Brainstorming Destinations: The Challenge

Europe is large, dense, beautiful and exciting place to explore. No country is similar and each city and town has its unique character. It is a big patchwork of cultures, traditions, lifestyle, art, archi- tecture and nature. That is what makes deciding destinations hard. The options are endless and the destinations numerous. You might decide to visit one or more cities, explore a certain country or jump around the most popular European destinations. It is not what you would call one of the ‘hard decisions in life’ but it is definitely not easy, especially if you are overwhelmed with all the places being suggested in tourist guides. To start your planning, take a breath and answer the following questions:

How many days am I planning to travel?
How many days could you actually afford? How many days can you take off? A couple of days, weeks, months?  If you are flexible, just make a rough outline and tailor it later, on according to your destinations.
How many destinations would I like to visit in this time?
Keep it pragmatic. From the one side it can get boring spending a whole week in the same city, on the other side if you try to travel somewhere else every second day you may miss a lot of what each place has to offer. The time you will spend in each place depends on what would you like to do there. If you plan to visit museums, participate in events or meet people, you will need more time than if you just want to walk around and see the city. If you just want to walk around, see the main sightseeing and move on to the next place, a day or two are enough. Museums, zoos, exhibitions, events, festivals etc. usually take an extra half day or day each.
What type of destinations am I looking for?
You could decide your destinations according to:

  • The sightseeing you would like to see (Eiffel tower, Colosseum, Big Ben etc.)
  • Cities you would like to walk (the canals of Venice, the romantic streets of Prague, the bridges of Budapest etc.)
  • Food you would like to taste (tapas in Spain, pizzas in Italy, fresh fish dishes in Greece, etc.)
  • People you would like to visit (your friend in Berlin, a cousin in a small French town etc.), or
  • Events and activities that you would like to experience (Oktoberfest Beer Festival in Germany, skiing in the Alps, hiking in Switzerland, fishing in Scandinavian lakes etc.) Our best suggestion is to try to combine these options. People tend to get ‘blinded’ to the things they repeatedly see.

Try to mix it and keep it colorful. For example, if you visit more big cities in a row you will realize that less things attract your attention each day. If you visit more museums in a row, you will also feel your interest wearing off with time. The best way to keep things ‘fresh’ would be to mix the destinations and activities: after sightseeing in a big city, go for some hiking, bike along a river of a smaller traditional town or spend a day to a festival/event before you go on with another city.

How am I going to decide on destinations?
Start doing a small research online and write down the destinations you find more appealing. For almost any city/town/area there is a website promoting tourism. Try to search online with the keywords ‘visit + city/town/area name’ (e.g. ‘visit Paris’, ‘visit Bavaria’) or ‘city/town/area + tourism’ (e.g. ‘Bavaria tourism’) and you will come across the official tourism websites. At this point, do not be too strict with yourself. Take some time and explore the tourist guides. To make future decisions easier, keep notes of the places that you like. For example, write down the name of a place, its highlights, the time that you think you would like to spend there and a personal rating depending on your preferences (e.g. 3 stars if you decide that it is a ‘must-go’ destination, 2 stars if you would like to visit it, 1 star if it is an ‘interesting alternative’). While doing your research, check also how these places are accessible. Big cities are easily accessible but smaller villages and natural landmarks (lakes, waterfalls, mountains) might not be. You will most probably come across this information in your research. Do you need a bus, boat or hike to reach there? Is there a timetable? How long does it take to reach? What does it cost? Keep those questions at the back of your head and make a note once you come across the answers. Your notes could look like that: Destinations list That is the first step of your planning. Your route now will develop depending on the location of each place, the accessibility, the train connections, the travel time and your preference.

Locating destinations and drawing a route

Grab your destinations list: it is time to see where exactly everything is. Pinning destinations on a map (paper on digital one) could be the best way to make it visual. Pin for example the places that you ‘must-go’ with red, the ‘places that would like to visit’ with green and the places that could be ‘interesting alternatives’ with yellow. locating destinations Locate the red pins with the places that you ‘must-go’ and have a look at the route that they form. That could be your main route. Calculate the days that you will need for your ‘must go’ destinations. Then, have a look at your green pins with the ‘places that you would like to visit’. Which of them are on your way? Which ones are further away? For how many of them would you have time? Last, check your yellow dots. Which are close to one of the decided destinations? Could they become a day trip? Could they be an overnight ‘stop-over’ to break a long train trip? Do you still have time for them?  At the end, you can see a draft picture of your possible route and the alternatives. You might have more destinations and a more complicated travel plan. You might also decide to cancel destinations that are further away or destinations that are not that easily accessible.  Example: On the map above, the places of your destination list are located. Exploring your map, you might decide that Barcelona is too far from the other destinations and you prefer to explore Munich and the cities in Austria that are closer to each other. You might also see that Achensee lake is very close to Innsbruck so it could become a day trip. However, locating the destinations is only the one part of the story. The other part are the connections between those destinations. How do the train connections look like? How long does the route take? Does the train have to go through a mountain range or around a lake? Europe has mountains, cliffs, lakes and rivers that define the train routes. Before you assume that places are close because they look close, have a look at the landscape of the area. Especially in Austria, Spain and Scandinavia what looks close can be a longer train trip than expected because of rough mountains. Do a fast research by simply using a search engine from a rail website to find the average time that it takes for each route. In the example above, Hallstatt looks close to Innsbruck, so you might think that this could be a day trip destination. However, you have to go around the mountains and change 2-3 trains to get there, which makes it a solid 4-5 hour train trip just to reach there. Depending on your preferences, you can either rule Hallstatt out as a destination, or add Salzburg –the closest bigger city to Hallstatt- as a destination. From Salzburg, the train trip to Hallstatt is 2,3h.

Basic Country Information

Before going on with your planning, take a step back and get familiar with the countries that you intend to visit. Make sure that you have the right travel documents in order to enter the country, check whether the country belongs to European Union or Schengen area, get information about its currency, the time zone and – in case that you want to use a rail pass- make sure that the pass is valid in this country.

  • Travel documents

The documents that you need in order to enter each country depend on your nationality and the country itself. European nationals are able to travel within Europe and the Schengen area with their national ID or passport. Non-European nationals usually need a valid passport and possibly a visa. Check the type of travel document that you will need in the early stages of your planning and allow some time in case that there are documents that need to be issued.

  • Currency

The fact that a country is an EU member does not mean that their currency is euros. Many countries have still their own currency. If you travel in a country with a different currency, your best option is to use your credit card to pay or withdraw money directly from an ATM or a bank. Exchanging cash in exchanging shops are usually more expensive. If you intend to use your credit card, let you bank know about your travel plans. It is quite common for banks to block credit cards when unusual activity is detected (e.g. using the card in different countries). In addition, have the emergency number of your bank with you in case that you have issues or lose your card.

  • Interrail/Eurail participating countries

Interrain/Eurrail passes are a convenient way to travel freely in Europe. Most European countries participate in the Interrail/Eurail program – but not all of them! Be aware of this and before purchasing such a pass check whether the countries you want to visit participate in Interrail/Eurail offer.

  • Time zone

Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) – also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – is the basis for local times worldwide. Time zones define the time around the world. Europe spreads over four time zones. Time zones usually follow the borders of a country. While travelling it is possible that you will enter a different time zone. Do not forget to note the time zone of each country. 

  • Daylight Saving Time (DST)

In Europe, most countries change their clocks into Summer Time for some months, in order to make better use of the long sunlight hours of the summer. By “springing” clocks forward an hour in spring, an hour of daylight is being moved from the morning to the evening. In the autumn, the clocks “fall back” and return to Standard Time. If you are travelling around the dates where the time changes (end of March and end of October) be careful not to mess up with your train connections or other scheduled activities.

Searching train connections


Basic search for train connections:

Each country in Europe has an official national rail website where you can find information about train connections, local offers, tickets etc.  Usually on the home page, there is a search engine box. Each website is different, but the concept is the same: this search engine is there to help you find the train connection you are looking for.

Search engine -Deutsche Bahn

Search engine of the German rail website, Deutsche Bahn. Source:


Search engine of the Italian rail website, Trenitalia.

Search engine of the Italian rail website, Trenitalia. Source:

  Using the search engine in simple: Fill in your departure and arrival destinations, the date and the time you would like to travel and click on the ‘search’ option. If you want more options, you can click on the ‘advance search’ / ‘further options’ or a similar button. There you can modify details, add travelers, discount cards, return tickets, book only seat reservations, decide waiting time between trains connections or include only certain transport types to your research (regional trains, high speed trains, buses etc.).

Advanced search for train connections:

If you did the basic research for a train connection but you are not happy with the results and you think there should be more to it, well, there is more to it. If you understand how search engines work and add your ‘human mind’ to it, you can create yourself more options. Search engines are set to detect the quickest connections with the shortest waiting time between them. If there is a train leaving a couple of minutes later, takes a couple of minutes longer or has a slightly longer waiting time at the train station, it will possibly not be shown in the results, espe- cially if the route consists of more than two connections. However, this connection might still have discounted tickets (since it does not appear in the results it is less popular) or a more convenient schedule. Here are some tricks, starting from the simplest one:  

Trick 1: Change the ‘Transfer duration’ of your connection
The duration of transfer is the time that you have between two train connections. The time counts from the moment that your train arrives to the train station to the moment that your next train departs.   This trick is as simple as it sounds.   In many rail websites, you are able to choose how much transfer time you want to have between your train connections. You can manage details like that by clicking on the ‘advanced search’/ ‘further options’ or a similar button of the search engine.

transfer time bahn

Transfer time. Source

transfer time oebb

transfer time Source:

By changing the time between connections, you force the search engine to reveal the next possible option. Play a bit around searching for connections with a minimum of 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes between train connections. This way you can detect offer tickets that are not being shown because the connection is not the first one detected (and because no one thought to search selecting ‘at least   20 minutes between train connections’). You may also find more convenient connections (e.g. you prefer a bigger break in a long route to get some lunch) or your preferred type of train (e.g. trains that do not need reservations).   Tip: Do not book connections that give you less than 5-10 minutes transfer time. Remember that you need a couple of minutes to get out of the train, detect where your next train leaves from and walk to the platform. It is very common for trains to have a couple of minutes delay, especially when they are approaching busy train stations.   It is highly recommended to leave 10-20 minutes transfer time between local connections and 30 – 40 between international connections – especially in peak seasons.

Trick 2: Check train connections in each country separately
National rail websites are responsible to provide information about the trains that run through the country. If you are looking for routes that cross borders though, they may fail to give you all the possible options. Most international and high-speed connections will be in their systems, but when it comes to the local transport of another country, they will not have all the information. For example, if you are looking for the connection Bologna (Italy) – Nuremberg (Germany), both the Italian and German rail websites will show you the connection Bologna – Munich. However, for the route Munich-Nuremberg, the Italian website may reveal only the high-speed trains and lack information about the regional trains of Germany. In a worse case, it may not recognize ‘Nuremberg’ as a station at all. The solution is to split the route into parts and search the local connections using the website of the country that they belong. In our example, for the local connection Munich-Nuremberg, we would use the German rail website. Tip: When it comes to ticket prices for international connections, remember that each country is usually regulating its own prices and offers, which means that the one website may be cheaper than the other one.  If you are after the best price, check the rail websites of all countries that the train connects. For the route Bologna – Munich for example, check the rail websites of Italy (departure country) and Germany (destination country).

bol -mun price italy

Price for the route Bologna – Munich. Source:


bol-mun price bahn

Price for the route Bologna – Munich. Source:

As you can see, the price difference can be significant.

Trick 3: Book train routes till the borders
Let me explain you this one with a simple example: Zurich is a city in Switzerland, pretty close to the German borders. For Germany, Switzerland is an international destination. In the German rail website, the ticket prices for Zurich follow the policies about international destinations. When you try to book the route Nuremberg-Zurich, the search engine will give you the best possible price according to offer availability for this international route. Now try to book a route until the German border town closest to Zurich. The price now is most probably lower, just because this is not an international destination anymore (also not a popular destination). From there, you can book a local train to take you to Zurich. There is a good chance that it will be the same train you are already in, just being considered as local if you use it for this small route. So if you can get the local ticket online you do not even have to change trains. The same applies with other cities/countries. Tip: If your destination is not that close to borders, breaking the route down might be more ex- pensive. Sometimes there are really good offers for international destinations and the price does not depend on the length of the journey.
Trick 4: Break your route down
This option is here in case you want to explore the places you stop by, are looking for specific trains, specific places or in general feel like talking the situation in your hands. Search engines are usually very accurate when looking for direct train routes, showing all the trains going from a place A to a place B. Even when it comes to connections, they will do their best to pick a fast route without long stops. However, if you would like to stop for more than 30’-60’ at one of the stops or have any other request that the search engines cannot help you, you will need to break down the route and decide connections yourself. Breaking down the route is quite simple. You need to detect the main connection stops (usually big- ger train hubs) of the route/direction you want to go, and then find the direct trains that link those stops. Here are some steps to guide you breaking down a route: Step one: Detect the main train stops on your way Here, you are trying to detect the convenient stops of your route. The stops where your route would naturally change connection.     Fill in your departure and destination in the search engine. Under each route displayed, there is an option (‘more details’, ‘show’, or just an arrow) that unfolds the details of this route –connections, changing stations, train numbers etc. Open a couple of the routes displayed and write down the stations at which you are supposed to change trains. Get an overall idea about where each train is going to and where the ‘hub’ stations of your route are. Example: We plan to go from Ferrara (Italy) to Innsbruck (Austria). Fill in the departure station (Ferrara), the arrival station (Innsbruck), the date and time you would wish to travel and click on the ‘search’ button.  The search would possibly reveal something like this: Ferrara- Innsbruck options (Source: To see the main train stops of this route, open the details of each route (click ‘Show’ under the ‘Changes’). Ferrara - Innsbruck options open (Source: You can easily see that the main train stations of this route are Padova, Verona (Verona in case you go through Padova) and Bologna. Step 2: Split the main route into shorter routes Have a look at the connection details of each route. This is your route already broken down in short- er ‘one-train’ routes. In case you have more stops, you can try alternative connections from each stop to the final destination (e.g. a route that looks like A-B-C-D can break down to not only A-B, B-C, C-D but also A-C and B-D). Example: In the example Ferrara-Innsbruck, the main route can be broken down into the shorter routes: Ferrara – Padova Padova – Verona Verona – Innsbruck (but also Ferrara-Verona, Padova-Innsbruck) or Ferrara – Bologna Bologna– Innsbruck or Ferrara – Padova Padova – Innsbruck Step three: Search connections of your shorter routes Your next step is to fill in the search engine with these shorter routes. This way you can see the trains that were not been picked from the search machine at your basic search. You can see all trains linking this part of your route.     Doing that gives you better flexibility. If the initial results suggest you to take a high-speed train which you would prefer to avoid, you can look for the next regional train. If you would like to have a break and spend a couple of hours at one of the stops, just note the train that is convenient for you to continue your route. Example: The first route option goes through Verona (the popular city of ‘Romeo and Juliet’). Seeing that you have an hour transfer time there, you might decide to take some more time and explore the city. Therefore, instead of departing at 11 as your plan suggests, you can search for later options for the route part Verona-Innsbruck. In case you decide to take one of the trains that depart later, remember to book two separate tickets: Ferrara-Verona and Verona-Innsbruck (since there is a bigger break than suggested, they are being considered two separate routes). Verona -Innsbruck (Source:     The second route option suggests an Intercity train from Ferrara to Bologna. This is a more ex- pensive high-speed train that just covers a short part of the route. If you are on a budget, have a look at the previous trains that foe the same route Ferrara – Bologna. Ferrara -bologna prices (Source: Breaking down routes can be time consuming and confusing. There is no need to break down routes if you are happy with the connections suggested. However, it is a great way to tailor routes to your preference and explore all of your options.  

How to find further details about your train

What is the exact route of a train? Where does it stop? Does a train have a restaurant or other food options? Do I need a reservation? Is there a family compartment? Is it wheelchair friendly? Does it allow the transport of bicycles? Such information is good to know when planning and while travel- ing. Where can you find all this information? First, you have to select the route that you are interested in. By clicking on a “details”, “further information” or similar button located around your selected route you can see details of your route and the trains that it includes. The information that rail websites provide differ from country to country. Here are three examples of detecting further train information, using websites with different levels of information revealed:

Example 1: Comprehensive information

The German rail website (

Fill in your departure, destination, travel date and time and select “Search”: munich - bologna Have a look at the options that the search will reveal: mun-bol -options (Source: Under the ‘Chg’ (‘Changes’) column, you can see how many times you will need to change trains to get to your destination. Let us assume that you are interested in the first option where you can get a direct train (0 changes). To find further information about this train, click on the “Show details” option just under your selected route. Having a closer look, you can see that there is a “Further information” column. mun-bol open details There, you can see the final destination of the train (Bologna), the fact that there is a restaurant on board and the policy about bicycles and reservations: mun- bol option (Source:       By clicking on “Show intermediate stops” arrow, you can see all the stops, the exact departure time at each station and the platform that it arrives on (platform information is usually not available for destinations out of the country). mun- bol intermed stops (Source:         Alternatively, click on the name of the train (EC 81) and a separate page with the route information will open: mun- bol route information (Source:         At your initial route details, under the “Station information” you can find the services available at the train station and other useful information like local transport maps: munich station information (Source:         Under “Map view”, you can locate the train route on the map: mun - bol -map The German rail website ( is very comprehensive and can give information even for trains that do not run through Germany (for example Barcelona-Madrid): madrid- barc (Source:

Example 2: Basic information

The Italian rail website (

Fill in your departure, destination, travel date and time and select “Search”: bol -mun initial search (Source:     Have a look at the results. Let us assume that you choose the first one where no changes are men- tioned. To find further information for this train you have to click on the “i” symbol at the right down corner of the box where the name of the train is being mentioned (Eurocity 84): bol- mun options (Source:         Information about this train will show up in a pop-up window (sometimes only in local language). bol -mun i train route (Source:         There is no further information available about this route.

Example 3: Poor information and a way around it

 The French rail website (

Fill in your departure, destination, travel date and time and select “Search”: paris-amst search   (Source:         Select one from the options and click on the small arrow that points down to get more information about this train: paris-amst results (Source:       In this case, you can only see very basic information about the train (the train is accessible for dis- abled travelers and there is a buffet car). No further information is available about this route. paris- amst selected route (Source:         However, as mentioned before, the German website ( has this piece of information, even if the route does not go through Germany or uses German trains: paris-amst route info through (Source:

Even if you are not interested in extensive details about a train, it is good to know if there are food options onboard, especially for longer routes. If you know that the train will not have a bistro, you can arrange some snacks before you get on it. On the other hand, if you are late and hungry you will not risk missing the train to get food if you know that there will be a restaurant on it. The main food options on trains are:

  • Snack bar: The stuff will go up and down the train offering basic drinks and snacks.
  • Bistro: There will be a compartment in the train with few restaurant tables and standing tables. You have the option to sit there or take away what you want and go back to your seat (but there might be different menus for the take away options). They will have a bigger variety of snacks and drinks. Usually you can also get some warm food options (toasts, baguettes, basic meals).
  • Restaurant: There will be a compartment in the train with restaurant tables and stuff serving them. There you can find a variety of drinks, snacks and warm dishes. They will also have ‘take away’ options.

The Big Travel Plan

Every traveler should have a travel notebook with the whole plan of the trip: the train routes and the connection alternatives, the hotels that have been booked, the planned activities of each desti- nation and any other information that will be handy to have. The travel plan will be your guide. It is not a program. Just an outline of your options and alternatives, the information that you might need while ‘on the go’, the big picture of your plan. It is the difference between tourists and experi- enced travelers. It does not need more time but it will give you the ability to travel ‘like a pro’.

Train routes with alternatives
When you have a draft of your travel plan, write down the train connections you plan for each day. When you write down information like this, do not write only the basic train connection. Try to include as much useful information as possible:

  • The train’s direction: The final destination of the train. The electronic timetables at train sta- tions are mainly using a train’s final destination. Intermediate stations are not always been men- tioned. For example, if you are going from Frankfurt to Stuttgart but the train continues and ter- minates at Munich, the train destination at the timetable will show Munich. Stuttgart may not be mentioned (or mentioned with small letters below). Make sure you know the final destination of the train you plan to take.
  • The train code: The train’s code usually consist of the train company and number and defines each train (for example: EC 115 Klagenfurt). The electronic timetables at the train stations always refer to trains using those codes and their final destination. You will need this information to make sure you are looking at the right train.     (It is even more important to know this information in case you are in a hurry to catch a train. Knowing the train code/destination, you can confirm whether it is the right train just with a quick look at the electronic timetable before you jump on it).
  • The train station: Big cities have more train stations. Pay attention to write down the right sta- tion (Central, North, South, East, West, etc.)
  • The time: The exact time that the train departs from a station. Trains in Europe are supposed to depart on the exact minute they are planned to depart, unless a delay is being announced.
  • The platform: When checking for a route online, most times you can also see the platform that the train is supposed to depart from or arrive to. This is a valuable information if you have a short time to change trains and you want to avoid running around to find the station’s electronic time- tables. However, always check the platform’s electronic timetables before you jump on a train to make sure that this is the right one and there were no platform changes.
  • The alternatives: Do not hesitate to write down the train connections before and after the one that you plan to use. That will help you be flexible with your time. If you would like to leave later or earlier, you will know what time is the next train to your destination without having to find internet access (or waste data).
  • Other useful information: Is there a restaurant on board? Does the train take bikes? Does it have family compartments? If you come across an interesting detail about the train, do not hesitate to write it down! We recommend to always note if a train has or does not have food options on board –yes, that includes water.

Here is an example of how a train route note could look like, for the direct route Cologne-Munich: -Platform 10- 10:20  Frankfurt – Stuttgart 11:50 (IC 2293 –direction Stuttgart) -Platform 5- -Platform 15- 11:58 Stuttgart – Munich 14:11 (EC 115 –direction Klagenfurt) -Platform 13- Like that, with one look you can see that the train from Cologne departs at 13:18 from platform 4 and arrives at Stuttgart at 16:46 at platform 2 (useful if you have just few minutes to change trains). You can also see that this train is an Intercity, with the train number IC1911. -or- 10:20 Frankfurt (IC 2293)– 11:50 Stuttgart 11:58 –(EC 115) Munich 14:11 if you prefer to have the basic information in one line. Here is an example of how a train route note with alternatives could look like: Stuttgart – Munich 11:58 – 14:11 (EC 115 –to Klagenfurt) 12:53 – 15:11 (IC 2263 –to Munich) 13:58 – 16:11 (EC 219 –to Graz) +reserv* 16:14 – 18:27 (ICE 519 –to Munich) Like that you can see at once what time does each train depart from Stuttgart and what time does it arrive in Munich. *If you travel with a rail pass, it is good to note the trains that will need a reservation. Since you have to change in Stuttgart in your route from Frankfurt to Munich, let us assume you might want to spend some time in Stuttgart and want to note down the whole route with the alter- native options. Here is an example of how a comprehensive train route note could look like (with changes, alternatives and extra information): -Pl. 10- 10:20  Frankfurt – Stuttgart 11:50 (IC 2293 –dir. Stuttgart, no food options) –Pl. 5-

Plat. 9- 12:53 – 15:11 (IC 2263 –dir. Munich + bistro)
Plat. 12- 13:58 Stuttgart – Munich 16:11 (EC 219 –dir. Graz+bistro) +reserv*
Plat. 8 – 16:14  – 18:27 (ICE 519 –dir. Munich + restaurant)

Like that, you can see all of the information you might need in one glance!     Finding all this information is easier than you think and can help you a lot. You just have to know where to find the train details (look at the ‘How to  get further details about your train’)

Where are you going to overnight? Sometimes you might book everything in advance and some- times you will decide on the way. It is smart to write the accommodation information under each day’s plan, or in a separate list. However, always write down the exact dates that you booked accom- modation for–it is not hard to ‘forget’ a night or pay a night extra, especially when night traveling is involved.     Here is the suggested details to include when writing down your accommodation information:

  • Hotel’s name: The hotel’s name is what you need to detect your hotel. Or to ask someone at the neighborhood i. Have it written clear so that if you cannot pronounce it right to make sense to locals, they can see it written.
  • Address: It is good to have the address written. You can use it for your navigator, to locate the     hotel on the map, or to give it to the tourist office to tell you how to get there.
  • Hotel’s phone number: Plans change and things can go wrong. You might have to arrive out of the check-in hours, want to cancel or add days or simply ask them how to get there. A phone num- ber of the hotel is good to have for many reasons –and I personally have used it more times than I thought.
  • Booking reference number: You will most probably have received a confirmation email with the booking reference number, but it is easier to have it noted with the other details.
  • Check in/out times: When planning a travel day it is smart to consider the check-in / check-out times. An early check out or late check in policy can mess up with your plans. Knowing in advance is important to avoid surprises or waste time waiting for the room to be ready.
  • Food options around: It can happen that you get some train delays and reach at the hotel late, or that it is located at an area far from restaurants. If you know in advance that there are no meal options around, you can get some food before you get there, while if you know that the accommoda- tion is combined or nearby a restaurant you can avoid eating junk food before you get there.
  • Breakfast: Many hotels offer breakfast, included in the room price or for an additional fee. In case that you would like to have breakfast there, check and write down what time is the breakfast being served, so that you won’t miss it. In case that you have to leave before the breakfast time, you can always ask the stuff whether they offer ‘take away’ breakfasts. You will be surprised of how many hotels are actually willing to pack some breakfast for you.
  • Booking cancelation policy: When travelling, plans can change. And then? Can the booking be cancelled for free? What is the deadline of cancelling the booking without being charged? When booking an accommodation, always keep a note on the cancellation policy.
  • Luggage storage: It really helps to know whether the hotel is offering to store your luggage before checking in or after checking out. If so, you can drop your luggage and be free to explore the city instead of planning your day around the hotel’s check in/out policy. Some hotels mention it in their service description. If they do not mention it, there is no harm to send an e-mail or make a quick call and ask.     If they are not able to store your luggage and the check in/out times are inconvenient, train stations –mostly the bigger ones- have lockers or a luggage-drop-off service where you can store your lug- gage for a small cost.

Will you have a kitchen/fridge in your room? If you know you will have a fridge/kitchen you could get something from a market on your way to the hotel and store some breakfast/lunch/dinner/ drinks for the next day. Do you have access to a washing machine? Then you can count on washing some clothes instead of carrying too much with you. Is there a hairdryer in the room? Are the sheets/towels included in the price? Would it be cheaper to bring your own? Do you have to bring your own lock for the lockers in the hostel? Information good to know and easy to forget, especially if there are more hotels you will stay in your trip. Write them down in your accommodation information. An example of an accommodation note could look like that: Hotel Irena Booked for : 25th – 3oth July Booking reference number: 0354678     Via Principe Amedeo 60, 00185 Rome, Italy     Telephone: +39 06 481 8315 Check in: 13:00 – 20:00     Check out: before 11:00 (late check out option at additional cost)     Breakfast included (7:00 – 9:00) Close to restaurants     Free cancellation before July 20th     Fridge and mini bar in room     No luggage storage

For each day, you might have abstract or specific plans. You might just want to walk the city. You might want to visit a botanic garden or a gallery. You might want to see a show. In every case, if you come across information that you might need, do not hesitate to write it down. If you just want to walk around the city, you might want to note what times are the shops open. If you want to see the botanic garden and a gallery but not make any special planning, just write down the opening times. If there is a performance you would like to see, write the exact details. Sometimes booking tickets for museums/performances/events online can save you money and waiting time in long queues. If you decide to book an activity online, write down the information that you have to know about this booking: Date and time of the booked event, address, phone number, how to get there (closest metro/bus stations), booking number and other details. Sometimes a printed booking confirmation is requested: make sure you have it printed –or make a note that you have to print it- and avoid problems.
The Final Check
Did you just finish planning? Congratulations! Now, just check the whole plan again a couple of days later. When organizing too much, you can ‘get blinded’ and oversee some smaller or bigger details. So, let it ‘cool down’ a day or two and then just go over the whole once more. Try to imagine yourself doing this trip and find the gaps. Start with checking the big picture, and then check each day separately. Check the big picture:

  • What date are you supposed to be where?
  • On which days are you using a train?
  • Do you have the right tickets/supplements/pass/offers for each train? If not, how will you obtain them?
  • Where are you overnighting each day?

Then go through each planned day separately:

  • What time do you leave/arrive to each place?
  • How many hours/days do you plan to spend in each place?
  • What time are is the check in/out? Where will you leave your luggage?
  • Do you have booking confirmation and service information for each hotel?
  • What would you like to do in each place? Is your planning realistic? What are your priorities and what could be sacrificed in case that there will not be enough time?
  • Did you consider the opening times/dates/season of the museums/attractions that you plan to visit?
‘Going with the flow’ and not having a specific plan for parts of your trip this is fine. However, it still helps making some notes on what will you have to figure out when the time comes. You might decide to just reach to a place and go to the tourist information office to get inspired. Then you will decide when to book the next train tickets/accommodation/events. You might want to see if the weather will be good to go on a day trip. In this case set a time when you will decide on that and what could be the alternative (eg. The previous night if the forecast says that the weather will be good, I will go to a day trip, if not I will visit the national museum and leave with the early train). You might want to decide on the spot how long will you stay at one place. In this case, it is good to book accommodation that can be cancelled at no extra cost and note down the cancellation policy of your next hotel. There is some irony trying to plan how to keep plans open, but it can help you avoid spending a whole morning trying to plan your stay, fighting with a slow internet connection trying to find information or wasting money because of overlooking hotel cancellation policies. Tip 1: You might prefer to keep notes in a digital form, however always have a backup on paper. Paper does not need internet, does not go low on battery, does not break, you will not have to turn it on and you do not have to scroll down for ages to find the information you need. Paper just stays in a bag pocket and you can see the whole picture there anytime. Tip 2: A nice paper notebook with all the travel plan can be turned into an awesome diary! Tourist flyers can provide gorgeous pictures, maps can be turned into words, tickets can be collected and all this can create an awesome scrapbook. Write your thoughts about each place you visit and let other travelers –your friends or people you meet- write anything they feel like as well! It is a good way to keep yourself busy on the trains and those unique moments your most precious souvenir.

Avoiding hiccups

Yes, there are many issues and questions that may arrise

There are more train stations: Which train station do I need?
Big cities have usually more than one train stations. When starting to type in your desired destination, you might have to find out which of the train stations you need. It might depend on the location of your accommodation, the type of train or the connection (international trains sometimes go to certain stations). Most search engines will accept the name of the city and will give you a drop-down menu to choose one of the train stations (e.g. if you type in ‘Paris’ the menu will give you the options ‘Paris Est’, ‘Paris Nord’, ‘Paris Gare de Lyon’). Alternatively, the most popular train station will be selected automatically. If this is not the train station that you need you can still change it.     In case that you do not know which train station to pick, pick any of them and check the detailed route of the connection in the results. It is very possible that if you pick ‘Paris Nord’ but your train only stops at ‘Paris Est’, the search engine will give you a train connection for the part ‘Paris Est – Paris Nord’ as well.     In this case, if you do not have any specific reason to go to ‘Paris Nord’, you will know that the train station you need for your search is ‘Paris Est’. Why is that important? First, you may have to pay much for a very short distance. The search engine will pick the quickest train/route and you will end up paying high-speed train prices for a route that can easily be covered using public transport (metro, bus etc.). Second, it might add time to your travel. Train connections are less frequent that public transport.
Trains with double 'names': Is it the same train or should I change?
Sometimes while searching, you might see a double ‘name’ for a train. For example, if you search for the night train Vienna – Milano, you will see both ‘EN 233’ and ‘EN 232’ as the train number. This does not mean that you have to change anywhere. This train is simply changing name at some point of its route. The reason for that could be that at this point the train might separate and each part continues to a different destination, or that two trains join to the same engine and continue to a common route. You will not have to worry about any of these. Just make sure that you stay on the train part with the desired destination.
City names: Spelling problems?
International VS local city names Sometimes search engines pick up only the local name of a train station /city. For example, it is common to type in ‘Brussels’ and have to deal with a “not found” message. As soon as you type ‘Bruxelles’ the search engine will detect it. Local city name VS city name in other language No, you cannot only get confused when having a city with different spellings in local and international language. No. Remember, English is just one language. It seems that each language decides on how to alter city names to fit better to them. Therefore, in another language the same city might be having a somehow different name. Take for example Milan: International English: Milan Local language: Milano German language: Mailand (Mailand is pretty much how Germans decided to call Milan). The same way, Florence becomes Firenze in Italian and Florenz in German while Venice becomes Venezia (Italian) but also Venedig (German). Now, this piece of information is just to raise awareness. You do not have to know all city names in all languages. When searching online, search engines will accept the international or the local name. However, many times offers in the rail websites are in the local language and do not translate well in the English version. If you see advertising and offers in another language, give it a second look.
How can I type the letters ( ü ), ( ä), ( ö) on English keyboard?
Some city names are written with those special letters in the local language. Internationally, those little dots are written as an “e” next to the main letter (e.g. ü=ue, ä=ae, ö=oe) For example: München = Muenchen , Göteborg = Goeteborg, etc. It is very possible that the search engine will not detect the city name unless you write it like that.