Are you looking for budget travel options? Train travel is a great way to go; you can really take in the scenery without having to drive, and it's often more convenient and comfortable than flying. However, in the United States, it's not always cheaper.
Europe has a widespread rail system with enough lines and stations that you can travel exclusively by train, should you prefer. In the U.S., however, airline and automobile travel are much more popular, and so finding the best deals on train tickets is not always easy. With a little perseverance and planning, though, you can find good deals on short jaunts and cross-country voyages.
Here are my tips for finding cheap train fares:
- Travel during the off seasons. If you take your spring break early, or postpone your summer trip into the fall, you're more likely to find less expensive train tickets, as well as much better deals on lodging, tours, and even food. Summer is the most popular time to travel, with spring a solid second; this year, go see the leaves change in Berlin in the fall, or head north in the winter while everyone else escapes south. This gives you a better opportunity to really explore the places you visit without having to deal with all the other tourists.
- For European travel, check out online brokers like Rail Europe. This site acts as a portal for purchasing Eurorail and Interrail tickets, as well as the national lines for most European countries. There are so many great deals on Europe train tickets -- they are a great option for budget travel. If you're under 26, there are always good deals for you. There are often lowered rates for groups, and don't discount first-class travel--sometimes it's actually cheaper than second class, and the perks are nice as well.
- Check out user review sites. Sites like Hostel World not only provide listings for inexpensive lodgings around the world, but also help you plan your trip. These sites operate through user reviews, so it's in their best interest to get you the best deals possible. Did you know that you can get bonuses for other modes of transportation with your train passes, as well as on tours and lodging? Make sure to read the fine print! Taking advantage of these deals makes for a more exciting vacation, as well as lowers the overall price of your train ticket.
- For intercontinental travel, Amtrak is still your best bet. The site offers all kinds of passes for U.S. citizens, special prices for international travelers, and weekly discounts on specific lines and dates. The weekly discounts sell out pretty quickly, though, so make sure to plan ahead! Often, Amtrak offers discount codes for students and AAA members -- look around so you can make sure you get the best fare possible.
- Use online brokers like Travelocity. Like Hostel World, such sites are designed not only to find the lowest prices possible, but help you plan your trip with deals on lodging and amusements as well. These sites are usually better for more conventional modes of travel, but searching as many places as possible ensures you are getting the best price.
- If all this research is stressing out your vacation, use a travel agent. You can search for deals on sites like Travel Agent Specials, where agents the world over post specials on all kinds of travel, including train. Often these deals are on multiple parts of a trip, so you can get your lodging covered with your cheap train tickets. American Automobile Association members can take advantage of AAA's Travel Agency feature to get good travel deals. Consulting a third party is a good way to find package and group deals, too.