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Don’t forget to validate your train ticket!

Last week I witnessed the unfortunate event of a fellow American traveler fined 55 euro for not validating his ticket from Milan to Malpensa airport. Seasoned travelers know how important it is to insert our ticket into the little machine on the platform before boarding. This guy didn’t.

The scenario: he asked the ticket clerk for a ticket for the 10:25 train to the airport. The clerk did not mention that tickets for the airport shuttle are open tickets, not reservations for specific trains, and that they must therefore be validated before use. The validation machines are not especially prominent, and there is no notice on the platform or train saying something like “Don’t forget to validate your ticket!” So he simply stepped aboard.

The guy had previously traveled on long routes requiring reservations for specific trains and was consequently unfamiliar with the concept of an open ticket. The ticket itself bore no language about validation. I really couldn’t fault him for not knowing about the validation rule. He did everything right and still got nailed!

I recommend that Rick add a warning about this “gotcha” to his Train Travel advice. Validation is mentioned briefly but not really clarified in terms of when it is needed and how to go about it. A prominent heads-up on this obscure rule might spare a future traveler from an expensive mistake. (Trenord is certainly making no effort to do so.)

Posted by
5366 posts

On my recent Italy trip, when I bought tickets at a machine, it actually did tell me to make sure to validate my ticket (and warned me of pickpockets).

Trenitalia has made strides in eliminating one famous "gotcha" moment for tourists, like the route you were on, the Leonardo Express from FCO to Roma Termini generated many fines over the years as hoards of tourists blissfully boarded without validating tickets...that has gone by the wayside, they have installed subway style turnstiles, that require validation to pass. So no more entertaining tales of woe from that venue.

I might also add that it appears (I found nothing official, though, just my experience) if you buy regional tickets using the Trenitalia App, you actually select a specific train and time, so no need to validate. Not sure if that improves things or just adds to confusion.

But if in doubt, certainly, it is best to validate, whether it be by the old "stamp", scan of a QR code, or if your ticket has it, tap to validate.

Posted by
12606 posts

Anne, I don't believe Trenitalia is responsible for Malpensa Express tickets (Milan> Malpensa airport express train). I believe that's Trenord, the company which handles regional passenger trains in the Lombardy region.

https://www.malpensaexpress.it/en/tickets/travel-documents/tickets/

As with any regional train in Italy, paper (physical) tickets bought at a station need to be validated before boarding. That's not an obscure rule at all, is pretty much how it works for regional trains and buses virtually everywhere in Italy, and has for some time. E-tickets purchased online are pre-validated, as indicated by the info in the link above. Taking the local Circumvesuviana commuter train from Naples to Sorrento or Pompeii? Yep, you need to validate paper tickets before boarding. Same for the Cinque Terre Express trains, if not using a multi-day pass which only has to be validated once.

Tickets for FAST trains, such as Trenitalia Frecce or Italo high-speed trains, don't need validating as they are for specific trains, at specific times, for assigned carriages and seats. Different deal.

A very good resource for boning up on train travel in Italy:
https://www.seat61.com/train-travel-in-italy.htm

It's unfortunate that your fellow traveler was fined. Your post is a very good reminder up that prior research - not JUST in RS guidebooks, as not every traveler uses them - next time might save some $$$. Forum history is FULL of past cautions to do that very thing!

Posted by
6727 posts

I would bet one million dollars that Rick does emphasize this — both in his Italy guide books and here on the website.

It’s exactly the kind of thing/knowledge that he and his staff pride themselves on equipping travelers with as a tool.

Edit to add:

Yup, in about 30 seconds of searching, I found it right in his train travel advice on this very site; it's a bullet point, in bold:

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/getting-on-the-right-train

Where required, validate your ticket and/or seat reservation before boarding. In France and Italy, many point-to-point tickets and seat reservations printed on special ticket stock aren't valid until you've date-stamped them by inserting them into a machine near the platform (but if you've printed tickets at home, or have electronic tickets, they don't need validating). If you have multiple parts to your ticket (for example, a ticket and a reservation), each one must be validated. Watch (or ask) others, and imitate — but don't assume that you can skip this step just because others have, as locals traveling with commuter passes won't be date-stamping them.

I don't have the big Italy book, but have the RS 2020 Snapshot edition of “Milan and the Italian Lakes District.” Sure enough, in the transportation section, on trains, there is a paragraph on page 334 that says “an open ticket . . . must be validated. . . “ and then goes on to explain how to validate a ticket.

This also bothers me:

He did everything right and still got nailed!

Apparently this traveler didn't take the time to learn the rules of the transportation system he wanted to use. Validating may not be normal to us in the States, but it is far from a unique requirement anywhere in Europe. Any one of us could absolutely mess up and not do it, but failing to do so is not an example of “doing everything right.” He didn’t follow the rules set by the transportation company, so they fined him for not following them. It takes a little humility when traveling in an unfamiliar place to be sure we put ourselves in a learning mode, and it is incumbent on us as visitors to do our best to make sure we understand the rules of travel where we are a guest.

Posted by
31303 posts

Anne,

I wonder if the traveller who got "nicked" has ever read a RS guidebook? The validation issue IS mentioned in the books. There are also numerous website including the Seat 61 site that cover things like that. Finally there are often prominent signs on the trains in two languages which alert passengers about validation (I believe this one was on the Leonardo Express) - https://eagle07.smugmug.com/Travel/Italia-2012/i-KNFHBBC/A . The Malpensa Express is operated by Trenord so the fines may be slightly different.

It's unfortunate that he wasn't aware of the validation requirement, but seems possible that he just didn't "do his homework" prior to travel.

Posted by
3899 posts

tHINKING OF OUR LAST TRIP AND WE WERE GOING FROM -i THINK bOLZANO TO vERONA, OR vERONA TO vENICE - WE BOUGHT THE TIX THEN WENT TO GRAB A QUICK BREAKFAST. cOME BACK OUT, FOUND THE TRAIN, GOT ON TO WAIT - (damn caps lock - not retyping - lol)...5 min later I was like...validate!!! And we've been training in Italy lots. It is easy to forget in the rush to get on/grab a seat.

Anyhoo - we had been chatting with a young lady and I asked her if she had validated hers - she hadn't, so we both hurried out and did it. Phew! Luckily the train was sitting for awhile and not one that was arriving and pulling out 3 min later.

Posted by
6078 posts

Its a challenge to know what to do when most traveling Americans never ride buses or trains at home. The old trick to do when the validation machines are broken or can't be gotten to, was to write the time and date on the back of the ticket in lieu of the machine time stamp. Anyone know if that still would work?

Posted by
3845 posts

This applies in the US, too, when riding buses, trains or the occasional subway. I grew up in an area that didn’t use any of those but then was exposed to them when traveling for work in different parts of the US.

Your post is a good reminder for beginner travelers to read an entire guidebook (RS or other) of the country they will be visiting. There’s great info about currency, cultural rules/guidelines and transportation info - not just browsing through the sections covering the cities of your choice. That’s where I feel the price of a guidebook is well worth the money!

Posted by
12400 posts

Validating the ticket before getting on is also required in Germany and France, in Germany on the subway system, the S-Bahn and U-Bahn. "Hier entwerten." , that applies to city buses as well. I've seen tourists (in these cases, youth) who didn't do that and were yelled at by passengers in Germany.

I don't recall seeing signs to validate prior to boarding in Paris. It's expected that you just do it.

Posted by
5366 posts

The old trick to do when the validation machines are broken or can't be gotten to, was to write the time and date on the back of the ticket in lieu of the machine time stamp. Anyone know if that still would work?

In Italy, actually, yes. In fact the back of both regional tickets and Rome metro tickets has a spot to write in the date and time, with instructions ti do just that.

You also can usually avoid a problem if you seek out the conductor and ask that they validate the ticket.

Posted by
25 posts

Thanks to all respondents for sharing your wisdom and experience.

Yes, Kathy, it’s Trenord, not Trenitalia.

Glad to hear that Trenitalia has fixed this situation for the Leonardo Express in Rome. I nearly got caught out on this one several years ago after rushing to jump onto a departing train. Fortunately the ticket check was at the exit from the platform after arrival. Thus I was able to validate my ticket after the fact at a mid-platform machine before passing through the checkpoint. Whew!

Upon reflection, I have to say that Rick has done as good a job as possible at warning travelers of this pitfall. There are so many potential mistakes, some even more expensive than a ticket fine, such as going to the wrong station or not knowing that not all cars in a train are going to the same destination. One can’t prioritize everything.

Situations like these only highlight once again the immense value of Rick’s advice. Everyone should read and study his books. The guy in my story is probably not an RS traveler. Hooray for Rick!

Posted by
24 posts

I got fined for not validating once in Europe almost 15 years ago… now it’s a lesson I remember every time I got back!

But I did buy a France TER ticket just yesterday from a ticket agent.. and she told me nothing about validating!

Posted by
26071 posts

she would expect you to know, as it is such a basic part of the train trip

Posted by
449 posts

We got fined when we forgot to stamp metro tickets in Berlin in 2012. We thought at first it was a scam, then the guy showed us his badge. We still thought it was a scam till he got out his wireless ticket printer At that point we 'kinda knew it was legit. 40 Euro fine on the spot. I think it was originally a higher amount but he gave us a break knowing we were clueless Tourists. And this was after being there for a week and stamping each time.

Posted by
449 posts

We still thought it was a scam

Why?

The guy was pretty scruffy. Late 20's, maybe a few days facial hair. Rumpled jacket and pants. Looks nothing like an official train guy. He nabbed us on the train car and asked us to step off with him at the next stop, which - oddly - we did.

Train leaves with just wife, myself and this guy on the platform. Another train guy arrives. At this point the first guy pulls out the id badge (a photo and some small official looking card in a plastic neck wallet which any 20 year old can flash up on a printer given 3 minutes). We talk about things back and forth, me questioning him as to his authenticity. He pulls out the printer. Maybe 3 or 4 minutes have elapsed. At this point it's starting to feel like he's a real train guy. I pay the 40 Euro fine in cash on the spot.

Posted by
26071 posts

maybe undercover officers are easier to spot in Canada?

Posted by
18022 posts

Validating the ticket before getting on is also required in Germany...
on the subway system, the S-Bahn and U-Bahn.

In Germany, tickets for regional trains (for instance) are usually open tickets. They show a train (number, date, and time) but they are valid on any train taking that same route that day. There is supposed to be a conductor on board who checks tickets and "cancels" them.

The S-Bahn are trains of the Bahn (not local transit authorities). It used to be that tickets for the S-Bahn, at least those bought in S-Bahn stations, weren't cancelled. They always had the purchase time stamped on them and were valid for travel to that destination for a limited time (say 2 hours). Those tickets did not have to be validated. I've recently read that the Bahn ticket automats now give you the choice between time stamped tickets and ones that must be cancelled by you at the time of travel (meaning they don't have to be used right away).

Tickets are sold without a time stamp to allow commuters to purchase tickets in advance, save them, and only cancel them when they actually travel.

In cities, the U-Bahn, trams (streetcars), and buses are run by a local transit authority. None of their tickets have the date and time printed on them. They have to be cancelled, even those purchased just before travel. Entwerten means "to take away the worth" (ent, to take away; wert, worth or value; -en, an infinitive verb). As mentioned above, tickets that must be cancelled have the words, "Hier enwerten" printed on one end with arrows (triangles) pointing to the end to stamp.

Tickets with the purchase time already printed on them are too wide to fit in the cancelling machines.

Posted by
18022 posts

In a German class I took years ago, there was a young woman who had been a student in Munich. She told me that the "trick" they used to use to get more trips out of a ticket was to deliberately stamp the opposite side of the ticket the first time. Then you could use it again by stamping the correct side.

Well, some years later I was traveling on the S-Bahn in the suburbs of Munich late one night when, at one stop, a ticket inspector came on the train. He was as big as an NFL linebacker, all dressed in black, carrying a huge notebook (?). We went around the car checking for tickets. When he got to a teenage boy near me, the lad held out his hand showing the time stamp on the ticket. The inspector reached out and turned the boy's hand over and said something that sounded like "Eberschtampfed", and proceeded to write the boy a 40€ ticket. Apparently the transit police know that trick.

Everyone in the car stared straight ahead, looking angry. Apparently, in Germany, when ticket use is on the "honor" system, cheating is not well looked upon.