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9 replies
How early should I make train, car, hostel reservations?
anandnesan
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Hi everyone,

My 5 week trip to Europe starts on May 22nd. My first train trip will be on May 25th. My first car rental will probably fall around June 5th.

How early should I make the following reservations? – Train reservations for travel in Spain, France and Italy? My concern is if I wait too late (like end of April), I might not be able to get seats. Btw, I am planning to purchase a 3 country, 10 day flexi pass. – Car reservations: My concern is regarding rates and whether they will go up significantly as I get closer to my travel date. – Hostel reservations: I understand that the later I book the hostels, I run the risk of not getting a room in an affordable hostel. What about the rates? Do they tend to go up as I get closer to the travel date?

These questions might appear naive but I have no idea how things work in Europe. I highly appreciate your feedback.

Thanks,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
oldlady
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You want to wait to buy your train reservations at the train station in Europe. Buying them in advance requires dealing with a travel agency which means inflated prices plus shipping and handling fees which will at least double the price. There are thousands of passenger train departures every day in Europe. Trains seldom sell out and if a train does sell out, there will be another express train in an hour or so and frequently 1 or 2 slightly slower local or regional trains (that don’t require reservations) within the hour. You can usually buy a reservation up to 1 hour before train time, but I rcommend a day in advance for day trains and 3 days in advance for overnight trains. You can usually buy a reservation for any train in Europe at any major train station, so you can buy them all at once when you first arrive or you can buy the reservation for the train you plan to take when you leave a city before you leave the station when you arrive in that city. Reservations are non-refundable. While you can sometimes change the reservation for a different train (before the original trains leaves), I would worknfrom the assumption that any change in plans means you’ve wasted the price of the reservation.

I have read that it’s cheaper to arrange car rental in advance, but we usually end up renting on the spur of the moment and just walk into the office. We generally got a car right away with no trouble. We did have to try two offices and wait a couple of hours on a busy weekend (D-day anniversary) in Normandy. If I was planning on renting a car for a specific leg, I’d do it before I left home and 3 or 4 weeks in advance of the pick up date.

Hostels depends on your travel style and personality. I usually book everything between 3 weeks and 8 weeks in advance, but that’s my personal style, not a necessity. I don’t think when you book will make much difference in prices. If you arrive in a city by mid afternoon you will always find someplace to stay, but you may have to bus and hike to a couple of places and not get your first choice, or you may end up in the suburbs. Standard advice is to book first night a couple of weeks before you leave home and figure how to get there from the airport. You do not want to arrive jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, culture-shocked, lost AND homeless. I like to have the last night booked well in advance to work out transportation to the airport as many flights back to North American leave very early in the AM and airport transportation can be a hassle. The rest you can either book a few weeks in advance before you leave home or a few days to a couple of weeks in advance as you go. Check out the hostel booking tab here. You pay 10% in advance for the reservation (non-refundable) and then the rest when you check in.

anandnesan
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Oldlady – as always you are a wealth of information!! Thank you so much.

I do have a follow-up comment. On one other thread I read about a website called www.raileurope.com where I have the ability to make train reservation(s) before reaching Europe. It appears to not involve travel agents, additional shipping fee, etc. I am going to do some more research about this website. But wanted to mention it to you in case you were not aware of it Smile

Thanks again,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
augustin25
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Rail Europe isn’t a travel agent, but most tickets and reservations cost more than they do on the ground in Europe and you will pay shipping. Just for the hell of it I went through the purchase process for a $15 reservation from Barcelona to Madrid and shipping is $18 or $36 depending on how quickly you want it. If you bought multiple reservations then the shipping wouldn’t add too much per reservation, but I’d only buy through them if you really, really wanted to have everything taken care of ahead of time.

Ryfela
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Booking your hostel a few days in advance should be fine, unless their is a large event going on like the Olympics or Oktoberfest. Make sure you book through a website because walking into the hostel and booking on the spot will be much more expensive.

I am leaving from Toronto with $12000 for 105 days
Edinburgh, Madrid, London, Segovia, Santiago de Compostela, Toledo, Córdoba, Seville, Granada, Barcelona, Lyon, Nice, Paris, Bruges, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Kutná Hora, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Füssen, Venice, Milan, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome, Pompei, Naples, Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb, Budapest, Hunedoara, Sighişoara, Bucharest, Sofia, Plovdiv, Istanbul, Selçuk
I am leaving from Toronto with $2500 for 22 days
Porto, Guimarães, Lisbon, Tomar, Sintra, Evora, Lagos, Seville, Málaga, London
Requesting help with Transport, Hostels, Budget, Itinerary, Nightlife, Food, Sights
oldlady
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www.raileurope.com IS a travel agency — one that specializes in selling rail passes to Americans. While it’s not the most expensive one, it will still charge you nearly doubLe for reservations. You could waste the equivalent of a day’s living expenses buying reservations from them plus changing plans be even a few minutes results in a wasted reservation. Make your reservations at the station (or better yet, avoid trains that require reservations if the local and regional alternatives are as fast) and buy yourself an extra beer every couple of days.

anandnesan
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Thanks augustin25 and ryfela!!

Thanks again oldlady – I certainly like the idea of additional beers instead of reservation fees Smile I will skip the online reservations and make them at the train stations when I arrive in Europe.

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
anandnesan
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I have two follow-up questions regarding trains

1) One of my legs is between mont-de-marsan and annecy. The route I am leaning towards is mont-de-marsan to paris montparnasse and then paris gare de lyon to annecy (this is much faster than the mont de marsan->bordeaux->lyon->annecy route). My question is how difficult is it to transfer from montparnasse to gare de lyon in Paris? How much time should I give myself?

2) My second question is regarding reservation fees. If my train route/trip involves multiple connections and more than one of them require reservations, will I end up paying multiple reservation fees for each connection or a single reservation fee for the entire trip?

Thanks,
Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome
oldlady
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1. Metro requires a connection at Chatelet/les Halles, so I’d allow an hour and hope for better. Bahn.de shows the fastest connection via RER at 43 minutes with 1 connection but most of the options are 1 and 1/2 hours and have 2 or 3 connections including a 15 minutes walk. This 11+ hour train ride won’t be a lot of fun. Have you thought about doing the Toulouse to Paris portion on the overnight train? That allows you to cover at least some of this while you’re sleeping and the overnight train arrives at Austerlitz, directly across the river from Lyon. It’s, walkable (15 minute) to Lyon, or there’s a bus. I’d plan a couple of hours and enjoy breakfast on the way. This may help although it’s not specific to your trek: http://www.seat61.co….
Here’s an option by shuttle service: http://www.paris-cit…
2. I don’t have a definite answer for the reservation question. You will be charged for 2 reservations on a roundtrip, but you may be issued only 1 document. For the connections, you may only be charged for one reservation if it’s a standard connection, but will sometimes pay for 2. You would ask for a reservation for the entire journey ( have the train numbers written down) and the agent will work out what you need and sell it to you. For Mont-de-Marsan to Annecy via Paris, part is a regional train with no reservation, the two separate TGV trains probably have separate reservations since they’re not a normal connection in Paris.

anandnesan
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Thanks oldlady!

That link you posted is very helpful. I was able to calculate the journey between montparnasse and gare de lyon by taxicab to be around 20 minutes around 6 pm (peak traffic time). This is assuming I get a taxi immediately of course.

But sounds like I need to allow myself at least a couple of hours for this transfer to account for any last minute surprises.

Nesan

I am leaving from Austin with $3500 for 37 days
Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rennes, Annecy, Marseilles, Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome