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6 tips for exploring europe on the tracks

Whether it be a word of warning to take extra caution with those pesky ‘2 metre long’ fish, that are rumored to drift in Lake Bled’s Cobalt waters in Slovenia – or simply some solid advice to avoid Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships if the lengthy and overflowing train journey over to the Croatian capital has left a little atmosphere in the air between you and the partner, the guidance on Interrailing or Eurailing around Europe comes in its droves. One thing that you’re guaranteed to spend a fair amount of time doing however– whether you like it or not – and which people don’t seem to touch too much on is of course spending hours on a number of the best trains Europe has to offer. So here are my Top 6 European travel tips, exclusively for the tracks.

Straight shooting city to city trains are only a part of it.

Always try to scope out what your train options are before you set off. This has nothing to do with punctuality or organization, but scenic train routes are in abundance across Europe – and some really need to be seen to be believed. Exploring the Swiss alps from the comfort of the Glacier express for example is an experience in itself, turning the journey into an attraction. The glass panelled roof of the carriages give you a vulture like panoramic mountain view, as the train flies through the Oberalp pass at over 2000m above sea level. If like me, heights are not exactly your strong suit, drop back down to the oceans and exploit the free or discounted ferries available from the Baltic to the Adriatic – Just know that getting from capital to capital may be the fastest, but it’s never the only way.

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Night trains are unfortunately not all they’re cracked up to be

Sorry guys, but don’t see night trains as being the answers to all of your prayers when staring worryingly at that ever-growing schedule, or list of ‘must sees’. I’ve seen countless articles praising their time saving talents, and in theory there right on the button – but reality is a very different thing. Sleeping on a train is difficult at the best of times, and on the nicest of trains. This experience however is on an entirely different level inside the very picturesque, yet ancient locomotives that still roam Eastern Europe. Don’t let their charm fool you. They’ll break your spirit and your spine, and with it any urge you have to go exploring in the morning – All to save only a few euros after you’ve paid an additional fee for the bed anyway, it just defeats the point of it all.

Just take a second to think about whats going in that bag

Carrying a small bag to have next to you on trains is a great idea. Pack a few books, a bottle of water of course (which can be a lifesaver when travelling between countries, as another nations possibly less funded railway lines may be lacking in aircon and opening windows), a small bite to eat maybe, …But don’t, and I plead with you on this one, don’t be that guy (or gal of course) that conjures a mountain of a meal out of their bag on a crowded train. I love Curry Wurst and Belgian Waffles as much as the next backpacker, and it would be hard to find better Ravioli outside of Italy, but hauling such messy delights out on a train commuting into central Paris is sure to make you unpopular with the locals – and fellow tourists alike. As hilarious as it is to see happen, one sharp turn and the stranger beside you is walking off of the platform covered in Tomato, as are you.

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Seat reservations can come in pretty handy

Definately check out prices for reserving seats if you have the chance, even when it isn’t mandatory. I recommend this really for two situations. Firstly, for those travelling in pairs or groups; on a 6 hour trip from Amsterdam to Berlin, Sitting with each-other can make the journey that bit less dull. The only exception to this of course is if you’re still nursing a hangover from the night before, in which I suggest you move as far down the train as possible from that lying friend who promised they wouldn’t constantly want to play some form of travel game with you for the next four weeks of your lives. Secondly, for that position everyone finds themselves in at one point, in which you are given 5 seconds to jump from one train to the next to make your connection, which happens to be on a platform 17 miles away. Reserve a seat at the front of the carriage. It still doesn’t make you The Flash, but it does put the odds that bit more in your favour.

Mix things up with Eastern European trains

Try to have a good East/West balance on your Euro-Trip. Now these tips are exclusively for the train travel aspect of the journey, but this point is just as relative here. Despite rapid modernization on Eastern Europe’s side, the trains are still dramatically different in a fantastic manner in many regions. Inland Poland will see you riding some marvellous antiques. Alongside this however, the landscape of the former eastern bloc paints an entirely different picture of how you come to view the continent. It’s certainly my preferred direction to head in when it comes to European travel.

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Fill your journey with characters.

Try to make an effort to sit next to other fellow Inter-railers on trains every now and again. Backpackers are a pretty unique breed who are never hard to miss (the giant rucksack and somewhat proud unkempt-ness usually gives it away), but if all else fails look for the trusty wristband. Finally sharing that story of when you were embarrassingly robbed on a night train on the outskirts of Germany now seems a lot funnier than it was at the time, and will do even more so once you get a story in return from the formerly respectable looking student who after a few weeks on the tracks now looks like Jesus. Meeting people is one of the best things about travelling and they will shape the trip you remember. Alongside that, never be close minded. Inter-rail passes are not just given out to people under 30, and tourists certainly are not the only people who use the train services around Europe. Generally speaking, older travellers, as well as locals have a lot more knowledge to share and stories to tell, So that beaten track that you have consistently failed at veering off of for the last couple of weeks… They will be your golden ticket to success!

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