My wife 62 years old and myself 66 years old and in fair health were planning a trip to Europe late this year. We intended to buy global rail passes and travel between cities by train.This would involve catching trains every 2 or 3 days. My sister in law has just returned from her honeymoon in Europe (5 weeks) and is totally exhausted. She said that the train travel was very stressful, no room for baggage, etc. and she is 6 years younger and fitter. Are we expecting too much for us to be able to handle such a schedule? She is concerned we would end up too tired to enjoy it.
Chris, I find travel by train to one of the easiest ways to get around Europe, and one of the most relaxing. Trains run between city centres and one can enjoy the scenery or have a short nap, so I usually arrive quite "rested". Of course, changes will interrupt the nap. You may find it helpful to have a look at the excellent Man In Seat 61 website, as that provides a LOT of good information. I've never had a problem with "no room for baggage". There's usually a luggage rack at one end of the car for larger items, and racks in each car above the seats for smaller items. In many cases, I've been able to keep all my luggage with me in a compartment, or sitting on the floor between the seats (that will depend on how crowded the car is). A Global Railpass may or may not be the best option. Keep in mind that these DO NOT include the reservation fees that are compulsory on the "premium" fast trains such as the TGV in France or the EuroStar Italia. You'll need to pay separately "out of pocket" for those. Especially in Italy, DO NOT be caught without a valid reservation for the train you're riding on (if compulsory) as you may be fined on the spot! The fines start at €50 per person and increase from there. The same is true for having an unvalidated ticket on a Regionale train, where no reservations are required (if you decide to go with a Railpass, the validation won't be an issue). Good luck with your planning!
Chris, Ken has started you off with very appropriate information , particularly about spending time with the " man in seat 61 " website . It's probably the best source for learning and understanding how to effectively use European rail services . There are other posters on this board who also are very skilled in this and will further chime in . I'll comment on a few other aspects of this . I am also 66 and my wife is also 62 . We recently returned ( late October 2012 ) from 5 weeks traveling in Italy and Switzerland . The word I would use to describe our experience is " Elated " , certainly not " Exhausted " ! The difficulties your sister in law had with train travel seem to indicate ,IMO , that she was WAY overpacked . My wife and I travel very lightly . We each carry one piece of hand luggage ( soft bag ) , the weight of each is 12 lbs. We also each have a back pack , mine is 8 lbs , my wife's pack is about 4lbs. ( no camera or electronic gear ) . Getting on and off trains , stashing our things on board , moving around , etc. are a piece of cake when you travel light. I don't know what your sister in law had but based on her comments , I can only guess . As far as traveling every two or even three days, that's a guarantee for being tired and stressed out , not to mention time consuming . We came back without any of the issues she complained of . As Ken says , rail travel is relaxing and stress free ,if you know how . Also remember the three most important travel skills : Pack light , pack light, pack light ! Have a great time !
'This would involve catching trains every 2 or 3 days.' - Are you trying to find value in the (possibly foolish) purchase expense of a rail pass? Rethink this pace and the effort to see so much of Europe. Less will be more.
We love the global rail pass. We are doing the same thing in May so I have been doing a lot of research on this - especially pricing out P to P vs GP. While the Global Pass maycost a little more - -usually not for us - it more than makes up for in convenience & flexibility. We generally lean towards the regional trains which do not require a reservation nor additional fee - they go through more smaller towns which we love exploring. We also love to go with no advance reservations - except for night trains - which I love! The cheap train tickets are generally ones that purchased in advance and will lock you into a plan. The reservation fee is generally $10 - $15 each if you do want to take a fast train - the biggest exception to this are the TGV and Thalys from what I've found so far. We have never had a problem with storage space for luggage - the key is to pack light -but we don't pack as light as Steven and still have no problems. We each carry one rolling carry-on bag and a back pack each. Just be sure and arrive at the train station with plenty of time to locate and reach your platform - be on the platform when the train pulls in and will have plenty of time to get yourselves and your luggage on the train. Not everyone has the same travel style - some folks can't even imagine traveling like this but we love it - don't let the nay sayers make you re-think your plan. We can spend as little or as long as we like in a place and then move on. We've discovered some great little towns where most tourists don't stop - that's where you really see how the locals live. The cities are great for the sights, art & history but the small towns are where you'll see the people. JMHO
Be careful of "the tail wagging the dog." If you get a railpass because it works for your schedule and budget, fine. But don't buy a railpass, then run around like crazy trying to make it pay off. These days for most people, a rail pass is not a good deal. Here's the Man In Seat 61's excellent summary of the choices: Link. I wonder if the reason your sister in law was exhausted is that she just tried to do too much - regardless of her mode of transit. Driving to a new place every day is not low-impact either. I definitely find the moving around to be tiring, and reading others here and elsewhere online, one common trait is that as people get older, they want to move around less on a trip. Too many trips in too short a time, too many long trips, too many slow trips (instead of expresses that skip stations) and too many train changes are all stressful. But you can often minimize these problems with planning. Yes, with European trains, you have to tote your own luggage and heft it into the rack over the seat, or if it's too big for that, leave it in the racks at the end of the car. On shorter local runs, there may be minimal room for even medium size bags (sort of like bringing a suitcase on a city bus). And on a very crowded local train, you may have to stand with your bags. But on most long distance trains, there's room for bags. One thing that can help with train stress and luggage space is reservations. On my recent trip from Dresden to Berlin, the train was quite full, and people were sitting in the aisle with their bags. But my mother and I had reserved seats (only €4 per person extra) and so we just went to them, put our bags up in the racks, and were able to ride without stress. If we didn't have reservations, the ride would have been unpleasant.
We are close to your ages & just took our 2 grands for 3 weeks - 4 countries & the trains are NOT all that easy unless you travel very light; you are responsible for lifting your duffels, etc. onto & off the train; the terminals do not give good English directions (and changes are constant). IF you do go - plan on longer than 2 or 3 days between cities; use Rick Steves for train tickets (you get to ask 3 free questions) AND definitely use his suggested contact to make your reservations. The woman was great - best money we spent. I imagine Rick has contacts for you in Australia, too.
Hi, I'm in the same age range as you, early 60s, and use a rail Pass. I only recommend it if you're going to do criss cross zig zag traveling on ICE trains. Packing relatively light certainly helps when getting on and off the train. I keep my roller suitcase ca 30 lbs., just light enough to throw on the luggage rack. The use of Pass is best when you ride the ICE and IC trains, no need for reservations on them. Train travel is not stressful if one knows how to do it. Watch how the locals travel. Know how to pace yourself. If your trip is less than five weeks, you might want to reconsider the Pass option. If it is 5-6 weeks or more, then I would recommend the ten day Global Pass provided you do a lot of train rides are in Germany, France, Switzerland which are long, say from Budapest to Amsterdam, Hamburg to Vienna, etc.
my daughter and I did a month this past spring-both train and car-we found the train travel to be by far more relaxingwe did travel light one convertable suitcase and a day bag eachmy wife and I are doing a similiar trip this spring this time using point to point tickets instead of passes and with no car travel at all once you do your first train and understand the way it works its very easy-that and the willingness to ask locals for help in train stations really takes the stress outalso you can program your train travel with longer transfer times to further ease the nerves have a great trip Paul
I like traveling by train because it's low stress. Your SIL has a point about baggage though. If you pack light, hopping on and off trains is easy. If you're lugging multiple large bags, it can be both stressful and physically demanding. (My mom had shoulder surgery after lugging her heavy bags on a trip). We've made many month or longer trips to Europe (including connecting with cruises and hauling three kids) and only take one carry-on each. Some people can't imagine it. Few who have tried packing light, however, return to heavy packing - generally they look for ways to pack even lighter. I haven't purchased a rail pass in well over ten years. I like to keep my travel legs short. A rail pass only pays over point to point tickets on VERY long travel legs. If you use regional trains, which are slower and stop often, point to point tickets are significantly cheaper than passes (Germany offers great day passes on regional trains).
Just to continue to reinforce the prior points about one carry on bag and train travel. We are in our 70s and would travel no other way. In our opinion trains and sometime buses is the only way to travel. I would seek a better explanation from SIL as why she was so exhausted or the specific problems she encountered.
Paul makes a great point. For many people in North American and Australia, train travel is a new and unfamiliar experience. But for Europeans, it's like driving to the mall. So, if you ever have any questions or problems, don't hesitate to ask a local. While obvious tourists may seem more approachable, they are much less likely to know enough to be helpful. And yes, if short connections are stressful, you can usually arrange longer ones. This is especially important if you're lugging big bags.
Global Passes are not good value anymore. I think much luggage makes the trip exhausting even for fit younger people. It is just too cumbersome to haul oversized bags down a train alley, or up and down stairs.