A student’s guide to rail travel in Europe
Europe really is a mind-trip sometimes. The whole concept of being able to catch a train to multiple countries and even under the ocean never ceases to amaze me, or put my morning commute to shame. But while the idea of simply catching a train from Paris to London seams easy enough, there are a few things to consider (they never make it easy to they?)
Firstly, there’s the different types of tickets...
If you’re just going on a quick and easy one-way trip then you should probably just opt for a single-journey ticket. For multiple trips though, you’re better off opting for a Eurail pass, which offers non-European residents unlimited travel throughout 18 countries on the Eurail Network.
A cheaper option is a Eurail Flexi Pass which offers a fixed number of travel days within a 2 month period. So if you only plan on using the pass for 10 or 15 train trips, then the cheaper Flexi pass would be ideal. If you only plan on travelling by rail a couple of times, a Eurail Select Pass may be an even better option, allowing you to select between 3 to 5 countries to travel between based on your itinerary.
Then there are the classes...
Some people will tell you that first class is more preferable, particularly if you are travelling solo. But really, on a student budget, second class is more than fine. It’s the train equivalent of economy. The seats are just like those you’d find on a plane (and nothing like your high school bus) and the cabins are usually quite clean and comfortable. To be safe though, it might be a good idea to reserve a seat on the train so you are guaranteed a nice window view and be sure to keep your valuables on your body at all times.
What about night trains?
Combining travel time and a night’s accommodation in one, night trains are a great way to experience old school train travel and wake up at a new destination. If you’re keen to pay top dollar, on a night train you can curl up in a one or two bed-compartment sleeper with its own bathroom. Or if you’re more than happy to save yourself some $$$ and join cattle class, you’ll be shown to a couchette/bunk in a compartment shared with up to 5 others – which is actually ideal if you’re travelling in a group.
Once you’ve booked your trip, then you’ve got to actually catch the train...
Much like an international flight, you’ve got to rock up to the station a few hours before you’re train is set to leave. You’ve got to check-in, have your passport and ticket ready. If you’re catching it from Europe to the UK you’ll have to go through immigration (don’t forget to have your accommodation address ready), and then board the train 20 or so minutes before it’s departure time. Because it will depart on time. And don’t think you can just run and hurl your bags on it as it’s leaving like on the movies, because you’ll be sorely disappointed.
And don’t forget when boarding the train…
To get on the right carriage. And yes it does matter because more often than not, somewhere along the journey the train will split with the first half of the train heading off to Amsterdam while the other travels to Brussels. The best way to avoid a wrong destination is to check the seating plan at the station and when in doubt, ask the platform staff.