Top 10 Tips For Train Travel in France

France enjoys one of the most modern, extensive, high-speed rail networks in the world. The renowned Tres Grande Vitesse (TGV) network will wisk you across the country in a just a few hours. And the Eurostar is heaven….central Paris to central London in a mere 2 hours 20 minutes. Here are some of my top tips for enjoying the trains in France.

1. First things first – if you’re heading out from Paris, know that there are 7 major train station, plus the Charles de Gaulle airport station, each serving a different region, based on proximity. Know where you’re headed.

Gare du Nord – Paris’ busiest train station, with Eurostar to London; also Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany

Gare du Lyon – Central and south-east France, French Riviera, French speaking part of Switzerland, Italy and connecting service into Spain through Montpellier

Gare de l’Est -Eastern France, Austria, Germany, German-speaking part of Switzerland

Gare Montparnasse – Western and south-western France (southern Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées) and north-western Spain.

Gare d’Austerlitz – South Central France, Toulouse and Pyrenees; night trains to south of France and Spain

Gare du Bercy – near Gare du Lyon, provides service for overnight trains to Italy: Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice

Charles de Gaulle – Gare Aeroport CDG – most convenient if you are flying in and making an immediate connection – you may not have to transfer to central Paris at all. Travel directly from the airport via high speed TGV to Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon and Nice.

Gare St. Lazare – serves Normandy, including Caen, Vernon, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Deauville, Lisieux

2. Travel like a local – Second class travel is just fine, and you’ll meet more Europeans that way. Who wants to be upfront with the business travelers? (ha!)

3. Don’t count on purchasing your ticket at the train station kiosks. Most accept only European credit cards that have a chip which U.S. issued cards don’t have. Purchase your France rail pass before you leave home, or purchase point to point tickets at the train station office. Check with a travel agent or Rail Europe website for details on the many great options. France rail passes are offered for 3-9 days of travel. If you plan to travel only 1 or 2 days, you’ll want point-to-point tickets. Also, if you have a short-haul trip in mind, it may be more cost effective to purchase a point-to-point ticket for that leg, and save your Rail Pass day for a longer, more expensive journey. here for the SNCF website which has point to point schedules and prices.

4. Eurail and France pass travelers, be aware that the high speed TGV trains and night trains ALWAYS require advance reservations, payment of a nominal fee, and space may be capacity controlled. Reserve your train early to ensure your place, especially at peak travel times. When I arrive in one station, I usually visit the ticket window before I leave to make reservations for the next leg of the journey. You can also make reservations in advance from your travel agent from whom you purchased your pass, or directly on Rail Europe’s reservation page.

5. Most French trains of any distance have an informal dining car, with drinks and snacks, and some even offer kids meals in a cute plastic zip container. Convenience can be pricey though. Take a tip from the locals and pick up a fresh baguette, some local cheeses, fresh fruit and beverage of choice before you head to the station, and enjoy your picnic onboard. Many train stations also have surprisingly good patisseries – yum! – and sell sandwiches to go (emporter, pronounced “ahm por tay”).

6. Travel light – chances are you’ll be lifting all the bags onto and off of the train by yourself. Most trains have overhead shelves to store smaller items. Storage areas for larger bags are at the ends of the cars, where you may not be able to keep an eye on your belongings. If you’re concerned about theft, bring along a bicycle-type lock to secure bags to the storage shelves.

7. Be alert – like any major gathering place in the world, train stations have their share of pickpockets. Carry cash, credit cards and passports in a money belt, and keep a watchful eye on your bags.

8. Note the platform your train will be leaving from and arrive early. You may need to traverse up and down several flights of stairs to reach your platform, so again, travel light..bring only what you can comfortably carry yourself. Most platforms have an electronic (or manual) board noting the composition of the trains, i.e. first class and second class cars. Position yourself accordingly on the platform while you wait for the incoming train. Cars will be marked with a “1” or “2”, indicating first or second class. Stations stops can be brief, and they don’t wait for you, so be ready to board. Likewise, be alert as to when it’s time to get off. Know the names of the stations that are several stops prior to your stop, so you can begin to collect your belongings and position yourself towards the exit doors.

9. Onboard bathrooms – okay, maybe not the most glamorous, but serviceable. Most cannot be used while the train is in the station (I won’t go into detail here), and the water is usually non-potable. Traveling with your own hand sanitizer and small pack of tissues is always a good idea.

10. Eurostar – saved the best for last. You really can’t beat the convenience and modern amenities. Easy to see why high speed Eurostar service under the Chunnel beats air travel – no checked bag fees, no long security wait lines, no 2 hour advance check in. It’s a breeze traveling from Paris’ Gare du Nord station to London’s bright new St. Pancras station. St. Pan

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Budget Travel – Try Thailand Trains For Cheap Asia Travel

I love Thailand trains and they give you a retro experience and they are more interactive than a plane as you can walk around do things like take a shower or go to the restaurant car. I know of only one plane where it is possible to take a shower and that is going to cost you a few bucks for the privilege on the Airbus A380 in first class.

You can take trains to the north almost to Myanmar or you can go into Malaysia if you are heading south, or you can get off and head to the holiday resorts near Phuket or the Gulf of Thailand beach resorts on the Thai Gulf coast.

When buying your tickets you want to have a bottom bunk and you want a car that is further back in the train, the further the better as you will be listing to the horn all night if you are at the front of the train. If you can afford first class and there are two of traveling then it is worth paying a little extra as you sleep better knowing that the door is locked and you trust everyone in the compartment. In 2nd class I always sleep with half an eye open even though I have never has a problem.

I figured out with sleeping on a boat that it is more comfortable sleeping in the direction of travel beam to stern as opposed to across the travel direction. It works out the same on a train as the Rocking side to side is reduced when you are sleeping with the direction of the train. There is more force stopping and starting then side to side so the first class is not better in that regard as far as sleeping is concerned. If there is a lot of rocking you are tense all night trying to keep your balance.

Things to bring to help stretch the budget with would your own coffee or tea which ever that you prefer. I buy Nescafe in the single serve packets, they last for ever and they take no space and it could not be easier to prepare. They are also a great deal at a touch over 3 baht a cup that works out to $0.20.

As they have hot water available on most trains in Asia I also purchase a cup of soup, I always get that in a plastic rather than a paper container so I can reuse it for the couple of packages of ramen noodles that I buy as well. It is 14 baht for the cup of soup and 6 baht for the ramen about $0.20.

I always make a point of stopping for some munchies before I get to the train station to save money there as well. I am partial to orange slices maybe for you it is gummy bears. You will want something to snack on the long ride. They normally have a food steward that comes around as soon as you leave Bangkok offering a set dinner and breakfast, 150 for the dinner, and 90 for the breakfast. I always try to take a pass on that although asking others they find it to be a nice meal. I do however go to the dinning car and grab a plate of whatever and feed my computer electricity. The dinning car is usually very entertaining at night as the locals all sit around and drink cheap beer and cheaper whiskey which they will ask you to join in as well which I am sure will result in a few laughs on your way on the train in Thailand.

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