So a fortnight (two weeks) ago, I told you about how many countries that I travelled to in 2016. And if you’re just joining us, it was 10!
I also told you how I did it, and the plans that I have for 2017.
In 2016, I’ll be travelling to thirteen (13) countries.
Most of them will be in Europe, and plenty of them, I’ll be reaching by train!
Why the train?
Why not fly?
And then again. Perhaps not!
But the fact remains.
I live in Berlin.
And Germany is right in the center of Europe.
It has airports, train stations, bus stations, bicycle stations, cars and every possible means of transport.
I travel a lot for leisure and pleasure, and many a time, the adventure is in the getting there rather than the destination itself!
And let’s not forget the hassle, long queues and stringent baggage requirements that airlines require these days. Quite frankly, for a 1.5 hour flight you’re looking at arriving the airport (if flying to the UK) at least 2 hours before, if flying inter-continental, at least 3 hours. Not to talk of actually getting to the airport itself!
Luckily for me, Berlin has excellent local public transport that is cheap, efficient, clean, and reliable. I can’t say the same if you’re trying to get to London Heathrow, which is the busiest airport in the world. And equally as complicated, if you don’t know your way around London.
Being that I live in Berlin, makes it an extremely easy way to travel.
In fact, travelling by train through the European continent is one of the most comfortable ways to travel with ease, from one country to the other. And by far, one of the cheapest!
Is it any wonder that one of my favourite forms of transport is the train!
WHY TRAVEL BY TRAIN IN EUROPE?
There are many reasons why travelling by train in Europe is a most excellent idea, here are some below:
- It’s cheap:
I bought a twelve-hour (12) direct train ticket from Berlin to Budapest. In first class for €69.00. Second class was just €10.00 cheaper at €59.00! I couldn’t believe it , so I bought it! My child was free of charge!
A five (5) hour train journey ticket (second class) to travel from Prague to Berlin in August, was just €29.00! My child cost nothing at all!
For Switzerland, we took the Sparpreis Europa city night line train, and the eleven (11) hour return ticket journey from Berlin – Lucerne – Berlin, including reserved seating in July. Cost just €98.00. My child was free!
As a matter of fact, our return ticket from Berlin – Copenhagen – Berlin was a mere €58.00! And even though we actually missed our connection on the way home, and had to buy another ticket…it was still a sweet deal!
- Kids travel for free:
Throughout last summer, I took an international train every weekend, and the price for our son – The Tall Young Gentleman was nothing at all!
His fare was completely and utterly free.
Free of charge.
In Germany, children under 15 travelling inter-city or inter-country, with their parents, grandparents, or relatives, travel on the German Rail, otherwise known as Deutsche Bahn (DB), train for free!
Other European countries do the same and either have free transport for children, or special prices for families too.
On our last visit to the UK, we bought an Advance Single train ticket – via the National Rail – from Manchester Oxford Road to a station in Cheshire. Our adult tickets for a 30 minute inter-city train were £3.00 each, and £1.50 for our child. Our Express Train tickets from Manchester Airport to Manchester Oxford Road (in the city) were just £5.00 each per adult, and £2.50 for our child.
- Delays are minimal and compensated:
When travelling by European train, there is very little fuss to it, and far fewer delays than flying…
If there are delays of at least sixty (60) minutes or more, you are entitled to compensation, and if you were to take a taxi, or another mode of transport up to €80.00, you could have that refunded too. Make sure you get the correct documentation at either the train station concerned, from another station, or from the train staff!
Train travel means that there is plenty of room for your luggage. And if you wished to take the kitchen sink with you (within reason), you probably could. No need to worry about how heavy your luggage would be and how much. There is relatively little or no fuss. In many cases, the railway staff would even help you carry your bags!
No when was the last time that you saw airport staff carry luggage for anyone!
- Personal space:
Unlike air or bus travel, there is room to move around, and really stretch your legs. And depending on how long the journey is, they sometimes have some dedicated time for passengers to go outside, buy some refreshments, get some fresh air, take photographs, or get some WiFi!
- The social factor:
The European train is a little like the Indian train in the sense that you actually get to meet people. And talk to them.
I mean, you’re sitting elbow to elbow, you’re probably going to an international country, the passengers are either locals or tourists themselves, and to be frank, everyone is quite interested in your journey. And if you’ve got a bottle of booze somewhere.
All the better!
So now to the real McCoy!
HOW TO USE THE TRAIN IN EUROPE: 10 TIPS TO HELP YOU
Depending on where you are coming from, you need to:
1. Get a train ticket:
The cheapest way to ease into buying train tickets through most European countries (not all), is to actually book through the Deutsche Bahn portal on the local German English version not the UK or USA version! Note that for Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland, if you’re going by train, I don’t recommend that you do so by InterRail or EuroRail passes, if you’re only travelling to one country, as the prices are ridiculously expensive and children have to be paid for!
The snag is to book tickets with the national train companies, directly. On their own websites, or through the German Rail otherwise known as Deutsche Bahn. Most websites have an English version. Some can be admittedly slightly hidden, but persevere, or contact them directly by calling, or via Email!
But don’t forget. Not all train companies allow you to pay online, or even to buy local tickets at local prices! Some train companies only allow you to buy a Eurail ticket if you’re buying from abroad, and which you can only pay for with a credit card. For more info on that check here.. And some do, but you either have to buy the ticket on the train, or have to pay online and then collect the train tickets once you’re in the country itself, or change the language of the website!
But remember, if you’re using the Deutsche Bahn website, change the location to Germany and use the English word for Deutschland which is Germany! NOT the UK/Ireland one! And then change the language to English!
2. Check online for best routes:
Many train companies have their own website which you can access for routes so that you can see where you want to go. Or better yet. Where they actually go, and how to get there!
3. Do your research:
I live in Berlin and the Polish border is just under two hours away as such, there are discount prices from the German Railway Service known as Deutsche Bahn or DB. You can get a one-way single ticket from Berlin to Stettin or Szczecin in Poland, for just €11.00. Reduced tickets for €8.30. If you want to make a day of it, a day ticket would be €22.00 and €16.60 respectively. You could use it for every local transport in Stettin and the ticket is valid until 03:00 the next day!
Or you could get the German Regional tickets also known as the Länder-Tickets. These are fantastic bargains as the Berlin-Brandenburg regional one day ticket is only €29.00 and can be used by up to 5 people! That’s right! 5 people can travel on this ticket and they don’t have to be related! This ticket is valid from 09:00 to 03:00 the following day, and on the trams and buses in Stettin (Szczecin), and can be used to get to the Polish border!
You sometimes see people hustling for ticket holders in Stettin (Szczecin) ‘cos if you have 5 people travelling together that’s €5.00 each. A bargain if ever I saw one!
4. In fact, if you are in Germany, why not hop to some of our neighbouring countries too:
It might take you a while, but you can take the train from Berlin to London for as little as €59.00, to Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, Denmark, Croatia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland for as little as €39.00 per single ticket or one way trip!
For more information check here.
5. Reserve your seat:
Now as a blogger, I’m always online in some form or the other, and it really surprises me how travellers and tourists leave their train bookings until the very last minute!
Believe me. Don’t do that!
Trains are popular in Europe. And if the destination is on a well-worn track, then the trains will be packed. And if it’s the weekend or a public holiday, you won’t get a seat, and will be forced to stand….!
In the summer, it’s not unknown for teenagers to be sitting on the corridor floor with their mates for a few hours.
But they can cope. Can you?
Now if you really don’t want to pay for a reserved seat, then the trick is to either go to the very front of the train, or the very back of it. And be quick about it!
However, if you’ve got luggage or kids, somebody from your party ought to sprint in and bagsy a couple of non-reserved seats, or you might as well do the decent relaxing thing, and reserve the seat of your choice, in a compartment that you prefer.
Having said that, lots of small rural or regional trains have no possibility to reserve seats at all, so either jump in and turn left, or go upstairs!
6. Take some refreshments with you:
If you’re on a regional or rural train, no refreshments will be sold on the train. And don’t even think that you can buy “something” at the next station as countryside train stations are either tiny little things, or simply non-existent!
Generally, super-clean-fast-efficient-modern-high speed trains have restaurants and trolley service throughout the train, but you can’t be sure that you’ll like either what they’re offering, or the prices!
‘Best to bring your own stuff if travelling in second class. Refreshments are usually given for first class customers and usually include a small bottle of wine or beer. But not always!
7. Talk to the locals:
My fellow travellers were always very helpful and we usually spoke in a mixture of English or German and a splattering of whatever the local language happens to be. With a lot of hand gestures, acting, drawing, and generally making quite a fool of myself, they usually understood what I was asking! The local travellers always helped us get off at the stop that we usually required too.
Many a time just looking anxious, or “other,” tends to open a conversation. And really, you don’t ever have to worry. The locals will help you. Just ask. Promise!
In some cases, even the train driver will help you!
8. Be prepared:
When travelling through Europe, you’re likely to go through different countries, each with it’s own distinct flavour of technology. In highly advanced countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and the Nordic countries, technical equipment will be at it’s highest, with power outlets either in between your seats, on the table, or on the side of the wall near the window!
In less advanced nations such as in Eastern Europe and even in Southern Europe, not so much!
There will be WiFi, but it probably won’t work, or will be spotty at best. And there will be no power outlets! On our 15 hour train journey to Hungary, I spent hours searching the train for a plug-hole. And where was it?
In the restaurant, hanging dangerously on the wall of the heavy main train door, or in the toilet!
Oh by the way. Europe isn’t a country. It’s a continent, so if you’re travelling on an international train, you must take your passport with you. Train officials never used to check people in the past due to the European law of Free Movement, but as a result of strengthened alertness due to the increased height of terrorism, and to ensure our safety, they are now. So make sure you have everything in order.
Otherwise, you’ll be escorted off the train and your holiday could end right there!
9. If you miss your train stop, don’t panic:
Once travelling through Poland, I realized that we had missed our train stop as the countryside scene that was I expecting, did not show up on my horizon!
I couldn’t really look outside the window as the window was blocked with passengers in the corridor.
I couldn’t check the train map that you normally see in the corridors either as I couldn’t get to the corridor, and I didn’t have an iPhone in those days.
A girl in her early 20’s noticed that I kept attempting to leave the compartment. She confirmed that I had missed our stop.
OK. I’ll get off at the next stop!
Oh, I’ve missed that too!
And the train is now going East further into Poland, whereas I was supposed to be going to the sea which was in the West!
We got off the train.
Unfortunately, the train officials weren’t really very helpful and pointed at contrasting directions, so I decided to look around the station myself and peek onto other platforms and lo and behold, the connecting train that I wanted was still ON THE PLATFORM!
I checked and double-checked that it was indeed the right train, then we hopped on!
I so bugged the train conductor as per how many stops we had left, and what time we were expected to get to a certain seaside village, as there are no announcements and no destination indicators.
It was a case of watching and counting, each and every train stop…. 75 minutes later, we were there!
10. If it all goes bananas, use your head:
There are 101 ways to travel through Europe, and the train is just one of them.
Sometimes it makes sense to choose another form of transport to get to your final destination.
It isn’t the worse thing in the world if you do!
HOW TO USE THE TRAIN IN EUROPE: 10 TIPS TO HELP YOU
This article is not sponsored, and the excitement of using the train in Europe, is my very own!
I’ll be making an announcement this month that will either having me jumping up and down like a Jack-in-the-Box, or crying over my hot cocoa! Find out throughout January!
The 10th British Shorts Film Festival is taking place from 12th – 18th January, 2017
Berlin Fashion Week will take place from 17th – 20th January, 2017
The British Council Literature Seminar – #BritLitBerlin – will take place from 26.01.17 – 28.01.17
The 67th Berlin International Film Festival, otherwise known as the Berlinale, will take place from 09.02.17 – 19.02.17
Strictly Stand Up – The English Comedy Night will take place at the Quatsch comedy Club on 15.02.17. Save the Date!
If you’re not in Berlin in January, it’s a darn shame!
January is going to be dramatic!
Watch this space!
Please also note that there is now a Booking.com affiliate link (for the very first time) connected to a few hotels. Please consider using the link, because every time some sort of accommodation is booked via my link I get a little percentage, but at no extra cost to yourself! A win-win for all!
Thanks a million!
Have you ever used the train across Europe? What are your stories? Spill the beans!
See you in Berlin.