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Train reservations in Europe this summer: should we book before we leave home?

Train reservations in Europe this summer: should we book before we leave home?

Old Mar 21st, 2003, 04:40 AM
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Train reservations in Europe this summer: should we book before we leave home?

We will be travelling around Europe with various Eurailpasses in June and July. The agent who is selling us the passes gave us all the brochures which said how seat reservations are compulsory, and can be done either from home, through the agent (at considerable cost!) or when we arrive, at much less cost. Our dilemma: should we try to save money and reserve when we arrive, or are the trains likely to be all booked out for high season, leaving us stranded, maybe for days on end, forfeiting pre-booked accommodation? What experiences have other posters had with train bookings in mid-summer, esp the international overnight routes?
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 04:55 AM
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ira
 
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Hi Alan,
There have been many postings on this topic. There is no consensus.

If you post your itinerary here, there might be folks who could help you with specific trips.
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 05:16 AM
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I'll counter and assert that there IS a consensus: most people (who come here - - certainly the "regulars") swear by waiting until you get to Europe, to buy them there. Once you arrive, there are slightly different opinions on the merits of buying 20 minutes in advance, 2 hrs, 24, 48 or more.

The one opinion about buying in advance is from Ben Haines (and others?) that you might get good prices and service from www.euraide.de with an office in the US somewhere.

Buying in advance still could be somewhat cramping in turns of wanting to change your plans in response to mood, boredom or restlessness, weather, last minute shopping, "can't-leave-yet", etc.

Best wishes,

Rex
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 06:24 AM
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Hi Alan!
The overnight trains that I've taken in summer (and I've taken many) always seem to be booked solid in the first class compartments; I don't think it's so booked in the other sleeping or sitting accommodations. I'm the "rather be safe than sorry" kind of person, so when it comes to compartments, I always book 2 months in advance. For compulsory seat reservations, though, I'd be more willing to take a chance and wait until I arrive at the destination.

For example, I discovered last summer that despite everyone's advice that I pre-pay for the compulsory reservations on the Norway in a Nutshell tour (and I could only get 2nd class seat reservations from Rail Europe), that two days before that leg of the trip, in Norway I was able to get 1st class reservations from the reservation office in Trondheim, notwithstanding everyone's claims that you need to book it weeks in advance.

So I guess my answer is, get the overnight parts taken care of before-hand (unless you're a gambler) and wait until there for the day seat reservations.
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 06:33 AM
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OK,
I yield to Rex's greater knowledge.

Now, are you planning on booking 2, 4, 8, 24 or 48 hrs in advance?
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 07:02 AM
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I am not certain as to whether the question was directed back at me. We are not traveling by train on our May trip.

The last two train trips I took were:

May 2001, Venice to Rome - - booked about 4 hours in advance; partly because we were a group of six, and out of respect to my inlaws, I didn't want any surprises - - and I enjoy early morning walks in Venice. Bought them before I went to breakfast.

and Sept 20, 2001 - Milano Centrale to Venice with the Fodorites 2001 trip to Italy. We were a group of seven. We bought them upon arrival from Linate to the train station, and boarded about 30 minutes later, if I recall correctly.
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 11:50 AM
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Rex may be surprised to hear that in general I agree with him here. Where Euraide come in is for sleepers, and for seats on Friday afternoons or evenings. Alas, they are no cheaper than buying in-country, but they are distinctly cheaper than RailEurope.

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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 02:00 PM
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Alan,

In my experience I have rarely had problems booking NT's after arriving in Europe. I agree with Ben and Rex, it should not be difficult to get reservations and it will allow you much more flexibility. The only thing I do is check out the Holidays and Holy Days where I will be traveling, those are usually pretty busy travel days and nights. Have a good trip.

Greg
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 06:38 PM
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Next trip to Italy, we'll be buying train tix in Venice (Santa Lucia station, not Mestre.) My last ticket purchase in Italy, we got into the right line at the station by a miracle, not good management. Any tips on how to make things go smoothly at the Venice station? (And my apologies, Alan, for hijacking your thread.)
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Old Mar 21st, 2003, 07:14 PM
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Travelling from Milan to Rome in midweek May a few years ago my husband and I secured two of the last three berths available on a train - half hour before departure. I was expecting much less worry than this, so for our next night train a few weeks later (Venice to Paris) we reserved a few days in advance. No problem. So my advice would be that if you have a few days over there before needing the NT, take a (small) chance on not getting a bed and book only a few days before.
Happy travelling!
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Old Mar 24th, 2003, 06:08 AM
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Thanks to ALL those posters for some great advice.... the "happy travelling" wish is really a safe bet when we have a forum like this and so many people ready to share their knowledge! I am most appreciative.
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Old Mar 24th, 2003, 07:25 AM
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How far in advance you need to book depends on what time you're travelling and on how flexible you can be. Trains are usually busiest around weekends, so Friday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon and evening are busiest. In any case, you should always have alternatives in case your chosen train is fully booked. Travelling overnight from Paris to Venezia, for example, there are alternative night trains to Milano and Bologna, which both have easy connections to Venezia. I book very few trains more than a few days in advance, but normally end up with something satisfactory.
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