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Charlotte Travel Examiner: Rail Europe Review

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Upon landing from a transatlantic flight, many travelers find the thought of getting on another plane to be daunting. But, luckily, the European train network can get visitors to almost every corner of the mainland continent (and in some cases, under the water…think the Chunnel!).

But, travelers may be confused about the best way to book their rail plans, and train station ticket agents are not the most friendly lot especially if you don't speak the local language.

In the summer, Charlotte Douglas International Airport heats up with overseas flights to Dublin, London Heathrow (the newest route that began this spring), Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Munich, and Rome. Most of these airports have direct train station links that can get the travelers from the plane to a variety of destinations.

The first stop for planning a multi-city visit by train should be Rail Europe's website, which explains in easy-to-understand terms the types of tickets one can purchase from individual one-way travel to multi-leg passes. Tickets can either be sent by mail or collected at the train station by using a confirmation number.

My experience involved taking a train from Paris to Montpellier in southern France, and the train journey was half the cost of a domestic flight. I made the reservation online and reserved a seat, which was easy and required just the punching in of my credit card number. I would have liked if it gave me a choice between forward or rear-facing seat and window or aisle, but accepted the aisle seat it gave me.

Once at the station in Paris, I did not even have to speak to an agent. I simply approached a kiosk and entered my confirmation number to get my printed ticket. This was a lifesaver considering the lengthy lines that wrapped around the ticket office.

What impressed me most, however, was how Rail Europe's site seamlessly melds together tickets from each individual country's own rail network. Like national airlines, each European country has its own railway company, and this site linked together everything like Expedia would do for airlines. This opens up travel possibilities between European cities that may not otherwise be easily decipherable on individual train networks.

Try figuring out Deutsche Bahn's website, which even in English, can be confusing. And make one mistake, and those unfriendly train agents are all over you. No excuses; they whip out their ticket books charging fines like it is going out of style.

Both novice and experienced travelers will find great deals and creative travel options for upcoming trips. Just don't forget to stamp your ticket outside the train before boarding (sometimes it is hard to find the machine so ask someone) to avoid the train conductor's ticket book!

Rail Europe offers a variety of packages and passes that make a European vacation much easier to plan. Plus, the added flexibility that comes with train stations in the center of town versus airports on the outskirts make this a valuable tool for the European traveler.

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