Americans don’t often travel by train, but for young Europeans long-distance travel is almost a rite of passage. And, after traveling Europe by train (first Northern Europe and now the Balkans), I can see why.
Train travel (in Europe) has lots of benefits:
- It’s cheap. Most of my journeys cost under $30 compared to one-way plane tickets at $125+.
- It’s scenic. Check out the photos I’ve posted during my travels.
- You can get almost anywhere. As long as time isn’t a constraint, I could have taken the train everywhere but Albania.
- You meet interesting people. On my trips, I’ve talked to Danes, Kiwis, Norwegians and Belgians so far.
- Luggage restrictions are virtually non-existent. On many trains I’ve seen people traveling with bikes and pets.
- You can book last-minute. Unlike a plane ticket, my train tickets have mostly been purchased an hour before departure, which gives you amazing flexibility and value.
- Trains are often super convenient. The stations are usually in the city center and once you buy a ticket, your board. No TSA groping required.
A recent companion on one of my journeys
But, for Americans, it can take require some adjustments in your thinking.
- It requires patience. If you can’t handle airport delays, then train travel isn’t for you. European trains often stop in lots of small towns. If you’re traveling outside the Schengen, you’ll have passport control checkpoints (but you get stamps!) that eat up time.
- It requires preparation. Levels of service vary dramatically, and you have to be ready. Some trains don’t have AC. Some trains don’t have power outlets. Some trains have no food or beverage available.
- It requires planning. Not all trains run every day to every city. Not all seats on the train are your friends (think in the sun with no AC or stuck in the smoking carriage). But there are lots of sites out there to help. Man in Seat 61 is a personal favorite. And, if you need to figure out train schedules, the German rail service (Deutsche Bahn) has a wonderful site in nine languages that covers nearly all train service in Europe. Bonus points: It loads well on a mobile interface.