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Train v Car

I have often seen this topic debated on this forum. Having travelled extensively through UK and Europe by rail, I have always been a big fan of the train. However, having just returned from a one month driving tour of the UK (Derbyshire, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Cotswolds), interspersed with three long train journeys, personally I can say hiring a car gave us so much more freedom to go to out of the way places and the ability to be more flexible. Also not having to spend 2 hours on the Wolverhampton Station because your train from Edinburgh was held up by signal problems causing you to miss your connection to Wales, is definitely a plus!! As if this wasn't enough, minutes before the connecting train was due on platform one, an announcement comes through that this train is now leaving from platform two. Great. Have to take two lifts to get to this platform, dragging 2 large cases, which is entirely our fault. When will we ever learn!!!

Posted by
3941 posts

We have always used trains on our trips to Europe and finally bit the car renting bullet in 2012 when in France. We wanted to visit Mont St Michel and a bus/train combo just wouldn't work with our schedule. So we rented when leaving Paris, spent a few nights with a lovely couple in a tiny village that would have been unreachable with public transport and were able to do things on our own time. To not have to worry about rushing around trying to see something because you have to catch that train was liberating! We were very nervous, but I figured thousand and thousands of people rent every year with no issue, and at least half are dumber than us ;)

That being said, we still use trains for a great chunk of our travelling - and we would probably never dream of driving in Italy or the UK (my sister lives in the UK and driving with her is scary enough). But there are times when a car is just so darn handy! We are returning to France this year and are going to rent a car in Avignon for about 8-9 days of exploring Provence and Cote D'Azur. I look forward to being able to explore little towns or to stop when and where we want.

But we will still use trains for 85% of our trips overseas...Canada (well, where I am) has such a cruddy train system that I am forever impressed (mostly) with the Europe system.

Posted by
3696 posts

I rent about 80% of the time. I dislike strict schedules and love my freedom and flexibility. I have found some of the most amazing out of the way places because I can stop whenever I see something of interest (a village, a lavender field, a castle, a field of sunflowers, etc) I am a photographer , so finding out of the way places are a bonus . There is nothing worse for me than seeing incredible places I want to visit or photograph and the train won't stop for me! If I am going point to point in big cities I will use the train, but to have an adventure in a place... give me my car! Despite what lots of people say, I usually spend less on a car than I would on trains. It's especially economical if I am traveling with someone to share expenses... or if I am traveling with grandkids I don't have to buy 2 or 3 train tickets.

Nicole... maybe your sister is just a bad driver:) You might feel a lot safer if you drove there yourself! You should get a car for the Tuscany part of an Italy trip... once you get used to it, you will see it is no different than anywhere else...when all else fails, just stay in the slow lane:)

Posted by
3941 posts

LOL Terry K - no - she lives in Portsmouth on a street with too many parked cars on the road and only enough room for one car on a two way street, so there is much having to squeeze over and constantly watch for oncoming vehicles and figure out where you can get out of the way. The 'scary' thing for me is the instinct of when she is going around a corner and I always want to say...YOU'RE IN THE WRONG LANE!!! It just goes against years of ingrained habit...ok, well...she is a touch aggressive to ;)

I'm trying to convince my husband to go out later at night when we visit in Oct and take a drive around the block in her car, but he doesn't seem to be going for it...lol

Posted by
3696 posts

Well, then Nicole, maybe you should be the driver and he can be the navigator... If she has a manual it will be a bit more difficult... but with an automatic..you can do it!

Posted by
10344 posts

If trains go to your destinations, take the train. When trains don't go to your destinations, rent a car or sign up for a private tour.

Posted by
3696 posts

Kent... but the destination is not always the adventure... it's often the journey that I love more!

Posted by
19170 posts

"Despite what lots of people say, I usually spend less on a car than I would on trains. "

The active "I". I've never said that YOU would not spend less on a car than on trains, but I certainly wouldn't.

Looking at my last trip, I spent 21 days in Germany. The last 3 days were in Munich; I would have turned in the car when I arrived, so an 18 day rental. I traveled 1200 km on 8 major travel days. At the current price of gas, Viamichelin now estimates my fuel cost to be 172€. I actually spent 279€ for all my rail tickets for those days. The difference between what I spent and what I would have spent for fuel is 107€. Are you going to rent a car for 18 days for 107€ ($120)? I got one quote from AutoEurope for $440, but that was without no-deductible CDW (with train tickets I have zero liability, same as no-deductible CDW).

My experience is in Germany. German speaking countries have the best rail systems in Europe, if not the world. I can't speak for countries like France or Italy. As far as the UK is concerned, on my 2000 trip I encountered a couple of Brits in the Black Forest, and we were talking about Germany. I remarked about how great the rail system was in Europe. The said that was true in Germany, but not of the UK. They said the ill-advised move to rail privatization had ruined the UK rail system.

Posted by
3696 posts

Lee... now double that if you are paying for someone else(or there might be a family deal) , or half the car expense if you travel with someone and split it. ... the way I work my trips the car is usually less... and again, the flexibility is priceless. I have traveled with 3 others and only had to pay 25% of the cost!

(Try more than one quote... I would not use AutoEurope at that price either...

It's not a contest, it's a way of traveling. If you prefer the train, then take it:)

Posted by
19170 posts

Sorry, I omitted to say that I WAS traveling WITH one other person. So 279€ was tickets for two adults.

No, it's not double (and one person would not have been half). My full fare from Frankfurt airport to the Black Forest would have been double for two people, but the rest of my travel was by regional passes - Baden-Württemburg, SchönesWochenende, and Bayern-Tickets, which are only slightly more, less than 25% more, for additional people and free for your own children or grandchildren. And four people with their luggage often means two of the passenger have to have their luggage sitting on their laps (unless you pay more for a bigger car).

Posted by
4600 posts

FWIW, I like to drive (or at least I did before LA traffic got so bad) and I'm very used to it, but when I'm in Europe it's just such a nice change to be able to take a train.

The best answer, as usual, is YMMV. I did a rail/car pass a few years ago to do the Loire Valley from Paris and that worked out very well. Having a car in Italy was nice but ..... parking was a bitch and very expensive when we would stop for a day, or a few days.

I used to enjoy taking British trains but as noted, now that they've been privatized apparently it's a whole new ballgame.

Posted by
7 posts

I posted in another section that my daughter and I plan on a 3 country trip in 2017. My questions is - when we travel in England I was wondering if we took the train on the long hall trips and got a car to take short trips to the smaller cities or is that not cost effective since we will be doing train-car-train-car-train for example? So would doing train all the way or car all the way be more cost effective? Thanks Ann

Posted by
3696 posts

It really does depend on the length of trip, routes, etc. and whether or not you want to be on a train schedule or want to drive. Your trip will be completely different depending on your mode of transportation. Is your trip going to be point to point? Or do you like to explore an area on your own?

For me, it isn't always about the money... but I am a good shopper when it comes to my vehicles, so I usually get a pretty good price on my car.