7 tips for booking train tickets in Europe
Here's a quick rundown on how to get the best deals for inter-city rail travel in Europe.
1. European websites frequently sell tickets at lower prices. For example, French Railways often supplies lower prices on its website for tickets that are identical to the ones it sells via RailEurope.com, an American agency. To be sure, agencies like RailEurope.com sometimes do provide superlow deals, such as a current discount of 50 percent off train tickets on Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam routes. (Details here.) Still...you gotta shop around--and not merely rely on American sites for one-stop shopping--if you want the best deal.
2. English speakers living in the U.S. can still buy discounted tickets through European websites. Your first stop online should be at Seat61.com. This amazingly helpful British website offers step-by-step advice on how to pinpoint the best route for your desired itinerary...and also how to find the cheapest tickets. (The site's editor, Mark Smith, answered reader questions yesterday at BudgetTravel.com. Transcript here.)
3. Booking at the last-minute? There may be a deal for you online, too. In the same way that airlines offer last-minute deals to fill empty seats, Europe's rail networks have deeply discounted point-to-point tickets. You'll find examples here.
4. You can only buy a Eurorail ticket in the U.S. but it's not always your cheapest option for rail travel in Europe. Says Mark Smith, "In theory, Eurail tickets can ONLY be bought outside Europe, as they are intended for overseas visitors. But in many cases you'll find ordinary point-to-point tickets are a cheaper option, especially if you book direct with the European rail operators at their own website rather than through an expensive US agency, and especially if you are prepared to pre-book tickets on a no-refunds, no-changes-to-travel-plans basis so as to take advantage of European railways' various budget-airline-beating special train deals."
5. Get your timing right. The most intuitive way to figure out train times for any European rail journey is to visit the website of the German rail line Deutsche Bahn, which has comprehensive listings for all major European train companies. But the website makes it difficult for Americans to purchase travel, so book your tickets at RailEurope, Railpass.com, or European Rail. These sites offer point-to-point tickets, rail passes, and student discounts. For railpasses for travel within the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, visit Railkey's website.
6. Know that booking tickets on the "Chunnel" between London and Paris can be tricky for Americans. Eurostar offers fares and times for routes reaching London, Paris, Brussels, and other nearby destinations. But Eurostar's website doesn't offer reservations for overnight trains. Expect to make such reservations by phone instead. Another warning: Eurostar will not mail tickets to the U.S., but you can dodge this problem by booking your Eurostar tickets at Eurostar.com. The site will give you a choice of picking up your tickets at Waterloo station in London or having your tickets be mailed to a British address, such as your hotel, says rail expert Mark Smith. If your train will travel on through France, after stopping in Paris via the underground Chunnel, then opt to pick up your onward tickets at any major ticket office in France, says Smith.
7. Look beyond Europe's best-known tourist destinations. Europe's train systems make it easy to take a day-trip to a place outside of a well-known capital--and still be back in time for dinner. Here are BudgetTravel.com's ideas for adding on day-trips out of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen,
Related: Europe's newest high-speed train, the TGV East between Paris and Strasbourg, is a hit with Americans after just one day in operation," reports the Los Angeles Times.
Where does the Guinness man go on vacation?
Fergal Murray's job is to visit about 400 Irish pubs worldwide every year... As one of eight master brewers for Guinness, the Irish stout maker, Murray is an international ambassador for the brand. This year he expects to hopscotch Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean over the course of about 20 weeks. He will, as always, be thanking pub owners for selling Guinness and offering tips on how to store and pour the beverage. Given his broad travel experience, Murray knows by heart a variety of spots worth visiting. His favorite place to take his family on vacation is Quinta do Lago, an oceanside resort town in Algarve, the most southern region of Portugal. Last year he went there with his wife and their two sons, a one-year old and a four-year old. Here's what he has to say about the place: "I would recommend it for American families for a few reasons. First, the town's restaurants and hotels are set up to entertain small children. You can walk into any restaurant with two kids and let the kids be themselves without feeling self-conscious as a parent. The pools are designed to be safe for children, and there's always someone around to mind them. Second, the weather's good and the beaches are fantastic. Third, it's a favorite destination of Irish and British families, but I'd be totally surprised if any American family visits there. So if you are an American visiting the town, you will truly feel like you are visiting another country because none of your fellow citizens will be near you, while you'll still enjoy the benefits of child-friendly facilities and English-speaking staff." While I chatted with Murray, I had a few pressing questions to ask that weren't precisely travel related, but he was kind enough to answer them anyway... Is there any downside to your job as master brewer? I can't stand being served a bad pint. And this causes a problem when I'm out with my wife and two kids. I'll be served a bad pint--It even happens in Dublin from time to time--and I'll want to throttle them. My wife will say, "You're not going to do that, now are you?" and then she'll go off somewhere else because she doesn't want to hear any more about How to Pour the Perfect Guinness, and she knows it's going to take an hour for me to instruct the bartenders. Maybe they need to clean the lines, or change the mix of gas, or make sure that someone behind the bar is fully engaged, instead of looking at blond at the end of the bar. How does a person become a Guinness master brewer? There's a bit of drinking involved, of course. But primarily it's a process, a craft. You join Guinness at some stage of your life, and you experience it, and when you've experienced enough, you take exams and get accredited by an external organization. It takes about ten years of experience, and the exams are fairly challenging, covering everything from running a power plant to the chemistry of beer. You spent three years in Nigeria working for Guinness. What was the deal with that? In Nigeria, they don't have the same infrastructure, generally speaking, for serving draft Guinness at the ideal temperature. So we concentrated on marketing our beer by the bottle. The Guinness stout sold there is about 7.5 percent alcohol, while in the 'States it's about 5 percent and in Europe it's about 5.5 percent. We vary the alcohol level primarily to accommodate local tastes and regulations and storage methods. What's your favorite pub in Quinta do Lago? De Barra. It has an outside deck, great beer, and great craic (the Irish term for good conversation). Learn more about Algarve and Quinta do Lago at VisitPortugal.com. For discounted travel to Portugal, check out a recent Real Deal for airfare and a week in Lisbon and Porto from $1,044. Earlier: Learn about kid-friendly places to stay in Europe by clicking here.
Are fees to the national parks getting too high?
Readers have reacted to This Just In's recent blog post about proposed hikes in National Park admission fees. Here are some of your comments: "I know this site is about budget travel, but you should be pointing out what an incredible bargain the parks are, even with the fee increase, rather than whining about it. The parks are being loved to death and are in severe need of additional funding for maintenance and repair projects. Without an increase in fees, your next whine will be about the poor conditions in the parks."--anonymous reader, Oregonian "As a big fan of our great parks, I am always concerned about maintenance. It seems like more is always needed so a hike may be justified if properly used.--Richard Reina "Although more money is needed for the National Parks, they were established for all people regardless of ability to pay and they should have a minimal entry fee but since we already pay dearly through taxes, there should only be very small to no raises."--Earl Meanwhile, the leading author and expert on the National Parks, Kurt Repanshek, clearly explains "the real cost of visiting a national park" in this blog post at National Parks Traveler. The money quote: "If we don't do something, it seems the Park Service chances pricing vast numbers of Americans out of the national park landscapes and experiences. And that not only will cut down on the ranks of park advocates, but it will surely increase the costs for those few who can afford the price. And where will that leave the parks?" By the way, you can discuss this issue with Kurt--as well as ask other questions about how to plan a visit to a national park--in a live chat at BudgetTravel.com on Tuesday, May 22. You can submit your questions now by clicking here. </p> <p> </p> <p>_uacct = "UA-1844627-1";</p> <p>urchinTracker();</p> <p>
Today's travel intel
Fly to Germany on a $500 round-trip airfare (after taxes). The little-known German airline LTU International Airways is holding a fare sale for departures this month from Ft. Myers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City. For example, round-trip flights departing this month between New York City and Munich start at $318, plus taxes of about $120. Or fly between Miami and Berlin for round-trip fares starting at $368, plus taxes of about $150. Details here. One downside of LTU is that its departures are infrequent. For instance, it flies merely twice a week from Las Vegas to Germany. Its fares also do not show up in the search results of many online travel websites, such as Kayak.com, so you may want to comparison shop at LTU.com when researching a trip to Germany. (Related note: You can read about Germany's Fairy-Tale Castle Hotels by clicking here.) Freebies in Delaware. On Saturday, May 19, residents can flash their driver's license or student ID to get free access to any of 48 attractions in the state, such as Monster Racing Excitement at the Dover Speedway, Governor Ross Mansion, Fenwick Island Lighthouse, and the Museum of Small Town Life. Alas, the state's prime jewel, Longwood Gardens, isn't participating and will charge $14 per ticket as usual. Editor's Note: There's a good reason why Longwood Gardens isn't participating. It's in Pennsylvania, not Delaware. I regret the error, and thanks to reader Mike for pointing out the mistake. Memorial Day bed and breakfast deals. You'll find packages for stays in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio by clicking here. For other deals in these and other states, visit the excellent website BnBFinder.com. Hint: Click on its "Specials" page to find its most surprising deals. Jump-start your trip-planning for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing... Sales of event tickets don't start until September from the official source, CoSport.com, but tour companies are already planning their travel itineraries. Only one company is expected to be able to sell tour packages that include tickets, and that's Cartan Tours, which has debuted its 32-page brochure of packages. Find it here. (A tip: Despite its confusingly-worded instructions, you don't have to submit your personal information to see the brochure. Just click "next" on this website page.) The rates don't exactly shout "budget travel." The starting price for an air/hotel package, not including tickets, is $5,395 per person, plus taxes, which includes a four-night stay at a Courtyard by Marriott in Beijing.
We have a winner!
Congratulations to Steve Jackson, who has won our Blog-Off Contest through a popular vote of online readers. Steve's winning essay is titled "Dear First-Time Vietnam Visitor." (Read it here.) He had originally published the piece on his blog Our Man in Hanoi, which narrated his experiences as an ex-pat living in Vietnam. Steve now lives in Nicaragua, where he runs the aptly named blog, Our Man in Granada. We're excited to say that he will be guest-blogging here at This Just In starting the week of May 21. He'll also receive a $500 prize. We applaud every writer who entered the contest. There were so many good submissions! And thank you to all the readers who took the time to help pick a winner. </p> <p> </p> <p>_uacct = "UA-1844627-1";</p> <p>urchinTracker();</p> <p>