Train travel through Europe is one of the best ways to see the continent. The first couple of times I traveled through Europe was by bus and plane and the odd train or two. It wasn’t really until my last visit in the fall that I actually booked a Eurail Global pass and used the train as the main source for my travels.
My trip started in London where I took a bus to Paris and from there I took the train all the way to Girona, Spain. After my time in Girona I took the train up towards Nice, France for the night before getting on the train again to Rome. Following Rome I took the train to Venice for a couple nights and then I had planned on taking the train to Paris. Due to complications and me trying to make last minute bookings I wasn’t able to take a train direct to Paris as quick as I would of liked. With time running out before I needed to be in Paris for a flight to Indonesia I had to pay for a ticket on an overnight train outside of the costs of my Eurail pass to get to Paris directly.
Mistake. That train ride was a little scary and slightly unnerving. I had gotten the last bed on the train, I had to share a carriage with 5 others (thats right the facing seats folded out to be 3 beds stacked on top of one another.). I was told it would be all women but at the last minute it was four women and one man, none of them spoke english, we were in the last car of the train which some people might call the “cheap seats”, there were a lot of sketchy men in the train car, I slept (thankfully on a top bunk) with my arms wrapped around my luggage and didn’t leave the whole night for fear of my things being stolen. In the morning when I finally became brave enough to go to the bathroom with my most valuable items in hand I was disgusted to see how gross it was and held it even longer, I almost burst getting off that train.
That was one of the scariest travel moments of my life but mostly because I spooked myself out in my own head and didn’t listen to my own rules, but I learned an extremely valuable lesson in train travel and Europe.
Here are some of my tips for train travel through Europe.
1. Avoid making last minute bookings at all costs if possible. With your Eurail pass depending on what country you are in and where you are headed you can either make a reservation in advance so that you have a seat or you just show up and jump on board. Ideally they have made the system work so that the busier trains, are the ones that you need reservations for and the ones you can just jump on are the trains with frequent departures. Don’t make an error in judgement like me causing myself to take a train not available with my pass causing me to loose many euros.
Your Eurail pass will also come with a map and train schedule to help plan your route. You might also want to download a few apps if you have a smart phone like the Eurail “Rail Planner – Offline time table” and the “DB Navigator“.
2. You might want to consider getting locks for your luggage to keep your valuables safe as there are constantly different people getting on and off at every stop. If you are traveling by yourself you might even want to consider getting a leash so that you can also lock your luggage to the train so no one can walk away with it while you are in the bathroom or taking a nap.
Sleeping on the train.
3. Give yourself time. If you need to be somewhere by a certain date, like I did going to Paris give yourself a few days to get there. Anything can go wrong, a train could get full, or have a delay, etc.
4. Try to avoid overnight trains. Mostly for your safety. I didn’t have any problems on my trip but there could of been, I might of just been lucky. If you stick to taking day trains there is less of a chance that you will have things stolen from you as well as mostly everyone will be awake. Also you are more vulnerable when laid out asleep in a bunk than you are sitting in a well lit train. If you must take an overnight train I advise booking in advance and getting a first class ticket to avoid sketchy people and to have nicer amenities. Also on night trains you miss all of the gorgeous scenery passing you by!
5. Bring food with you. Train food can be pricey and there might not always be the best selection. Bring some water, snacks and maybe a sandwich or two depending on how long your journey will be. Also on some trains there is a food car that you have to get up and go to and on other trains they have a trolley that comes to you which is convenient, however I have no idea how to determine which kind of train you will get.
Champagne on the train. Sometimes if you are lucky for a small fee you can upgrade to First class with your Eurail pass and you get champagne!
6. Be friendly. Trains are a great way to meet people, make new friends and exchange travel stories. I met a bunch of great people on my train trips and on two different occasions I even ran into people I knew! Definitely a small world moment when Juno of RunawayJuno.com and Stephen of BohemianTraveler.com sat near me in the Paris Gare Du Lyon and a week later stepped onto the exact same train car I was in at a random train station in the middle of nowhere France.
7. Enjoy the scenery. One of my favorite things about train travel is the slowness. I find often when traveling I’m always rushing places but traveling by train is a great way to sit back and enjoy the scenery of a country and take it all in.
Getting work done on my laptop on the train with a MiFi.
8. Bring some entertainment. If it s a long train journey, the scenery might not be enough to entertain you. Make sure you have a couple books on hand or loaded on to your e-reader, maybe download a few movies, bring a deck of cards or a Sudoku book. You can even get some work done as trains often have power outlets for your computer and on the rare occasion they might even have free wifi.
I can’t wait to visit Europe again and explore even further on the trains. Hopefully next time I’ll also have more than just a couple weeks and I’ll be able to slow down and enjoy it more.