Is it possible to travel cheaply in Western Europe? How cheap it can be?
Planning train vacation in Europe? Or maybe just looking where, when and how to buy cheapest train tickets? Maybe Europe rail pass (like Eurail, Interrail, Swiss pass) instead? These and similar type of questions are being asked by almost any rail traveler before a new rail journey. And our team of rail fans will try to provide a few tips on european rail travel, guide you through the realm of cheap tickets, rail offers and overall system of european trains in general. First and one of the important things to know is that rail travel and rail fares differ depending on the part of Europe you are traveling in. Countries like France, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Switzerland or Italy have reliable and rather well working rail systems with modern trains helping passengers be on the opposite side of the country in a matter of hours. But at the same time traveling by train in Western Europe can be quite expensive no matter whether you travel within the country or make an international journey. Do we really need to pay full train fares or it is possible to find a way to travel cheap and save us some money?
We strongly believe that if you know how tariff and rail fare systems work or at least have a considerable amount of experience traveling by train in Europe it is always possible to find a way to save on your rail travel expenses, thus simply pay less than most of the ordinary passengers pay. Interested? Our team is glad to share with you some of those useful fare secrets, so let's look at a few simple tips for your next on budget rail journey:
- When speaking about expensive (in terms of traveling using rail transport) European countries and options to save on rail travel, one of the main secrets is timing, timing and once again timing. Railway companies in France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and other Western European countries basically developed a ticket sale system which encourages passengers to buy rail tickets as early as possible. Nothing new here - it is market mechanism where rail companies interested to receive your money as soon as possible, while in return to offer potential passengers some limited number of promo/discounted tickets for very low price. But since the number of such cheap train tickets is always limited it means potential passengers need to act soon, thus buy tickets as soon as possible - the earlier you purchase your train ticket, the better chances you have to catch lowest fare. Basically this is win-win situation for both sides - passengers have a chance to travel really cheaply, while rail companies besides direct promotion of their services also receive your money earlier than the day of your journe. In this situation passengers main goal is to purchase discounted promo tickets as soon as possible, while such in advance travel planning will be rewarded with bargain fares. Buying your rail tickets in advance usually is the easiest and simplest way to save, especially since in majority of European railway companies sell discounted tickets online via official websites. The only obvious inconvenience with such discounted rail tickets is the fact that in many cases they are tied to some specific train and day, often without a possibility of exchange or refund. For more details about specific countries and railway companies please see our “Countries” section
- Rather often you do not know the exact date/time of the journey or not sure about the route, or simply need to travel right away, thus have no chance to buy discounted ticket in advance etc. Does it necessarily mean that you will have to pay for the full fare expensive ticket? No. Simplest decision in such situations is to avoid 'expensive' high-speed trains (like TGV in France, EuroStar, ICE in Germany, Frecce trains in Italy etc.). Instead simply try to rely on regional or local trains. Besides the benefit of much lower tariff passenger using regional/local trains also don't need to pay any additional supplements or purchase any seat reservations. Obviously with regional/local trains and potential need to make changes on the way you might lose in terms of travel time, but on the contrary you can save on tickets fare while not thinking about buying your tickets long time in advance
- Another possibility to save money on rail travel in Europe is to take advantage of domestic vs. international tariff differences. However absurd it might sound, but in some cases international tickets actually can be cheaper than domestic ones, so it does make sense on certain occasions simply to use international train ticket for a domestic journey. Besides that international ticket has quite a number of benefits useful for a traveler: in cases when it's most common European international tariff (SCIC-NRT) ticket isn't tied to any specific train or date, thus not just allows a number of stopovers, but also due to long validity period (15 days) can be used as a type of rail pass for certain predefined route. Meaning that passenger can 'substitute' couple domestic tickets with only one through international ticket. The only nuance is that in many Western European countries rail companies either don't issue SCIC-NRT tariff tickets or issue them under much worse conditions (like shorter validity period), but in Central Europe SCIC-NRT tickets are still very common and popular type of ticket giving a good deal of flexibility to many travelers. So if you happen to be somewhere in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria etc. you do have a chance to buy fully flexible SCIC-NRT tickets for almost any of your travels in Western Europe. Just as an illustration: SCIC-NRT return ticket Dover-Inverness (gives a chance to see the whole UK) with unlimited stops and 15 days validity period cost just 267,5 EUR. Or one way Konstanz to Geneve (via Zurich, Bern, Lausanne etc.) for only 78 euro. Or Hamburg-Munich via entire Germany for 143 euro etc. And this is not even the final discount you can get, since if you plan to purchase a number of such SCIC-NRT tickets you might think about obtaining Rail Plus discount card (in most countries it usually cost 25 euro for adults and 15 euro for <26 and >60 years old). This rail card valid for one year on almost all the European railways (including UK) gives 25% discount for all of the above quoted fares or any other international SCIC-NRT tickets.
For more specific advice, fares for any particular routes or further questions/comments please address our Forum page