When I first moved to Europe I had this amazing vision in my head of traveling exclusively by train from country to country. I saw myself reclined comfortably in a spacious window seat sipping espresso while watching the romantic countryside and quaint towns slips past me. Then I saw the ticket prices. Can we say reality check? Because that’s definitely what happened to me.
I had no idea traveling by train would be so expensive. In fact, after digging through my wallet in my anti theft handbag I calculated that it would be cheaper for me to fly from Switzerland to Egypt or Morocco on a budget airlines than take a train from the south of France to Paris.
Fortunately, there are ways around the high-priced train tickets and with a little bit of planning and coordination, you can still enjoy the European train system without paying through the nose.
If you’re going to be in a specific country for awhile and you’re planning on doing a lot of train travel, you might want to consider getting a special train pass. These passes, which exist in France, Germany, and Switzerland, cost you some money upfront, but once you’ve purchased the card your train tickets are up to 50% off.
Buy in Advance
In France and in the UK you can find fantastic deals online for the high-speed trains if you book far enough in advance. Booking a high-speed train from the French Alps to Paris, for example, can cost you a hundred Euros or more, but if you book online a few months in advance you can often find deals as low as twenty-five Euros.
There are any number of student packages that allow you to travel across Europe with a railpass. If you’re a student or under the age of 27, you can take advantage of the deals offered on the Student Travel Agency website. This is definitely worth looking into if you know you’re going to be traveling across a few different countries in Europe and your schedule is reasonably flexible.
Always check the train website of the country you’re going to be traveling through. More often than not, they have package deals that offer a great fare for train tickets and hotels. If you’re flexible about where you’re wanting to visit, it’s completely worthwhile to scan the package deals of these websites to see what they’ve got going.
In Germany, for example, you can get a “Schönes Wochenende” (beautiful weekend) ticket which allows up to five people to travel on the same ticket for under 40 euros total during the weekend. There are a number of restrictions like you can only travel on the slower regional trains and you have to be back by a certain time, but it’s still a great deal if you want to plan a quick day trip with a few friends! Check the train website of the country you’re visiting in or ask around to see if there are any similar specials.
Don’t Board Without a Ticket
I know it’s tempting to hop on and see if you can escape the notice of the conductor, but if you get caught, it could cost you up to three to four times the price of a normal ticket. If you don’t have time to buy a ticket, make sure you let the conductor know as soon as you board the train. Often you can purchase a train ticket directly from them (not always though so double check) for a small fee.