On the Tracks or Off the Tarmac

Nicolas Marrero, a Master at Arms in the US Navy, sits in a Spanish airport with his tickets in one hand and his carry-on in the other. He looks at the LCD screens scattered throughout the airport, but they lack the information that would be readily available in a US airport. Maybe he should have taken the train instead. At least then he could have used the timetable in his bag and done some sightseeing on the way.

Travel can be confusing and stressful enough in your home country, and the stress can increase when you’re abroad. But regardless of where you are, the first question to ask is how do I plan to get from point A to point B? And while airplanes may be one of the quickest (and cheapest) ways to travel in the United States, Europe has an extensive train system that can give the airlines a run for their money.


One of the largest deciding factors when booking travel is cost. Flights in Europe are often cheaper than flights in America, but remember that while it may be cheap to fly into a Paris airport, the €50 taxi or the €20 shuttle ride to get into Paris will eat up your cash. Train tickets, however, can be very cheap (a trip from Rome to Paris costs only €15), and the train stations are in the middle of each city. Either way, to cut down on those incidental costs, be sure to do your research and find out exactly where you’re headed. Even more importantly, remember to keep an eye on the little symbol that accompanies the prices: a deal may seem good in euros, but remember that the euro is strong compared to the dollar (EUR 3=4 USD).


Many American safety regulations may seem inconvenient to flyers. But these regulations result in strict scheduling, and gates and departure times are assigned hours in advance. In some European airports, on the other hand, travelers may not know where their planes are until they have to run across the terminal to get there. Trains, however, are on schedules set far in advance and are notably reliable. Once you’ve purchased your ticket, you’ll know exactly where you need to be and when you need to be there.

Travel Time

If convenience means getting there as soon as possible, flights are the quickest way to get around: Rome to Paris is two to three hours by air or eleven to fourteen by rail. However, taking a night rail may give you the most efficiency. Why waste all your time just sleeping when you could be using that time to get to your next destination? Night rails make it easy to see a lot of Europe in a short amount of time. And as long as you travel within the Schengen area (26 countries that have agreed to lessen border controls among them), you don’t even need to worry about showing immigration officials your passport in your PJs.




—Edwin Eschler