Exploring Europe is invariably an exciting and edifying experience. With its incomparable museums, incredible cuisine, and other remarkable cultural experiences, it can be easy to get so caught up in the wonder of the moment that you forget to account for less exciting aspects of the trip, like local transportation. While less fun than planning an outing to a world-renowned art gallery or restaurant, it is nonetheless vital to have a comprehensive understanding of transportation options. Outside your hotel, ten minutes before your scheduled reservation at a Michelin Star restaurant is not the time or place to decide on the best mode of local transportation or to familiarize yourself with traffic laws or railway schedules. Simple preparation can mean the difference between a singular life experience and a ruined trip, or even financial liability.
Both automobile rental and railway travel have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s up to you to decide which mode of transportation is the best choice for your situation. In the end, you may decide that a combination of options makes the most sense for your trip.
Automobile travel indisputably offers more flexibility and freedom than a train bound by set schedules, but requires more time investment to utilize responsibly. Take into account that you must be familiar with the local traffic laws of all your destination regions, and will be responsible for navigating unfamiliar streets in an unfamiliar country all on your own. While for some the sense of exploration may be part of the allure of travel, others may find the possible failure to observe local traffic laws and complex parking rules to come with too much risk and responsibility. It is important to brush up on any driving requirements for each region you plan to visit and make sure your car rental agency allows you to pick up a car in one country and drop off in another, if that is part of your trip. Also, be sure that your online navigation system is international and will work seamlessly across borders. Finally, make sure you are comfortable driving on the other side of the road if visiting a country like the United Kingdom, as some visitors find the change to be quite disorienting.
Rail travel is generally reliable and widely available across Europe, but is far less flexible than automobile travel and holds some hazards and complications of its own. If you intend to use a local commuter rail, become familiar with the railway’s schedule as well as station layout, and the locations of stops relative to your intended destination. You may need to take an alternate mode of transportation, like a cab, bus or tram, once you get off the train. In certain areas and at certain peak travel times, cramped conditions in the train car may be uncomfortable and may make it easier for petty criminals like pickpockets to relieve unwary travelers of their wallets, phones or other items. If you are concerned about seating, you may wish to seek out a premium class train ticket, which offers the benefits of a quieter cabin and a plush, comfortable assigned seat. Finally, take into account that for many one of the most enjoyable aspects of European travel is that you can enjoy the journey from the comfort of a train window, and coffee or a meal, without having to worry about navigation or traffic.
Whichever transport option you choose, be conscious of its pros and cons and be sure to compare and purchase travel insurance before you leave to ensure that you can enjoy your European vacation without worry. Safe travels!