Like us, you are probably already planning rail trips for 2013. Our New Year resolutions are to remember the slow train (always much more fun than the high-speed services) and give time to those smaller communities through which we have so often passed but which we have never taken time to explore. Europe at speed is much like the rest of the world, but the view from the slow train is very different. The slow train reveals a continent of beguiling variety and — at its best — delicate beauty.
Here are a trio of tips for budget travelers who don’t want to book their rail journeys months in advance.
1. Check for local and regional travel passes.
Global pass options (such as those marketed under both InterRail and Eurail schemes) can be a wonderful value if you are really making long hops by rail across Europe. If your geographical horizons are more limited, it is always worth checking for local passes that cover your intended travel area. The target markets for such passes are often budget-conscious locals rather than well-heeled visitors.
Many areas of Europe have such passes. Here are just three examples from among the hundreds of offers available.
Italy: The Mobilcard Alto Adige allows unlimited travel on selected mainline and mountain railways, buses and cable cars in the Südtirol area of northern Italy. There are various options, but the top-of-the-range seven-day pass is just €28.
Britain: The Derbyshire Wayfarer is a rover ticket allowing unlimited travel on trains and buses in much of the scenic Peak District. Its validity extends beyond merely Derbyshire, for it can be used on journeys from Derbyshire to selected points in five adjacent counties. It costs £11.10 for a day.
Germany: The Bayern Ticket is valid on most trains and buses in the German State of Bavaria (as well as on selected cross-border journeys to neighboring German states and into Austria). It costs €22 for one person for a day (with each accompanying traveler paying just €4 extra).
2. Think about return tickets.
If you are buying tickets as you go, rather than using a rail pass or pre-booking discount rail fares, bear in mind that a return may not cost much more than a single. Here are two examples:
Britain: Roll up at Kings Cross station in London at mid-morning on a busy weekday, expecting to travel at once to Scotland, and you will pay mightily for the privilege of traveling so spontaneously. The single fare to Edinburgh will set you back a hefty £125.70. But for just one pound more you can bag a return ticket from London to Edinburgh.
3. Consider stopovers.
On many journeys across Europe by train, it pays to buy a ticket through to the most distant point and then make use of any break-of-journey privileges that might apply to that ticket.
Take the case above, where we showed how on many long-distance journeys in Britain you can often pay just one pound extra for a return rather than a single ticket. The return half of such tickets is generally valid for a month and it is perfectly possible to stop off along the way. So there is no reason why you cannot break your journey from Edinburgh back to London with a night or two in Durham and then again in York. Indeed you can even vary your route: for example speeding north from London direct to Edinburgh via the East Coast route, but returning back to London via the West Coast – breaking your journey, for example, in the Lake District.
Think creatively about how you can map stopovers into your journey. A Berlin to Vienna ticket, for example, will usually allow you to break your journey at no extra cost in both Dresden and Prague. Do get specialist advice, though, when you buy the ticket. The rules on breaks of journey are famously complicated. With some tickets you may need to specify the place and duration of any break of journey at the time of purchase.
Happy traveling in 2013.