Friday, May 4, 2012

Europe by Train: The Budget Challenge

Harry Potter with his Hogwart Express which depart from platform 9 3/4 in London King's Cross train station or Mission Impossible with its roof top view from Budapest Nyugati Railway Terminal are 2 of many movies that capture a normal part of European routine: train travel, hustle and bustle in a grande railway station.

But it is true when you are in Europe (at least when I was there), you are never too far from a train station - either it is 'Gare' in Paris, 'Bahnhof' in Berlin, 'Nadrazi' in Prague, 'Estacio' in Barcelona, 'Stazione Ferrovia' in Venice and not forget to mention local train station such as Metro or RER station. Europe is densely integrated with Railway, making the train or 'renfe' or 'spoor' or 'tren' as the best transportation method to weave the way around there.

Travel Notes
For me who was being nomaden in 7 countries (10 cities) in 17 days criss-crossing the continent, train is the winner for making the journey become a delighted excursion that finally turn into part of our memory. Some of the routes is scenic, but seeing the livelihood or how the local live when the railway passing through a village/city or seeing the changes of architecture style when the railway passing through the border was another new experience for the eyes and mind.

Europe Train Map 2012.
Taken from Eurail website

My consideration in choosing train compare to other transportation mode in Europe:
1. Spare time provided before departure 
Do not need to rush to go to the station; 1 hour before the train departure will be more than enough (15 minutes if you are sure about the platform location). Compare to airport which will took 2 hours for check in (not in a rush), security check (not in a rush), etc.
2. Location 
Usually train station located in city central, again compare to airport which usually located in it is easier to reach. Most of hotel/hostel located really near to the train station.
3. Luggage 
Do not need to worry about cabin baggage. Everytime I use budget airline, I will need to do extensive packing since only 1 hand luggage (include your camera bag or women handbag) allowed in passenger cabin and the other (only) 1 should be in checked baggage (which has limited weight). By using train, I do not need to worry about that :). Not to forget time needed in baggage claim after your arrival.
4. Scenery
As mention before by using train we still can indulge our eyes, we still can oversee the surrounding.
5. Time spent during the journey
In case of high speed train, usually it is faster than the bus and slightly different with plane (include check in time, baggage claim and time needed tor reach city center).

The Budget & The Tips
Maybe you have heard from some people that budget required for train especially long distance and high speed train is way expensive. But during my Eurotrip preparation I found that statement above can be true as well as can be wrong.

There are several alternatives to buy the train ticket. The famous one would be to buy 'Pass' either it is 1-Country Pass, Multiple Countries Pass, Regional Pass or even Global Pass. If you want to buy those pass, my advice would be to do detail calculation on your train travelling frequency versus the price. If you travel less with certain countries like me, I found that it is more beneficial to buy point-to-point tickets.

Total cost would be 300.8 Euro (395 USD). With condition I travel through 6 countries with 8 days of train travel. As comparison if I buy Multiple Countries Pass (5 countries) with 7 days of train travel will cost 549 USD (saver rate on 4-May-2012, since I travel as couple). And as addition, I still need to buy additional point-to-point tickets for the rest of my journey.

Chasing the discounted rate:
1. Go directly to the official website from each country
For example when I want to book train from Prague to Berlin, then I will check Czech and Germany train website. Then I do the comparison. Usually they will offer the lowest price and not to forget lot of discounted rate.
2. Do booking in advance
Each of the train website has their own time window for ticket booking. Some of them can be book 3 months prior or 2 months. You will need to know thus you can do the booking just in time when they open the selling window. Usually there is significant earlybird discount.
3. Some luck
Yes for sure, since the discount ticket is limited.

- Thalys
You can get until 80% discount (like me) if you buy 3-months in advance. Buy directly from the Thalys website. But you need credit card issued in Europe countries to do the online booking.
- Trenitalia
Don't be tricked with rate listed in your search result. Click to the specific train first, then usually you will find discounted fare inside (mini rate).
- Ceske Drahy EShop
Remember that the window time is 60 days prior the journey. It offer 50% discount for the train ticket.

Not too depressing from the budget side right :)

Personal Notes
How far would I go for the discounted rate? Almost will do everything I guess.
For Thalys, since I don't have any credit card issued in Europe countries, I ask for my friend's help who stay there to buy me the ticket. Actually I try to reach a lot of person (even friend from a friend). But luckily at the end I get those tickets for free (at least until now) from one of my friend consider it is my wedding gift.

When I do the booking for TGV from SNCF (France), I could not find English version in it. So during the booking, I copy paste all the information to google translate. And it is applied to most of the tickets booked from their origin country's website, usually the ticket is in their language. Google Translate is really critical! :)
My Train Ticket from Prague to Berlin
'There is a will, there is a way' would be the perfect sentence!

If you want to buy pass, some of the website are below:
Europe by Train (for Indonesian):

Official website used by me:
Trenitalia (for train in Italy):
Ceske Drahy (for train in Czech):
SNCF (for train in France):
SBB (for train in Switzerland):
Bahn (for train in Germany):

Berlin Hauptbahnhof
“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard


  1.'s so cool and helpful info and please take me also for your next journey, will you? Hehehe..

  2. I wonder whether I should the comment in english or not, huehehe, I believe that train is the best way to travel around europe and you're so lucky to get that promo, especially for Thalys!! So, nothing is impossible (if you try a bit harder) :)

    For me I got lot of promo from Eurolines (bus), one thing why I prefer bus to train is, there is luggage storage for bus under the bus, while for train, you can put it above your seats, however, it's not that easy to do it especially with a heavy backpack, gak gak gak kuaat, hihihi, penting banget deh ini.

    Eh, btw, sempet ngambil video gak waktu di kereta? g nyesel deh gak ngambil video samsek, padahal lumayan footage2 gtu bisa dipake buat apa lahh someday. Waiting for your next post!