When I was 19 I traveled through Europe solo on the savings I had
managed to earn the previous summer.
I was on such a strict budget that I often did not want to pay for a room for the night. Hanging out sleeping in alleyways was not exactly an option for me – although I did once spend a night in front of the train station in Amsterdam…but, that is an entirely different story.
One of the ways in which I managed to save quite a good deal of money was by using my Eurail pass and a copy of Cook’s Train Schedules in a rather creative way. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Eurail pass, it is a train ticket that is bought for a certain period of time – say a month or two – and is good for a number of countries in Europe. Back in the good old days, there were two: one for Western Europe and one for Eastern Europe. Today, I’m sure it’s quite different, but they still exist.
Cook’s Train Schedules is (was?) a book (probably all digital now) that contains all of the train connections going in and out of most major cities in Europe. With it, you could look up your origin and destination and figure out when the best train would be for when you’d like to depart/arrive. It was just like a much less fancy version of booking a plane ticket online these days.
So, being the frugal traveler that I am, I devised a way in which to
use these tools to avoid having to pay for rooms.
How did I do it? I’d board an evening train outbound from the city that I was visiting, pick a stop that was about 3-4 hours out, and get out in the middle of the night. The trick was that I’d have to catch a train coming the other direction headed back into the city within a short time frame because I didn’t want to be hanging around in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar train station.
This technique worked pretty well, but it did have its drawbacks. First, you don’t get to sleep through the night since you have to wake up in advance of your stop, grab all of your gear, and head off the train, find the correct track and wait for the train that would take you back. Then, once you’re safely aboard your other train, you have to go back to sleep.
Second, sometimes the trip was a lot longer or shorter than you’d like because a lot of trains going at night don’t make many stops, and there are fewer of them, so timing was challenging. You just had to make the best of it.
Third, there was naturally some risk involved, but if you chose small towns in which to change trains, usually, there was nobody around.
Eventually, you do have to get a good solid night’s rest in a bed instead of a seat in a train compartment – oh, and the occasional shower is a good idea, too. But, if you find yourself in Europe trying to stretch a buck, perhaps this tip will be helpful.