Traveling on European trains

Traveling through Europe is a lifelong dream for many Americans. For those of you lucky enough to actually take a European vacation, the mode of transportation within the European continent is an important detail to consider. Unlike the mostly-defunct railways of the United States, European trains crisscross the continent, connecting most capitals and major cities. Railway stations are surrounded by convenient lodging and are usually located near popular tourist sites. By purchasing a Eurail pass, you can visit up to 20 European countries without purchasing separate tickets for each trip.

What kind of pass should I purchase?

Eurail passes come in many varieties. You can purchase passes for one or two countries, for a certain number of day trips within a specific time frame, or for unlimited use during a number of consecutive days. If you’re planning to take European trains throughout many countries, the Global Pass is the best way to go. You will save money over purchasing separate tickets for each trip. It can also help save money for accommodations, because you can take the train at night and sleep while traveling. If you are under 26, you will qualify for a youth pass, which will save you even more. Check the various web sites that sell Eurail passes; most sites offer discounts at various times of the year. Shop around to be sure you get the best deal.

How do I use my pass?

The first time you use your Eurail pass, you will need to have it validated at a ticket office before boarding. Make sure you arrive at the station with extra time to take care of this - and don’t write anything on your pass. Once your pass is validated, it will allow you to board any train traveling within the covered countries. If your train is passing through a country not covered on your pass, be prepared to pay the extra fare.

If you are planning to travel at night, you will want to reserve a sleeper. Your ticket guarantees that you can board any train; it does not guarantee you room to sleep. Make those reservations in advance. When traveling at night, be prepared to hand your passport to the conductor so that he can take care of customs as you enter new countries.

Find out about the high traffic times when it may be hard to get a seat on the train. Friday nights are an extremely busy time to travel as commuters head home for the weekend. It may be possible to make a reservation in order to travel on Friday evening.

What about luggage?

When traveling by train, you will want to travel as light as possible. You will be expected to carry your own luggage, and to store it in the overhead luggage storage racks or the designated storage areas on each car.

If you are traveling with bulky luggage that isn’t easily stored, you will be required to pay a fee to forward that luggage to your destination. It will likely travel on a separate train, and may take longer to arrive than you do.

To keep your belongings safe, especially when sleeping on the train at night, purchase a bicycle chain lock and chain it to the luggage rack. Put any money, traveler’s checks, and other valuables in a discreet money belt that you can wear under your clothing. If you are planning on only spending a day or less in a destination city, you can rent a locker in the train station to store your luggage while you do your sightseeing.

Traveling Europe by train is a smart and economical way to see many countries on one trip. It also gives you the experience of seeing the countryside as you travel through it, without having to drive on unfamiliar roads and read road signs in unfamiliar languages.

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