a 3rd party writer who interview me on Rail Travel for Travel Central's website.