Everyone Should Do It
Travelling through Europe via the train and experiencing all the diverse cultures is everything they make it out to be, and much more. It had been one of my life's to-do items, and I wasn't disappointed. And you won't be either. There's no vacation like an Euro-vacation.
Start With a Map
Europe is big!
When we started planning our vacation, I wanted to visit everything! Germany, France, England, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, you name it - I wanted to see it! I wanted to visit all the big cities and little places! Soon though, we realized with the limit of our holiday time and cost, we had to prioritize. So my first suggestion would be - get a map of Europe.
That way, you can see how far apart the places are that you want to visit. Some cities are of course a 'must-see' (it depends on you) and some are 'nice-to-visit'. With a little bit of googling for travel times, you can have an idea of what cities you can reasonably visit with the time you have. For me, it meant omitting Germany and Netherlands as they were too far away from the other places I wanted to see.
Early Planner vs. the Impulsive Traveller
While there is some romance in the idea of not knowing your destination and deciding it on the day, I root for being the early planner every time. I travelled to Europe in July, but by March had all my hotels, tickets, etc. booked. While this does have some drawbacks (I wanted to later add Napoli to my trip, but changing the air tickets was not possible) I saved over $1500 by my calculations by booking in March rather than waiting till May. Basically the earlier you book, the cheaper some hotels and rail/air tickets are. I knew exactly what dates I would be travelling from one city to the next and had my route/trip planned to the minute.
Rail Passes vs. Tickets vs. Reservations
Rail travel is the way to go around and see Europe. Unless you have some specific place you want to visit that has no public transit (impossible in most of Europe) or you want the possibilities that a car gives you, rail travel is the way to go in Europe. The network is well connected, super fast and you get to see a lot of the scenery as you travel.
Buying rail passes for Europe can be complicated. You have to know the differences between tickets, passes, and reservations. Here's the primer:
When you buy a tickets from A to B, you can journey from A to B. For example, buying a ticket from Paris to Basel will allow you to travel from Paris to Basel only, on the day and time you bought the ticket for.
When you buy a multi-day pass, you can use one day of the pass to travel on that day on any participating train in any participating country. When you buy the pass, you can choose the number of days, the countries the pass will be valid in, and the class (economy or first class, etc.) and pay accordingly.
However, and this is the big however, some routes ALSO require you to buy a reservation if you are using a pass. So for example to travel from Paris to Basel using one day of the pass, you also have to buy a reservation on that route. Your pass will NOT BE VALID on that route without the reservation. A reservation costs way less than a ticket, but you still need it (for specific routes).
You can visit raileurope.ca to get started.
To Be Continued ...