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Train Tips - add your own

My tips:

  1. Man in Seat 61 - Read the ManinSeat61 website before buying anything. His site gives very specific instructions on highly traveled routes, which you can easily see. https://www.seat61.com/index-mobile.htm

  2. Say no to RailEurope - When you Google train tickets, RailEurope or other third party resellers will be your top hits. Do not use them! They are not the companies that run the trains. Always buy tickets from the actual train companies, like Deutsche Bahn, OeBB, etc. See #1 for more info.

  3. Railpasses are a luxury - Railpasses are more expensive than point to point tickets in nearly, if not all, instances. With Railpasses you are paying more because they want you to think it is easier to travel with a document that you just wave at the conductor. Folks, that was in 1970. In 2022, if you have a Railpass you have to jump through all kinds of hoops to make reservations, forcing you to interact with the actual train company anyway. And good luck getting customer service from the company that sold you the pass. If you buy a rail pass, you will be paying 2-3 times what you should have paid for normal point to point tickets purchased from the actual train company.

  4. Buy advanced point to point tickets for long distance travel. So here’s the deal. The train companies sell tickets in advance, months ahead, at a great discount for a specific train at a specific time. There are a limited number at each price and once those sell out, the tickets can be purchased at the next cost increment. If you buy your tickets at the train station on the day of travel from the ticket counter at the station, you will pay full fare. No one does this. Note - many places like RailEurope will use these full fare prices into tricking you to believe that passes are cheaper than tickets. Don’t be fooled.

  5. Second class is very nice - First class is a waste of money. Second class is spacious and very, very much ok.

  6. Look into regional passes/tickets - The actual train companies often sell regional tickets or passes which are a great value. One example is the Einfach-Raus ticket or a Bayern Ticket. When making local travel plans, research these.

  7. Make a seat reservation - when you buy your ticket from the actual train company, do yourself a favor and spend a few Euro on a seat reservation. Sometimes this is required anyway. It’s always nicer to sit than stand.

What are your tips?

Posted by
5484 posts

Each traveler should handle his/her own luggage and be able to board and exit the train with it.

Posted by
3159 posts

Figure out what train companies you’ll be using (again, www.seat61.com), download the train company’s app and make an account so you can buy tickets as you travel for shorter routes more spontaneously.

Posted by
7254 posts

Wait until everyone gets off. Be aware of the elderly, let them on first, don't frickin sit in the seat designated for people with disabilities and elderly, don't put your bag in the empty seat next to you put it overhead or under your seat or the one on front of you; don't use speaker phone, don't put your passport in your bag, take the Circumvesuviana but pay attention don't leave your $ 1k iphone on the seat while admiring the scenery between Sorento and Naples. Always leave on an earlier train in Italy and France if you absolutely need to be somewhere on time.

Posted by
15035 posts

Speaking of the elderly :-) If you are one of them, check to see if there are discounts, often from age 60. They allow you to buy tickets at highly reduced prices but with all the benefits of full-price tickets. In Spain you need to buy a 6E card (good for a year) in person to get the discounts. In Italy you can get a card from Trenitalia by email and use it immediately. Portugal also has discounts.

Posted by
3700 posts

Man in Seat 61 - Read the ManinSeat61 website before buying anything

It was 2015 and the site has since been updated/corrected, but I was really led astray by this website at that time. There were some cavalier comment that Europeans "are late at making plans so don't worry about buying tickets early." Of course this was incorrect advice, the cheaper tickets sell out early.

Then I was buying tickets on the popular (but slow!) intercity OEBB train from Venice to Munich and all the advice from this website misdirected me. The 3 countries' national rail systems that the train goes through all sell tickets for it, the first sell dates were all different, 90-120 days out, the prices were all different, and the services were all different. The correct advice for the cheapest ticket and the best service even if traveling on a segment of the train that does not go through Germany is to wait till the 90 day mark to buy tickets on bahn.com. They will have the cheapest tickets, and free seat selection, and print at home capability. Not knowing any better I purchased more expensive tickets at oebb.at 120 days out which did not include seat selection and the only choice at that time was mailed tickets, and they mailed the wrong ones, but I did catch it so they sent new ones.

Anyway, I haven't forgotten how off the mark maninseat61 was for me in 2015 in Europe.

Posted by
245 posts

Thanks for starting this thread!

my experiences on #1 and 5
- Man in Seat 61 - unlike the experience above, its 2022 and it helped me CLEARLY book two train rides (to Prague and to Buda)
- Railpasses - yes, we compared this with a hostel friend and his train pass seemed like a waste. please don't gift these! sometimes they can help if you choose a long journey and its still considered only one use of the pass.
- First vs Second class: I booked First on DB for only 15-20$ more. it was awesome. 2nd was jam packed. first had lounging space. i got privacy, my own window and the choice of two types of compartments.
- Booking in advance is necessary to get a really good fare - the difference is too much with full price, atleast in germany.

Posted by
4698 posts

Tom - I’m sure you would agree that Man in Seat 61 is a hugely beneficial website in 2022.

Nick - point taken on first class. I guess what I was trying to say is that second class is not like a cow car. I think some people hear second class and assume it is terrible, which it is not.

Posted by
947 posts

The cut for me between 1st class and 2nd class is usually the length of trip plus I can book a quiet car on the DB ICE in 1st class.

Posted by
3700 posts

Tom - I’m sure you would agree that Man in Seat 61 is a hugely beneficial website in 2022.

I have only looked at the India section but it seemed very comprehensive. For Europe since 2015 I have tended to rent cars as I now prefer seeing the Europe that's outside large cities.

Posted by
6774 posts

My tip would be to make an effort to learn how to read the posted train schedules at rail stations. That is, know how to recognize the local words for departure and arrival, track, 24-hour clock, common abbreviations and what exceptions look like.

There's not always someone around to ask, or a manned ticket office.

Posted by
11432 posts

The other nice thing about traveling first class is that if you are traveling solo you may be able to get a single seat with no one sitting next to you. Good in times of Covid.

Plus, if you have extra time at a main station, a first class ticket may get you into the lounge with free food, drink and wifi.

Posted by
16941 posts

When booking a train to or from the Czech Republic, check the prices offered by the Czech Railway, Ceske Drahy at https://www.cd.cz/en/default.htm. Prices are usually quite a bit lower at that site when bought using Czech currency CZK.

Posted by
4776 posts

Make sure you find out if you need to validate (date/stamp) your ticket prior to boarding the train in order to avoid a possibly expensive fine.

Trains in Spain close their doors 2 minutes before departure, so make sure you arrive early.

Be ready to disembark before train reaches your destination.

Safe travels!

Edited to add:
If your train is delayed, and you need to make a connection en-route, find the ticket inspector and explain your dilemma and he/she may be able to assist you. This happened to us in Portugal and the connecting train waited for us.

Posted by
5602 posts

My tip: CONSIDER both the rail pass AND advance-sale point to point tickets for long distance travel.

"Railpass" refers to a WIDE variety of products. Some require reservations, some don't. Some exclude certain train products, some don't. Some are routinely priced at a discount for off-season travel, some are not. Some come with near-useless perks, others are more generous. There are 1-country passes that permit travel OUTSIDE the country's borders while others are less generous. Railpass refund policies vary too.

One's level of rail travel experience matters in this choice as well. Individual travelers and travel styles differ. A bargain p2p, train-specific fare can turn into a very pricey ride when a confused, inexperienced ticketholder boards the wrong train. "Planning-freaks" CAN get bargain-basement fares 6 months out - and they MAY have the fortitude to stick with their choices 6 months later. But 6 (or 5, or 4, or 3 months) is a long time; should the traveler decide to make itinerary changes for any reason (health? weather? whimsy? political circumstances?) then their bargain purchase may have zero value. Indecisive folks, procrastinators, the organization-challenged, the technology-challenged, the free-spirited, and the perpetually-late folks are travelers too - the gauntlet that must be run putting together and executing 5-6 rail journeys peppered with lodging logistics over 2-3 weeks, on the tight schedule that p2p tickets demand, can be super-challenging for a party of two, even more so for families and larger groups.

Not always, but certainly often enough, for some folks, in some places, a rail pass is not so much a "luxury" as a necessity" IMHO.

Posted by
56 posts

Any advice for when you arrive by plane from the U.S. and need to then use rail to your final destination? Do you book in advance but leave a sizeable window to allow for some flight delay in order to make the train? Or expect the best outcome but have a back-up plan? I’m sure the answer depends on the specific location. In my case, landing in Munich, then taking a train to Salzburg. Thanks forum members!

Posted by
7254 posts

Munich airport to Salzburg: once you know that your flight is on time you can book that with a few clicks using the DB ap on your phone using data right before boarding or using the airline Internet wifi. I always now get internet wifi included in the airfare to look at train schedules and to do other booking or planning. It was only 18 dollars round trip and is good for the duration of both flights. Either way the transport is plentiful on that route. Also those train tickets on that route are fixed price there is no advantage of booking it in advance. It is not going to sell out.

Posted by
16941 posts

In my case, landing in Munich, then taking a train to Salzburg. Thanks forum members!

Buy a Bayern Ticket for 26 EUR out of a vending machine and you can get the next S-8 to Ostbahnhof and change to a regional train to Salzburg. If it is a weekday, you will have to wait until 9 am to depart.

Posted by
3340 posts

Regarding passes, this forum is in general pretty anti-pass. But if you plan to do a lot of travel a pass can save you money. And in countries where you don't need seat reservations, a pass will give you flexibility which can be worth some extra money.

Other tips:

  • You don't need to be at the station 3 hours before your train leaves.

  • Sometimes you see short connections (a few minutes) between train,
    that is nothing to worry about. The point of those is to create
    smooth and simple transfers in the network, and often it is just a
    matter of walking across the platform to your next train.

  • Railways are very much national systems and in each country the
    trains work a bit different.

For Europe since 2015 I have tended to rent cars as I now prefer
seeing the Europe that's outside large cities.

The good thing about trains in Europe is that they will take you to small towns as well.

Posted by
947 posts

"The good thing about trains in Europe is that they will take you to small towns as well"

Yeah, the destination would have to be pretty small or pretty remote to not be serviced by public transport.

Posted by
678 posts

We have opted for first class a few times. When the kids were very young and we were traveling in Italy, first class was really nice as it provided a place for the kids to have a snack and to draw in their books, etc. If we are in the US and using Amtrak, we will only go business class. I can still remember one time that was sold out and my husband had to go cattle class. He texted and said the only things missing were the goats and chickens;)

My tip is that if you are on train and need to make a connection, make sure it is going the direction you are intending to go. We made that mistake once in Germany where the connection was just a few minutes, and we didn't realize we were going in the wrong direction for about 10 minutes. Thankfully we realized it sooner rather than later.

Posted by
947 posts

"make sure it is going the direction you are intending to go"

Excellent pont! I have spent a great deal of time in Berlin and probably know the S-Bahn system as well as any Berliner would BUT, every now and then I seem to disorient myself and catch the train in the opposite direction to that intended. Luckily, I can bail at the next stop, cross the platform and catch the correct one. Yeesh!

Posted by
234 posts

Tip: Take note of the end point of the train you want to take as that is typically all that is listed on the boards and trains themselves. Sometimes intermediary stops may be listed if they are larger cities, but this is not reliable.

Opinion: I agree with riding in 1st class, particularly an advantage during Covid, as there are (mostly) fewer passengers.

Opinions re Eurail pass: easier than purchasing multiple tickets in advance, handy/less complicated when one’s train is delayed and another train is needed or the route/day/timing changes for whatever reason and 1st class is not too much more expensive than 2nd (unlike point to point which may have significant price differences between 1st and 2nd).

I had a recent trip (2022) in which I tracked the cost of point to point tickets against the Eurail pass and the pass more than paid for itself. However, this particular trip did have several longer distance as well as panoramic routes which contributed greatly to coming out ahead with pass vs point to point. My general experience in the past is that the pass does not necessarily come out ahead, however, I prefer it for the flexibility and bonus (!) the senior pass is 60 and over, another cost savings.

Eurail paper pass vs app: I prefer/use the paper pass. I’d heard of too many technical issues with the app version and find the paper pass easier/more reliable.

Posted by
4735 posts

Always buy tickets from the actual train companies, like Deutsche Bahn, OeBB, etc.

Except when the rail company’s website rejects your U.S. credit card. Always try the rail company site first. However, there are a couple websites (e.g., SNCF, RENFE) that are hit or miss for U.S. cardholders.

While I had previously been able to buy tickets on SCNF, I I gave up on my last trip to France after multiple attempts. I was able to easily buy the tickets I wanted on https://www.thetrainline.com for the same price, with just a small fee (worth it to preserve my sanity).

Posted by
441 posts

About rail passes:
1. Do the math before you decide. On our trip to Germany last month, our German Rail Pass saved us at least $500. We traveled every day on day trips, making spontaneous choices based on mood and weather. After two years of restrictions regarding movement and activity, this was a real treat. And one that SAVED us money to boot.
2. Factor in your flexibility if a train you booked in advanced is delayed, cancelled, or diverted. Consider the hassle when connections are missed because of delays, cancellations, or diversions. In Germany last month we had all these things happen on about a third of the trips we had planned. Because we had a pass, we could just hop on the next train. Or instantly set up a different combination of trains to get us where we needed to go.
3. If traveling with luggage, consider how much scrum you want when deciding about first or second class. On our trip last month, we had no problem finding a place for luggage in first class. We didn't have people pushing us, and were able to sit safely away from crowded cars. In many cases, we were the only people in a first class cabin. With a Covid test looming prior to returning home to the US, we are certain this increased our odds of testing negative.
4. Every traveler has a unique set of expectations, needs, preferences, and budget. I would never discourage anyone from comprehensively evaluating their choices based on what is the best fit for them. If that means booking tickets 90 days ahead, go ahead. If that means using a pass and deciding spontaneously, go ahead. It is your time, your money, and your trip.

Posted by
2278 posts

A lot of good tips here. I would add this -- be very careful when selecting dates. Europeans use the DD-MM-YY format. Even if you know this, it's easy to get it wrong if you're in a hurry.

Rail Europe can be expensive, and it doesn't always show every train. But there are times when it has the same prices, and in those cases, I will gladly pay their nominal fee to use them because their website is so easy to use. Some of the country sites are just awful.

Posted by
6774 posts

These are all great tips. It would be nice if they were codified into some kind of "first-timers guide to trains in Europe" under the RS banner here. I think the Travel Tips section could use more comprehensive instructions. Its easy to underestimate the intimidation factor for the majority of American travelers who have never set foot on a train, only speak English, and just dont understand why they shouldn't assume American transportation systems are universal.

I think thats one of the reasons that people are led into rail passes. Not necessarily the cost factors (too complicated to figure out) or the flexibility. Its the relief at not having to deal with buying tickets, talking to ticket agents, or figuring out what the conductor is saying - just wave the pass. The reservation complication is not apparent at first glance.

Posted by
4732 posts

A lot of good tips here. I would add this -- be very careful when selecting dates. Europeans use the DD-MM-YY format. Even if you know this, it's easy to get it wrong if you're in a hurry.

In the same category in selecting dates from a calendar the week will usually begin on a Monday. Except sometimes when it begins on a Sunday.

Posted by
4698 posts

TravelMom:

About rail passes:
1. Do the math before you decide. On our trip to Germany last month, our German Rail Pass saved us at least $500

I’m very curious about this. Where did you buy your pass and what were your routes? Where or how did you compare the cost of tickets?

Posted by
2040 posts

I always laugh and I read this don’t go to Rail Europe. Go to rail Europe. I have actually gotten better deals at times

My suggestion, don’t rule out any site, that’s legit and look to see where you can get the best deal

Posted by
1908 posts

Emily, you probably knew but just in case (since a couple of people have mistaken me over the past week) but this is TravelingMom. There is also a TravelMom from CA. I WAS Travelmom but it seemed so confusing that I just changed my name to TexasTravelmom in hopes it would help. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Posted by
4698 posts

Hey TexasTravelMom - Funny story, I was travelingmommy on another site but also changed my name.

Posted by
11432 posts

You don't have to remove your shoes when going through security because, except for a few trains like Eurostar, there is no security.

Twelve percent of the up escalators in train stations will be broken. That is usually, however, about 48% of the ones you need to use. (Higher if you have a tight connection.)

Some train lines, like the Swiss run trains, run very efficiently. Others, like TPE in the UK, seem to be going for the record of most delays and cancellations.

Bring earplugs or headphones. Some crowded trains can get very loud.

Posted by
28078 posts

I'm so glad that Frank II is so down on TPE; that allows Northern Rail to slip through unscathed...

Posted by
11432 posts

On my last mishap with TPE is was Northern Rail that came to the rescue.

But keep your fingers crossed, I'm on TPE on Wednesday.

Posted by
1908 posts

@Emily, LOL. That’s funny. I probably should have thought longer back when I first chose it but oh, well. :)

Posted by
12964 posts

Whenever I used a credit card to pay for on-line discount tickets (the 90 day plus discount tickets, say ICE/TGV Paris to Frankfurt) from DB, the Visa credit card was never rejected, the on-line ticket had no problems being printed out. Everything went through as it's supposed to.

I never bought on-line from OeBB or SNCF, those tickets I waited to get at the station.

Posted by
2867 posts

When Travelling with Trenitalia , note that the big "2" painted close to the door of each car means Second Class, not Car #2. Same for the big " 1 ".

For obvious reasons, on many trains the number of each car can't be permanently printed on the door; so it's either printed on a piece of paper or it's shown on an electronic display.

Posted by
3159 posts

True story. We were watching a 3 year old at a friend’s house in Berlin tonight playing with an old wooden train on the floor. After many rounds of pushing the train around the tracks and picking up the 2 wooden “passengers” he started saying Fünf Minuten Später over and over. Tip: learn a few spoken and written words you might come across in your travel country. We’ve been hearing 5 minutes late (or many more!) a lot on this trip.

Posted by
1677 posts

If you're new to train travel, there are plenty of YouTube videos to help you out - from purchasing tickets, reading signs/schedules, finding your seat, how/when to show your tickets, etc. There are plenty of videos on Man in Seat 61 (he has a great one of Eurostar AMS-London that I just watched), but also plenty from other travel bloggers. I find getting a bit of familiarity helps me with the anxiety.

Excellent point about getting on the train going the way you want to go. On the Rhine in Germany I got an unexpected no-stop express visit to Boppard (I waved at St. Goar as we whizzed past). Since I didn't have the right ticket for express train, that was quite unnerving.

And I agree with you Emily that second class is usually fine, but it is situational. Sometimes first class is useful if you're traveling midday since lunch usually provided. Or for long trips - I once took the train from Lake Bled to Salzburg in first class because it was a long ride and the cost difference buying early tickets was negligible. I ended up solo in a six passenger car on a very old Soviet-style train (NOT first class in any way) but I could stretch out comfortably and close the door. The bathroom was on the end of the last car and it was quite the memorable rodeo ride :)

Posted by
1236 posts

Only bring as much luggage as you can comfortably carry and move. I saw one family in Spain hogging the door by trying to move all their luggage(6 suitcases) onto the train, then try and find room for everything. This isn't Amtrak and no porter will move your luggage for you.

Always double check your track number and train number. In Barcelona, there were two trains on a track that looked like it had one number. I ran into what I thought was my train car and sat down. Looking around I noticed people preparing for a longer journey than just an hour. I finally stopped a young man who spoke a little English. When I showed him my ticket, he shook his head and pointed to the other train. I barely made it off before the train started to move!