Tips on European Trains

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Iris and I have been traveling around Europe for just more than a month using airplanes, boats, buses, but mainly trains. That’s because of the fantastic network of railways connected through Europe and the Eurail pass that is offered. These are just some tips that I had to learn over the trip. Note that we purchased a “Global 10 Day Flexi Eurail Pass”.

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1. Download the Eurail App on your phone!

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You do want to do this as BEFORE you try to go anywhere by train. You can access the timetable from either eurail.com or the app. However, there is a good chance that you don’t have internet connectivity in Europe and trying to find free Wi-Fi is like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert. And believe me, if you do not have the whole itinerary in your hands, the chances of you getting to your destination are bleak. The time schedule the app provides is greatly helpful if you don’t speak the local language because you can match the departure time with your app. We once tried to take a train from Brussel Airport to Brussel Central(20 mins btw) and we ended up an hour later in a city at the north of Belgium.

*Some trains are delayed. Be sure to check you are at the right station before you board off. Do not trust the timetable too much when departing. Pay attention to the announcement. Look out the window. Ask. 

2. Reservations are best made weeks before the trip.

Eurail pass, or other passes in the EU acts as a ticket for all the regarding-class trains running in Europe except the ones where reservation is compulsory. These trains, which are normally high-speed, comfortable trains needs a valid Eurail pass(In the case of flexi pass, a valid day) and a reservation ticket.

*France – For french trains, there are limited number of reservations left for eurail pass holders so book as soon as possible.

**Italy – Most trains in italy are reservation compulsory.

***Germany – The highspeed ICE trains are thankfully NOT reservation compulsory.

3. Reservations can be made on the train.

If you MUST travel to a certain destination that requires boarding a reservation compulsory train, do not worry. You can still ride the train but must purchase the ticket on the train. Show the conductor your eurail pass and pay the reservation fee + a small fine for buying a ticket on the train. This fine is applied to any other tickets bought on the train. When we moved from Switzerland to Italy, we paid 15CHF reservation fee + 10CHF fine for the eurocity high-speed train.

4. Night Trains, Night Trains, Night Trains.

All Night Trains are reservation-compulsory and consists of 2nd class seats, and couchettes(compartments with beds).  We booked a 4-bed couchette from Rome to Genova(North of Italy) mainly because the seats were sold out. It costed us 35 euros each.  You can choose from unisex, male or female couchettes and the choice of bed position. On the train, you are provided with a pillow and a small pack of water. Because the water from the tap is not drinkable, it is advisory to bring your own water. Furthermore, do not worry if you will miss your stop as the conductor takes your eurail pass and brings it back to you waking you up before the train arrives at the destination.

5. For flexipass holders : when do we activate our pass?

According to a conductor in the Netherlands, they can fine you up to €70 if your date and the travel info down at the pass is not filled. However, during our whole trip, nobody else than him checked the travel information. Only the dates on the actual pass seems to matter. The guide says the dates should be filled out before you board the train but this does not need to be done. You can fill out the dates on your pass when you hear the conductors are checking the tickets(Of course, you can’t be caught doing so). But, if nobody checks your ticket, that train ride is free. From our experience 10 mins ~ 30 mins train rides were safe from checking but for rides that takes an hour or longer, the chances are very high that your pass will be checked.

*PLEASE EXERCISE THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK. THE CONDUCTORS CAN FINE YOU FOR THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOUR.  

**We’ve been fined 60 euros for forgetting to put in our dates from Paris to CDG

6. A euro for the bathroom?

Most european train station charge people for usage and closes early. I’ve paid fees from 30 p (London Victoria) to €1 (Germany Hamburg). So if you don’t like the stations taking advantage of your physiological needs, hold on until you board the train. Most trains that runs in Europe are equipped with working bathrooms. I’ve seen a few that’s without so if you’re unlucky… Um…

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If there’s any other experiences you would like to share, please don’t hesitate to comment below, or contact me at nicholaskim94@gmail.com

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