There are quite a few things Europeans understand better than Americans, one of those things being the train system. Now, during our travels, we opted NOT to use the Eurail trains, only because we were staying in two countries, primary Italy for most of our trip. Having no clue how to begin booking trains in a foreign country, I mentally screamed “YOLO” and got on my computer. Here is what I learned.
If you are going to stay local, then train local.
For local trains, you really don’t need to book that far in advance, especially if you are staying within a couple hours of your destination. Several times overseas, we took a chance and booked the morning of, and it was easy peasy. In Germany, we used the Deutsche Bahn local trains, available at pretty much any train station in Germany. From Munich, we traveled to Garmisch Partenkirchen and Salzburg, Austria, all on the DB Trains. In Italy, we used the Trenitalia trains to each of our destinations. Both trains systems are nearly identical, minus the country and language (duh). English is always an option on the machines. You simply walk up to the machine, type in your destination, time, and coach class of your preference. Most machines take cash or card, but take note before you start the process. Check the departure board to find your platform, and enjoy the ride.
For trips over two hours, book ahead.
Knowing we had longer train rides in our future, we did book some trains in advance. We booked trains in advance from Milan → Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre → Pompeii, and Pompeii → Rome. If you think booking flights is easy, booking trains is easier. We only booked ahead on our Italian trains through Trenitalia, but the website literally walks you through it. The only hiccup I ran into was the Trenitalia website note translating from Italian to English. I was able to cross reference previous reservations and with the help of Google Translate, we had no issues!
Get motion sick? Plan accordingly.
Coming from someone who can’t swing on a damn swing set anymore, make sure you select seats that are comfortable for you. We opted to get seats facing each other on each train, that way I could face the direction the train was moving, while Derek could lovingly gaze into my eyes (really, it was better for playing cards).
You don’t have to get there super early!
My over-planning-paranoid brain was ready to be at the station at least 30 minutes in advance. The trains are very punctual and leave exactly when they say they will, never earlier. There is no security check-ins, some places didn’t even have anyone checking tickets before the platforms. Don’t be a total buffoon about it, but you don’t have to get there as early as a flight.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times!
Train stations are bustling with people coming and going, some just hanging out. Keep your bags close and pay attention to everything around you.
So that’s it! We entertained ourselves with the views and a deck of cards. It’s cheaper, more scenic, and less stress to travel Europe by train.
Bon voyage and keep cheesin’!