Other than a short trip through Hamburg for Tim’s work, our only experience with European train travel was using a BritRail Pass in 2009. It was a great experience and we enjoyed the freedom of having the pass for our trip from London to Scotland. We were able to travel north to Edinburgh and return from Glasgow and incorporate stops along the way.
For our upcoming trip from London to Lisbon we will be traveling through four countries and utilizing various rail systems. We also wanted to travel during the day to maximize the amount of time we would have to see the countryside of western France and Spain. Where to begin? After searching through many pages we realized that everything we needed was there for us at The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The wealth of information is amazing, but beware, as you can easily get distracted as you plan hundreds of amazing itineraries.
After looking through the material we found an itinerary that was just what we were looking for. We chose to take a longer and slightly more expensive four day journey from London to Lisbon via Paris, Irun, Vigo and Porto. The site laid out which trains to take, which stations they use, time for each leg and the estimated cost.
So the next question was how (and when) to book the tickets as the trip involved four different systems: Eurostar, TGF, Renfe and Portuguese Regional trains. We utilized Loco2 which is a British site that allows tickets to be purchased from Canada or almost anywhere you happen to be. One thing we hadn’t realized when we started researching was that most all of the European trains operate similar to airline style in that seats go on sale up to 3 months in advance and prices rise the closer you get to the departure date.
Once we had decided on the route we wanted and the dates, selection of our tickets was very straightforward on the site. You can view your seat selection (predetermined) at the time of booking. Some systems allow print at home ticketing while others require you to pick them up at the station using a reservation number. We were even able to purchase tickets on the the same transaction for the local British trains from London to Swindon where we will be house sitting.
We will let you know in October how we make out using the rail system itself, but for now we are very pleased with the ease in which we were able to research and purchase tickets. We are also trying out Tripit which collects all of our travel arrangements, reservations and information in one place with a handy app to use on the go. It is amazing how much technology can enable us to do once we take the opportunity to learn how to use it. We can’t imagine living this lifestyle without access to the tools that are currently available online.