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Pre-purchase or day-of train/bus tix?

Hi, Shoestring-travelers! We're planning a two-week shoestring journey through central and eastern Europe in early December (two adults, one kid), beginning in Budapest. I haven't settled on itinerary, but we're looking at Sibiu (Romania), Eger, Kosice, Krakow, Wroclaw (not all of these of course!).

Should I settle on my itinerary now so I can buy early and nab the cheapest possible bus and train tix? Or can I wait and wing it once I arrive, hoping that tix are cheap enough that we can wait and be flexible? I know that in western Europe the rule is always to buy early to save, but I've heard that tickets are quite affordable in this region. I just don't want to be surprised later and wish I had acted! Thanks!

Posted by
4819 posts

Others may be more familiar with those countries, but the first thing to figure out is if there is a discount to buying early. That is the general assumption, and true for something like the French TGVs and many of the faster non-stop trains. However, if you will be mainly on regional or intercity trains, there may be no difference, or only marginal. In those cases waiting, or buying a few days before makes sense to maintain some flexibility. I agree that ticket prices in the region you are traveling are a bargain compared to further West.

Another thing to look for is passes that may cover a family. Usually three people does not kick in savings (4-6 typically does) but maybe there is something. Typically these would be a regional type pass you buy at the station, an example would be the German Lander Tickets.

Sorry I could not give specific advice, but short of other responses, that might get you started.

Posted by
1439 posts

I just did a quick check on PolRail.com for tickets on various randomly chosen Tuesdays for 1 adult from Wroclaw to Krakow:
64 PLN for Aug 6 ($16.51 USD)
63 PLN for Sept 10
63 PLN for Oct 1 (furthest week available for Polish rail tickets)

Checking FlixBus for the same dates:
29-36 PLN for Aug 6 ($7.73 - $10.31)
19-49 PLN for Sept 10
19-29 PLN for Oct 1

You can travel more cheaply on FlixBus if you buy early - they'll even show you "2 seats remaining at this price" type messaging. It doesn't seem to matter on Polish Rail. Of course, you'd need to check the carrier for each journey you are planning.

Also, are you familiar with www.Seat61.com for researching train travel? Using his advice, I saved money not only by purchasing early, but also by traveling via different routes that would offer significant savings, even on advance purchases, between the same cities.

Posted by
8889 posts

Destie, Go to the "Man in Seat 61" website: https://www.seat61.com/
He has a page for each country, with details of the rail system, pricing policy and the best way to buy tickets.
No two national rail systems are exactly the same (like no two airlines are ever have the same pricing policy).

Posted by
4686 posts

When I travel in Europe by bus and train, I rarely pre-purchase my train and bus tickets - and I'm pretty frugal. But, the cost savings of early purchase varies greatly in each country. In France and Italy, for example, the fast trains can get very expensive if purchased at the last minute, so if I'm taking one of those I tend to lock at least a few parts of my itinerary in early and buy a few tickets in advance. But in Portugal last year, I didn't buy anything ahead of time, because the trains are not that expensive there, even at the last minute. You aren't going to save 50 euros on a train ticket from Lisbon to Porto, because even at the last minute it costs only about 30 euros. In Italy or France, you might pay 2X or 3X that.

I have been to Poland (not Romania). Almost everything in Poland is cheap. That was the only country where I routinely traveled first class, because (in 2012) the trains were not very nice, and even "first class" was like "second class" on trains in most Western European countries. Maybe the trains have improved since then, though they were still adequate for me then.

I like being flexible in my itinerary though so try to balance between advanced purchase to save money vs. being flexible. And unless I'm saving a lot of money, I won't bother booking anything ahead of time, unless I'm 99% sure I'll be taking those trains or buses.

Flixbus, FYI, uses demand-based pricing (like some train systems), so ticket prices go up as fewer seats remain. But if you happen to be traveling on a bus that isn't very full, the last-minute cost may not be that much more than buying early.