You have decided that your next adventure will take place in Europe. You’ve taken the necessary time off and have finally booked your flight. The next step in the planning process is deciding how you’re going to get around once you’re there. Europe is very accessible and easy to travel around with plenty of options to travel by air, bus, rail, and sometimes even boat. The most important things to consider when planning to get around is deciding how you would like to travel, how much you’d like to pay, how comfortable you want to be, how quickly you’d like to get to your destination, and what are the destinations you want to travel to.
When I was planning my five-week trip around Europe I was very conscious of choosing to travel by rail where possible. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, being Australian, high-speed rail networks just don’t exist in Australia so a big factor in my decision to travel by train was the novelty factor. Secondly, my decision to go by rail was influenced by the fact that train travel is more environmentally friendly than flying. After flying long haul from Australia to Europe (not very environmentally friendly at all) I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint a little bit by travelling majority by train.
Another influencing factor for me was that I was attracted to the efficiency of train travel in Europe. You can hop on a train in the middle of they city and hop off the train in the middle of the city. It is incredibly quick and efficient. Travelling by train may be a couple of hours longer than a flight between destinations but you’ve also got to remember that when you fly you need to travel out to the airport, wait around for 2 hours before you board, wait for your luggage and then travel back into the city after you have landed. Travelling to and from an airport isn’t usually cheap either. At most with train travel you may need to catch a bus, tram or metro to get to your hotel but these are relatively inexpensive compared to travelling from the airport. In regards to the time take to travel between two cities by train or air, it works out to be roughly the same. Air travel can be longer if you get delayed which is less likely on a train. On the nine intercity train trips I took in Europe all of them left at exactly the time they were supposed to. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later. Pretty impressive I thought given my experience with Sydney Trains.
My train route for this trip was as follows:
For me personally, getting around is one of the more stressful parts of travelling. It involves a bit of research and planning so that you don’t get lost or get on the wrong train. Luckily European train travel was a lot more scarier in my head than in reality. In fact the reality was that you rock up to the train station 10 minutes before you leave and just make sure you’re on the platform at least 2 minutes before the train departs. I pre-booked all my journeys online and printed out the tickets before I left Australia but you can just as easily turn up at the station whenever you fancy and book a ticket there. The only times you can’t do that is travelling between to Paris and Brussels. For these train trips you need to book a ticket and select a seat. Most of the other trains don’t require a seat selection at all if you don’t want one.
Planning my train travel was made incredibly easy thanks to two great resources. Seat 61 is probably the most comprehensive transport site I’ve stumbled across. It is very detailed and has the articles and answers to all those questions that might sound silly to some but to first time train travellers like me, provide the answers to the questions I was embarrassed to ask. Like do we need to check in for a train? (No). Is there a weight limit for luggage? (As long as you can carry it). Where is luggage stored on the train? (Above your head or at the end of the carriage depending on the train). Another useful feature on Seat 61 is that you can search the destination you are travelling to and from, and there is a detailed explanation about which sites to book tickets from, what type of trains travel that particular route, recommendations on whether a seat booking is required, and even recommendations on some routes as to which side of the train to sit for the best views! I don’t think I would have had an easier time planning my transport through Europe if it wasn’t for Seat 61.
Another website I also found quite useful was Rome2Rio. What is unique about this site is that you can type in any two destinations in the world and the site will tell you how to get there. I used Rome2Rio when I was planning the order of the destinations I wanted to visit so that I could have the quickest and most efficient route in my travels. I didn’t want to travel on trains where I needed to change several times or travel longer than 5 hours for each leg so that’s where this site made it easier to create my itinerary. You can do something similar on google maps but on Rome2Rio you can book your transport right away and even accommodation or car rentals.
Travelling Europe by train was a wonderful experience and I have to say it is now my preferred way to travel around in that part of the world. The efficiency, comfort and ease of train travel is ideal for me. What have your experiences with train travel in Europe been like? Let me know in the comments below!