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A Comprehensive Guide to European Train Travel

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

Traveling by train in Europe is a quintessential experience that combines comfort, convenience, and the joy of watching scenic landscapes pass by. However, it can be a bit confusing, especially for first-timers, with different booking platforms for different countries and occasional delays. Here's a comprehensive guide to European train travel.

Europeans train station

Planning Your Trip

When first planning your train journey, it's best to start with Google Maps (using the "Transit" option) and/or Rome2Rio to see the different routes and schedules you can take. Rome2Rio offers an easier interface and a more direct way to book train tickets, but Google Maps tends to have more accurate information on strikes, delays, and closures. Both tools offer a direct link to the booking website, but it's somewhat hidden in Google Maps.

In Google Maps Transit mode, select your desired route to view the itinerary details. Look for a link at the bottom labeled "Agency Info" or "Tickets and Information" to take you to the booking website. If you have multiple legs of travel, the links will be in the respective section of the journey.

Booking Your Ride Booking train tickets can be a bit more difficult than plain tickets since there isn't a single source that provides the best deals in each location. You may find some websites that allow you to book tickets in many countries, like Omio or Trainline, but prices are generally higher and smaller routes are often not covered. I've found that each country has one reliable platform for booking, regardless of how many companies operate in the country or whether rail is nationalized or not. Each platform generally offers a mobile app with easy booking, mobile passes, and updates on delays/closures. For example, here are some platforms I've used for booking train tickets in various countries:

  1. UK: National Rail

  2. Italy: Trenitalia

  3. Switzerland: SBB

  4. Austria: ÖBB

  5. France: SNCF

Note: If you are traveling between two countries, either country's platform works.

Getting More for Less: Split Your Journey A smart hack to potentially save money on long train journeys is to book separate tickets for different parts of the journey. Sometimes, purchasing point-to-point tickets can be cheaper than buying a single ticket for the whole journey. It may require a bit more planning, but your wallet will thank you for it.

Packing the Essentials: Food and Water European train services vary widely, and while some do offer food and beverage services, others do not. Always pack some emergency snacks and water, especially for long journeys. Trust me on this – I learned it the hard way on a 16-hour overnight train from Bucharest to Budapest. With no stops, no food, and no water, the journey was quite an adventure!

Stay Informed: Check Status Regularly European train services are generally reliable, but like anywhere else, delays and strikes can happen. Make a habit of regularly checking your train's status, even during your journey. Check the country-specific app (mentioned above) for real-time information so you're prepared for itinerary changes. Announcements are often in the local language, vague, or nonexistent, so the app may be your only source of information.

Staying Connected: Wifi

One of the main benefits of train travel over driving or flying, especially for a digital nomad, is the ability to work while traveling. Nearly all trains offer free wifi but don't count on it to be reliable or fast. Speeds are typically about 5MB/s, which is sufficient for most work outside of video calls, but connections are almost always intermittent at best. You'll have much better luck using a cellular connection.

In Conclusion Train travel in Europe can be a delightful experience if you know the ropes. A bit of planning and knowledge about how each country's system works can go a long way toward ensuring a smooth journey. So, pack your bag, bring your sense of adventure, and get ready to discover Europe from the unique perspective of a train window. In our next blog post, we'll dive deeper into the best scenic train routes in Europe – a must-read for any adventurous spirit! Until then, happy traveling!

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