Is it possible to travel on budget in Western Europe or 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 experts will try to provide a few tips on European rail travel, guide you through the realm of cheap tickets, rail offers and the whole 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 which part of Europe you are traveling in. Countries like France, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Switzerland or Italy have reliable and rather good working rail systems, where modern trains can help passengers to 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 making 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?
We strongly believe that if you know how the tariff systems work or at least have a considerable amount of experience in 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 people do. Interested? Our team is glad to share with you some of those useful tariff secrets, so let's look at a few simple tips for budget rail travel:
- While speaking about expensive (in terms of traveling by rail) 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 most other countries basically developed a ticket sale system that encourages passengers to buy rail tickets as early as possible. It's a market mechanism, companies interested to receive your money as soon as possible, while in return usually offer passengers a limited number of promo tickets for very low price, but since the number of such cheap train tickets is limited, passengers need to act, thus buy them as soon as possible - the earlier you purchase your train ticket, the better chances are to catch lowest fare for your dreamt rail journey. A win-win situation for both sides - passengers have a chance to travel really cheap, while rail companies besides direct promotion of their services also receive you money as early as possible. As result our (as passengers) main goal is to purchase discounted promo tickets as soon as possible, and such cleverness will be rewarded with bargain fares. Buying your rail tickets in advance is the easiest way to save, especially since in almost case railway companies sell discounted tickets online via official website. The only obvious inconvenience with such discounted rail tickets is the fact that in many cases they are tied to a 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 route, or simply need to travel right away, thus having no chance to buy the ticket in advance etc. It still doesn't necessarily mean that you will have to pay a lot (meaning full fare). Simplest decision in such cases is to avoid 'expensive' high-speed trains (like TGV in France, EuroStar, ICE in Germany etc.). Instead simply try to rely on regional or local trains. Besides the benefit of a lower tariff (which regional train usually have) passenger also have no need to pay any additional supplements or buy 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.
- 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 tariff 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 case it's most common European international tariff (SCIC-NRT/TCV tariff) ticket isn't tied to a specific train or date, thus not just allowing a number of stopovers, but also due to long validity period (up to 1 month) can act as a type of rail pass for a certain predefined route. Meaning you can 'substitute' few 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/TCV tariff tickets or issue them under much worse conditions (like shorter validity period), but in most of the Central Europe SCIC-NRT tickets are still a common and popular type of ticket giving a good deal of flexibility to a traveler. 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/TCV tariff ticket for you further travel in Western Europe. Just as an illustration: SCIC-NRT/TCV return ticket Dover-Inverness with unlimited stops and validity period of one month cost just 230 EUR. Or Konstanz-Geneve via Zurich, Bern, Lausanne for only 66 euro (one-way). Or Hamburg-Munich via whole Germany for 134 euro (one-way) etc. Plus this is not even the final discount you can get, since if you plan to purchase a number of such SCIC-NRT/TCV tariff tickets you can obtain Rail Plus discount card (in most countries it usually cost 25 euro for adults and 15 euro for <26 and >60 years old) Card valid for one year on almost all European railways (including UK) and gives 25% discount from the above quoted fare.
For more specific advice, fares for any particular routes or further questions/comments please address our Forum page