Last year, I did a two month Europe trip and got a barrage of questions when I got back about how to travel for that long without purchasing any plane tickets and completely on the fly. Well, it was not "on the fly" as it's usually defined but we did purchase our train tickets only a few days in advance, and when that was not possible, we would make sure to show up at the station bright and early to purchase on the day of.
Many people have their reservations about traveling Europe completely via train, but after experiencing it, I realized that although it will be less travel time if you fly everywhere, but I like the quiet time I get on a five hour train ride. I like looking at parts of the country that I never would have seen had I chosen to fly. While on the way to Berlin, my siblings and I saw this amazingly beautiful, quaint village, one whose name unfortunately escapes me, but it's something we never would have even knew existed if we were up in the air.
Sometimes, it is less expensive to book plane tickets, but for long trips such as the one we took, and because we circled Europe and stopped in 12 cities, we felt that purchasing a Eurail pass each would make more sense. The Eurail pass is not your actual ticket, and you will still have to reserve one, or at times purchase but for a minimal fee, but it gives you the freedom to get on and off trains as you please depending on the type of pass you get. There's one that allows you a certain number of trips within two countries, one that allows you unlimited travel for two months within all the EU states, and some other types in between. It's up to you to choose one that suits your travel needs. We got the two month unlimited one and purchased our tickets along the way.
The good thing about taking trains is that, as long as you have your ticket, you can show up at the platform 2 minutes before it leaves. There's no immigrations, no checking in and out, no waiting for your luggage and there's actually plenty of legroom and walking space. Plus, you can bring your own bottled water in, no problem, woohoo! Like I said earlier, you get some quiet time as you watch the world go by and for some reason, being on a train for five or six hours is not as tiring as being on an airplane for the same amount of time.
Now the downside. Well, because there are no immigrations and security checks, there is a big chance that the train might actually leave you, even if you are just one minute late. Except for the odd delay, European trains, from my experience, leave on time, and with no warning. There will be no announcements when passengers are missing from the train and no one on the loudspeaker reminding you to wait by your platform because your ride is leaving in ten minutes. Having said this, it is not the train's fault, but your responsibility to make sure you are where you need to be, when you need to be there. Another downside is if you don't book early, especially during peak season, you might get bumped off your section and put somewhere else. For instance, we had First Class Eurail passes, meaning, we could have gotten a private room to sleep in on our only overnight ride from Vienna to Venice, but since we were not able to book early enough, we had to settle for a shared room with people we did not know. It was not bad, but some people might not like the idea of it.
Training around Europe is definitely the ideal way to travel for me and I would do it all over again. The only reason I would fly now is if I had a limited amount of time and more than two cities to go to. For more info on Eurail, visit www.eurail.com If you choose this route, remember to purchase your tickets BEFORE you take your trip!
*Photos by Mio Paredes*