Ok, but how? Tips & tricks for international train travel for TUe staff (and others interested!)
Whether you do it for environmental reasons, comfortable seating options, the convenience of having your luggage at arm’s reach, or perhaps a secret fear of flying, taking the train is an amazing way to transport yourself to your next business destination. Booking your first (or second, or third) train trip, can be a daunting task. Therefore, in this overview, we have curated our list of tips & tricks on planning, booking and enjoying your long-distance train journey.
Any advice or experiences you’d like to share too? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we are happy to add them!
Planning your journey
Good planning really is half the work when it comes to travelling by train, but it is surely not an easy task. Of course, you can always ask friends or colleagues (including those at the secretary offices) with more experience for help! If you find yourself without any train-enthusiasts nearby, feel free to take a look at the tips below on planning.
- One part of the ‘Trias Mobilica’ that supports sustainable mobility is about effective planning, so try and see how you can get the most out of the trip. Open your calendar: when can you leave, when should you arrive, and when do you need to return home? Perhaps you have the flexibility to combine your conference or project visit abroad with something else. Maybe you can take a few extra days to work remote at a partner university along the route, or take the time for some nice holidays? This might make your travel more fun and easier to manage. For inspiration: one of our LCT-team members wrote a blog about combining a train holiday in the Balkans with a conference in Milan for the Dutch eco-reizen platform.
- Many paths lead to your destination. By the end of 2023, the TU/e is expected to publish a map of places easily accessible by train from Eindhoven. Until then, you may find this overview from Utrecht University with travel time and CO2 comparisons for different journeys a good starting point. This map which destinations are easy to reach by train and compares travelling by train and plane. You might be surprised at how some destinations are much easier to reach by train than by plane!
- An alternative map you can use this Interrail railroad map to see the high speed and intercity train network and get a feeling for connection quality (click the yellow ‘download’-button to open a detailed pdf with a map and routes on scale). A good connection with few stops will make your journey much faster and often more comfortable.
- The NS international website also gives some information on popular international routes, for example to Berlin, Vienna and throughout France with the Thalys. In general, train operators do not always show all possible routes, so it can be worth comparing and/or switch to Trainline or simply Google Maps early on.
- Take a look at the Trainline-booking website to get a (near) complete overview of prices and specific journey options. Make sure to consider the number of transfers and transfer time. Fewer transfers can mean less hassle and lower risk of missing a train due to a delay. Also, you can compare prices easily. Booking early (say 2 or 3 months in advance) pays off, so do this if you can. See the next paragraph for more booking details.
- You can also consider taking a night train. The Nightjet train, for example, travels from Amsterdam, Utrecht or Arnhem to many locations outside of the Netherlands. There is often quite a large variation in seat options, from (not so comfortable) chairs to private cabins which can be perfect if you travel together. Women can also opt for ‘female-only’ cabins.
- Want to know more details of what to expect? Check out Seat61, with many blog posts about various train journeys including pictures of different train interiors.
Booking a train
If you know pretty much when you want to travel and via which route, you can book your train(s). The aforementioned Trainline website is our favourite dedicated website to find and compare train journeys. We recommend booking your whole journey at one provider (e.g. NS or Deutsche Bahn) as this can be easier to e.g. get some money back if there are delays or you have other service-related questions.
- You can check options at various international train booking websites. Note that prices can change depending on where you book. These include:
- Thetrainline.com for all international timetables and booking
- Dutch NS
- German Deutsche Bahn
- The French SNCF
- NS international has a very helpful service desk, both physical (in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Rotterdam, Schiphol and Utrecht) and via phone (+31 30 23 000 23). If you plan on taking a bicycle you need to book in person.
- Sometimes you need a credit card or PayPal to book. If you do not own one, perhaps your secretariat can help, or you can try another website.
- Although it might seem nice to opt for the quickest journey, do take enough time for transfers. Train delays are unfortunately very common, and you want to avoid missing your transfer. It is better to spend additional time at a station than to miss your transfer.
- Most train companies recommend you reserve a seat, and so do we! It can be a pain to find empty seats on a full train, and having to sit in the hallway or stand, is not worth the money savings. This is also the case with overnight trains, and especially during the holiday season.
- For an additional fee, you can usually make it easier to change or cancel your journey.
- Especially for overnight trains: double check departure dates!
- Did you know interrail is not just for adolescents? They can provide an affordable and flexible (last-minute!) options. E.g. for 270EUR you can travel 4 days in 1 month (do the test what pass suits you best here). Note that reservation costs for specific legs may increase costs somewhat more and you do need to book your seat which may include an extra fee, you can check your specific reservation requirements here.
- Do you travel by train to a specific country a lot? A discount card may be useful. Also make sure to tick the boxes of your Dutch discount card if you own one.
Enjoying the ride
You are all set to go. What to expect and bear in mind?
- You can download the travel app of the country you travel in on your smartphone, to check before hand for delays, etc. The NS international app also offers most journey info. Usually, you can set the language to English.
- Print your tickets. In most countries a QR-code or ticket on your smartphone is fine, but better safe than sorry.
- If you feel a transfer time might be tight, you can often travel half an hour or an hour early in a similar train type with your own ticket (always the case in the NL!).
- Make sure to know what to do in case your train is cancelled our you miss your transfer. Figuring this out beforehand can safe you a lot of stress.
- If your train takes you outside the EU, customs will be part of your train journey. In some countries, custom checks will be performed in the train (e.g. Denmark), but in other countries (e.g. the UK), this happens before boarding the train. When the check takes place outside of the train, it will take some time. In our experience, arriving half an hour to an hour early leaves you plenty of time (rather than the communicated 1+ hour) but no guarantees!
- Wi-fi may be available on the train but the signal strength varies so you may want to bring other forms of work or entertainment. In all EU countries you can also use your own hotspot without additional costs.
- Pack for snacks! You may have delays and shorter transfer times than anticipated so it is nice to not have to get anxious over water or food. Many stations have water fountains to refill your bottle but they can be tricky to locate. Most German and high-speed trains have (cozy) on-board restaurants too, and night trains tend to include a (small) breakfast.
- It can be nice to have one bag(pack) with your valuables, tickets, food and on-board activity gear by hand, and a separate bag with luggage which you can store under or above your seat.
- Note that sometimes you need to switch train stations within a city. We have experienced this in e.g. London and Paris. Make sure to have your Google maps ready and if needed do research before-hand on payment system for e.g. a metro. Or keep it simple and get a taxi. This quickly pays off with a group. You may also want to consider walking, e.g. from London St Pancras to London Euston (with a train to e.g. Manchester) is quite a nice fifteen minute walk. Perfect if you’re with a trolley and it’s nice to stretch your legs!
During the journey
- Relax! Since you are not driving the train, there is nothing much you can do about delays and what not. Checking train times every five minutes, is not helping anyone.
- Do check whether your next train is delayed, canceled, or departs from a different platform when you near your stop.
- When in doubt, ask a staff member on board or go to an information booth at the train station. Especially if you are new to international train it can be comfortable to book through NS international, as they are available via phone 24/7, quite helpful, and fluent in Dutch and English.
Some words of encouragement
As with many things – the first part is the hardest. Hopefully, our tips can help to ease your nerves and embark on your journey well-prepared. All that is left now, is enjoy what we hope will be a comfortable and convenient trip to you. All done? Feel free to share your experience with us at the Low Carbon Travel Initiative. And of course: get ready to book your next train travel!
Not done yet exploring? Get inspiration from the blogs of the Low Carbon Travel-team at TUe.