Point to point tickets or passes? Are reservations mandatory? Where and when are seat assignments required? First class or second class?
Europe’s extensive rail system makes getting around easy and quick but picking the right ticket options and knowing the rules can be challenging. Here are 5 things to consider when navigating the world of European rail.
Passes are not always the best option – Many people have the impression that rail passes are the most inexpensive way to travel by train in Europe but depending on the number of segments and routing, they can sometimes be more expensive then point to point. Also, some costs are not fully covered by passes; seat assignments or supplements may be required if a pass doesn’t include all countries en route, and some additional fees can apply on specialty and overnight trains. It’s a good idea to always look at the price and efficiency of point to point versus a pass, with all additional local fees included, before deciding which is best.
Seat assignments are a great service – Not all tickets include seat assignments so it is important to clarify if one will need to be purchased in addition to the ticket. Many regional and local trains don’t require them, and some don’t offer them at all. For others, seat assignments are mandatory and must be are purchased locally before boarding if not purchased prior to travel. This is especially important when someone is traveling with a rail pass. Although passes allow for flexibility, they do not guarantee travel if the train is full so when possible, arrange these prior to departure to avoid confusion.
Not all sleeper cars are created equal – When taking an overnight train there are many choices and configurations. Some trains have bunks while others simply have seats that recline. Passengers can also often choose how many people share their couchette. Trains tend to be full in Europe so travelers should be prepared to share a compartment and bathrooms if they did not pay for private facilities. To avoid confusion, be sure to qualify your expectations before booking.
Be prepared to provide proper documents and passports – The conductor will almost always ask to see tickets and seat assignments if purchased separately, so it’s a good idea to always have these on hand. Also, regardless of how travelers get from one country to another, everyone will be asked to show proper documentation. On an overnight train the conductor may collect passports during boarding or shortly after, often not returning them until the following morning.
Know when it is worth it to upgrade to first class – The amenities and quality of trains vary because there are over 50 different train companies throughout Europe. Depending on your expectations, it may be important to upgrade to first class. Trains and routes differ so it is essential to evaluate the specific amenities of each class before deciding what to purchase for a particular journey.