European Trains: Still a Great Way to Travel
Riding the rails through Europe
Riding the rails through Europe, such as in this panoramic train car in Switzerland, offers a relaxed way to connect with traveling Europeans
When I travel, I still get a little rush when I settle into the right train. With each journey, I celebrate the joy of not having to drive. Riding the rails through
After all these years, my train travel still comes with a twinge of stress: Do I have enough time for a cup of coffee? Is my wristwatch in synch with the official station time? Would these locals really point me in the right direction? Am I on the right train?
But after I sit back in my seat, I reflect on the ease and comfort of European train travel. European trains go where you need them to go and are fast, frequent, and generally affordable (especially in the south). You can easily have dinner in
Learn your option and choo-choose what's best for your trip. I used a railpass on my first trip to
Although the array of railpasses seems daunting, every pass has these features: It covers a specific geographical area (regional, country, or multiple countries); it has a fixed number of travel days; and it's either a consecutive-day pass or a flexipass (allowing you more flexibility to spread out your travel days).
Which type of pass is best? If you plan to travel nearly daily and cover a lot of ground, a consecutive-day pass is the right choice. If you like to linger for a few days at various places, a flexipass is the better option.
Most travelers prefer the flexipass. You have a certain number of travel days to use within a longer window of time (for example, any 10 days within a two-month period). You can sprinkle these travel days throughout your trip or use them all in a row.
Once you've planned a route for your trip, fine-tuning your actual "moving days" will help you zero in on the best pass for your trip -- and save you lots of money. (For all your options, see www.ricksteves.com/rail.) Here are some tips:
With careful juggling, a shorter pass can cover a longer trip. For example, you can take a one-month trip with a 21-day consecutive pass by starting and/or ending your trip in a city where you'd like to stay for several days or in a country not covered by your pass. On, say, a
It can make sense to buy a longer pass for a shorter trip. One long train ride (for example,
Stretch a flexipass by paying out of pocket for shorter trips. Use your flexipass only for those travel days that involve long hauls or several trips. If a particular day trip costs significantly less than your pass's per-day cost, pay out of pocket.
Point-to-point tickets can be a good budget option. Probably 10 percent of railpass travelers would have traveled more cheaply by buying tickets as they went. Point-to-point tickets are often your best bet in regions where rail travel is relatively cheap (such as
You don't have to buy your tickets at the station. Arriving at the
These people were like refugees. They stood there for the better part of the day, trying to get out. But I dropped into a travel agency and, for a
Sure, rail travel can be pricey. But if you've never experienced 21st-century rail travel (and you haven't, if your experience is limited to rail travel in the U.S.), you may find that it's about the best travel deal going.
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