Train travel in Europe is comfortable, affordable and picturesque. Nonetheless, train travel in Europe is much different compared to it's South-east Asian countries counterpart. The price difference and along with it the amenities and punctuality are vastly different. So the big question - how to travel big and save money at the same time ? Don't panic , I am here to help you with some tips which I found to be very practical and useful.
- Use the Eurail website - The Eurail website is a wonderful site for discovering train routes, train passes, scenic beauty trains etc. http://www.eurail.com/plan-your-trip/eurail-timetable is the link for checking trains between important station. The site also highlights important minor details like for which trains reservations are mandatory, which trains run only in a particular time of the year, how many stops are there enroute etc. Refer to the site http://www.seat61.com/ for valuable and handy info on travel by trains in Europe (and other parts of the world). God bless the team of seat61 !
- Get early bird tickets - Most rail companies provide tickets at heavily discounted fares a few months in advance. Grabbing them is the real deal ! Keep watch on the booking sites of various national railway sites and stay updated to snap some real deal. All you need is a Credit Card. Be informed - on trains in Germany (and a few in Austria), passport is NOT accepted as a proof of identity. You have to present the same Credit card which you used to book the tickets. So keep them safe !
- Travel 2nd Class - Well honestly, this might not seem to be everyone's cup of tea whilst reading for the first time, but trains in Europe have broadly 2 classes - 1st and 2nd. Sometimes a few trains have sleeper classes too. The price difference between 1st class and 2nd class is huge. So try and get tickets for the cheapest segment because they are also very comfortable and well maintained and are never too packed even in the peak tourist season. If someone in the group requires a bunk to sleep at night, then booking a couchette is recommended for night travels.
- Ticket vending machines - Recognize the automated ticket vending machines at the train stations. This shall save you a lot of time and hassle. No need for unnecessary queuing up at the ticket counters. You can purchase tickets for your travel even in advance from these machines. This is what most people do. Just make sure you keep smaller denomination notes handy and don't forget to collect the ticket and the receipt ( sometimes they come as 2 different printed papers).
- Lockers at stations - Every major station in Europe has locker facility to store your luggage while you merrily tour around the city. You can store your luggage anywhere from an hour to 2 days (depending on the station) for a nominal fee of 5-8 EUR for 24 hours. The lockers are absolutely secure and you will need a lot of coins for this purpose as the machine only takes coins. Lockers come in 2-3 sizes and the larger ones are big enough to store the biggest backpacks and suitcases/strolleys.