tips for europe by train: on eurail!
i’ll say it again and again: train is the best way to travel europe.
yes, we take some budget airlines for quick weekend trips
around the continent, but if we have our choice we will
always choose to take the train. Woodies Train Shop says that steam trains are the best, since they’re the most powerful, but any travel by train is enjoyable. not only is it smooth
and convenient, there is just something magic about it.
once you’ve spent a summer sitting on trains letting
the french/swiss/italian/ any european countryside
blur by, it’s something you’ll always be nostalgic for.
i loved sharing this experience with chase this summer.
my best friend and i eurailed around europe on our study
abroad in college, and since then it has been something i
dreamt of doing with chase. i was so excited when this
backpacking time worked out and we decided on eurail
for a bulk of our transportation! we truly did it ALL this
summer:: planes, trains, automobiles, boats, ferries,
canoes, hot air balloons, segways, horseback bikes…
but our favorite mode of travel was hands-down trains.
we had a global pass for 2 months of our backpacking
this year, and we made sure to use it the smartest
way that we could. we learned a lot along the way, so
we’ve partnered with eurail to share some info + tips for
europe by train!
? RESERVATIONS: this is the first and most important thing you need to know about before purchasing a eurail pass. if you don’t look into reservation requirements before you plan a trip, you might end up pretty upset with your purchase. there are plenty of european countries which require no train reservations and allow you to travel freely with your purchased pass, but there are a few main countries that require paid reservations on high-speed trains. this means you can’t jump on and off trains spontaneously, & instead you’ll need to pay for a reserved seat. if you don’t, you’re in trouble! this can be frustrating during peak travel months like the summer, when the reservations are more expensive and add cost to your (already expensive) train pass. you can look everything up with the rail planner app, but note that most high-speed trains require reservations in popular countries like france, spain and italy. you can research trains routes with no reservations in these countries, but they will be slower. we loved using our pass the most in norway, switzerland, and austria where we could ride the nice, high-speed trains at no extra cost. also note that some countries recommend a reservation, but don’t require it.
? train classes: pay attention to train classes when boarding, since almost every train is different and you don’t want to end up in the wrong section. you can buy first class, comfort class, or economy class with eurail…so decide which is worth it. if you do have first class, note that you can use the first class lounges in bigger train stations and you will be served food on many rides. you also often get free wifi and quieter settings in premiere class, so it may be worth it! if you’re going for value, comfort class is still great! comfort class is just right between.
? before your train ride: be sure you have your tickets or know how to print them at the station. double check the actual station as some cities have multiple large stations. arrive about 20-30 minutes early just to be safe with finding the platform, etc. there will be big departure boards which list the trains and times by destination. note that your actual destination city might not be listed, since the final destinations are listed. double check transfer times with the conductor before boarding. you’ll also normally want to activate your pass at the ticket window, validate it at a machine, and/or write in the date you are using before boarding the train. *this is important, as you can be penalized if it’s not filled in on the train. we learned the hard way!*
? keep your train ticket out and ready: don’t pack away your ticket after boarding the train…you will need it soon after departure when they come through to check tickets. keeping it handy will make things easier on everyone, and avoid holding up the train.
? connecting trains: a lot of your itineraries through europe will connect or make transfers. as you plan your rail trip through europe, try to use the planning tools and schedule to make your route the most efficient. for example: if you want to go all through austria, check the transfers and schedules and use that to determine the order of your travel. also be sure to plan feasible connection times. you only need to step off the train, find the new track and board the next train, but all stations are different and you want to allow yourself time. use the rail planning app to suggest connection times for you. anywhere from 10-60 minutes is a common layover time! set alarms on your phone before the train ride begins for 5 minutes before each transfer time. i started doing this after chase and i slept through a transfer in austria and woke up halfway into germany!
? overnight trains: overnight trains can be ideal for budget travelers, since you can travel through the night and save money by not paying for a hotel for a night. just note that you will need a reservation for anything overnight. you can book economy class which gives you a reclining seat or shared compartment. comfort class will be a small compartment and your own washbasin, and first class offers private, lockable compartments with your own shower + restroom. these will also mostly include breakfast and/or dinner.
? map it out: be smart and pair routes together. if you’re using a eurail pass which counts by the day, try to use your pass to see as much in one day as possible before getting to your next destination. you’re using up a day anyway, so you may as well plan to stop in a tiny town somewhere. for example: go to hallstatt from salzburg before connecting onto vienna. as long as it’s all within 24 hours, you’ve only used one day but seen more! also be sure to use maps when booking tickets so you can train right into the station nearest city center/your hotel.
? e-tickets: if you book beforehand online, you can print a ticket at the station. just go to a self-service kiosk on your day of travel or anytime before. just bring your confirmation code! if the tickets are print-at-home, be sure to print them beforehand as some train stations don’t have the kiosks.
? refunds/ exchanges: most rail passes are 85% refundable if they haven’t been used or activated…but with individual journey tickets, it depends on the policies of that train line in that country (fares range from non-flexible, semi-flexible, to fully-flexible). it is best to plan carefully to ensure your timing, or else get…
? insurance: if you’re worried about changes in your travels, you can get the rail protection plan which gives you flexibility to change or cancel any ticket or reservation prior to travel, no penalties or questions asked. you can either change your reservation or get credit for a future trip. it takes out a lot of stress if you want flexibility!
? safety: trains are such an easy and common way to travel through europe, and there hasn’t been much security in the past. given recent events throughout europe security may tighten, but since there is still no official security at the moment, be very vigilant. be sure to notice who and what are around you, observe anything out of place, and report anything suspicious. we want to keep train rides safe and fun!
? luggage: luggage is surprisingly flexible on european trains. you aren’t really limited on the amount and you don’t go through security, but you do want to keep it light for loading it on and off trains. some train lines will say 2 suitcases per traveler plus a carryon, but i’ve never seen it enforced…and let’s hope you don’t have more than that anyway! :) smaller sized bags (or anything with valuables) should go near you – above or below your seat. larger suitcases can be stored on racks by each train door.
? food: most trains in europe will have food options for purchase on the train, but it’s always smart to bring some of your own food along. there are also markets inside of many train stations where you can buy some items for the journey. on the train, expect the food to be a bit pricier but not bad. the dining car or food cart will offer things from sandwiches, salads, snacks, and drinks…along with some local foods depending on the place. we loved getting norwegian waffles with sour cream + raspberry jam on our train through norway!
? be sure it’s worth it: while rail passes are definitely convenient for a lot of european travelers, make sure you are using it smart. some areas like eastern europe offer such cheap train tickets from city to city that you may be better off buying them straight out for certain areas, and then using a rail pass for a major bulk where it is worth it. don’t spend a day of your pass when it isn’t worth it!
? enjoy the journey: train travel is a time to truly enjoy the journey. kick back, relax, and watch the world pass you by. bring books, cards, podcasts, bring a journal. soak in the time. speak softly and don’t disturb other passengers. just enjoy! some of my very fondest memories have been aboard european trains. i hope yours will be too!
so, there are some of my tips and thoughts!
now here are a few snaps of dreamy train memories..
just getting comfy on the train ^^ ha!
completely used up and enjoyed fully! ^^
my dreams are made up of train rides
through the european countryside…
thanks eurail for helping us live those in real life!!