In spite of the growing number of budget airlines in Europe, it seems that most people visiting Italy still travel by train more than by air, car, or bus. It’s always good to learn a few things about Italian trains before you board one for the first time. Here are some train tips in Italy.
- Pack Light. Try to limit yourself to one suitcase or large backpack plus one shoulder bag or day-pack, so you’re more mobile. If you’ve got more bags to worry about, that can mean shuffling one bag on/off the train and going back for the second – which can mean your first bag is vulnerable to any thieves who might be waiting around.
- Bring Snacks. Many Italian trains have dining cars these days, and others have roving vendors who have snacks and drinks for sale. With the former, you’d have to get up from your seat, leaving most of your stuff behind for the duration of your time in the dining car. With the latter, you never know if the train you’re on has one of those food carts on board. And with both options, the offerings are mediocre at best and always overpriced. Do yourself a favor and pick up a few things at a market before you get on the train – bottled water, some bread, some fruit, maybe even some sliced meats – and you’re ready for a picnic in your seat with higher-quality (not to mention cheaper) food.
- Avoid Rush Hour. Trains in Italy aren’t just for tourists, although it’s easy to forget everyone around you isn’t on vacation. Try to schedule your train trips so they’re not during rush hour at either end of the day. Even if you’re taking a longer trip, there are intermediate stops along that route which locals might be taking for work reasons. It’s easier to get reservations on the trains you want to take if they’re not rush hour departures, and tickets are sometimes cheaper then, too.
- Pay Attention to the Stops. Most trains in Italy (even the high-speed trains) have multiple stops along their routes from one end point to the other. Not all of the stations are listed on the big reader-board in the train station, but they should all be listed on the Italian train schedule that’s printed and posted behind glass. In order to be prepared to disembark from the train at your, find out what the stop just before yours is. When you reach that station, you’ll know to begin getting your things together to get off the train at the next stop.
- Know the Difference Between a Ticket & a Reservation. This is a very important distinction, and one that’s understandably confusing. It’s incredibly important to find out – before you get on the train, mind you – whether the train you’re taking requires only a ticket or if it requires both a ticket and a reservation.
- Validate Your Ticket. Tickets aren’t pre-validated in Italy, because they’re not for specific dates or times, so before you get on a train you’ve got to make sure to insert your ticket into one of the yellow or orange validation machines in the station. It’ll stamp a date and time on the ticket so you can’t re-use it, and it’s this stamp that the conductor will check.