“You get to the station on time, find your platform, and hop on the train, right? Not so fast. When it comes to European rail travel, the decisions that will shape your trip start long before you step foot on the train. And while a train journey can be enjoyable and relaxing — with unmatched scenery to boot — there are plenty of pitfalls along the way that can easily derail your trip. From booking the right ticket to riding in optimum comfort, here are 10 tried-and-tested tips that will help you avoid common mishaps and travel successfully.
Choose your ticket
Like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, booking a train journey is a series of decisions that lead to even more choices. With a little patience and planning, however, your ending is likely to be a happy one. First, you’ll need to choose between city-to-city tickets and rail passes. Your best choice depends on how much you want to travel and how flexible your plans are. Second, each option comes in two forms. If you’re just traveling point-to-point, you can either purchase an open ticket, good for one month from the date of issue, or a ticket with a reservation, which is only good for a specific train at a specific time. Rail passes, best if you’re traveling within a country or several countries and planning on a lot of travel, can be either consecutive (valid for unlimited train travel) or flexi (valid for a fixed number of travel days). Choose the right combination and you’ll maximize your journey while minimizing your cost.
Book your ticket or pass
Ticket or pass? Continuous or flexible? First class or second? Senior/youth or adult? Is rail-travel shopping giving you vertigo? If so, don’t worry. Distributers like North American-based Rail Europe will help you find your center by sorting out all the options and helping you save money through booking tools and customer service. Rail Europe also lists the latest deals and discounts on its website. Other booking companies include Railpass.com (passes and tickets) and Eurail (passes only). You can also book point-to-point tickets directly with each national railway; just be sure to do your homework and compare prices. No matter what, you’ll generally get the best rates by booking two to three months in advance.
Note: Point-to-point tickets come in paper or electronic form and can be printed at home or at the station, depending on purchase. Rail passes come in paper form only and must be shipped to you in advance. . . . .”