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Don't pay too much for Europe train travel

I've been doing some research for our upcoming France destination guide, and have found all sorts of useful things about saving money on Eurail passes and train travel in France.

By asking various companies that sell tickets and checking prices I've discovered the following:

  • For individual tickets for travel in France, head straight to the SNCF website. When I tested this out by comparing ticket prices on the official French national railway site and a consolidator site, I was pretty shocked at how much the prices could vary. I tested four routes on four different days, and each time the SNCF price was lower, sometimes by a lot.

    The only downside—and to me it's not much of one at all—is that SNCF won't send tickets to the U.S. Instead you'll either have to print out your tickets at home or pick them up at the train station before boarding. When you book on the SNCF site, you'll see restrictions on the countries whose residents can book. I checked with SNCF, and received word that all this means is that they won't send it to U.S. addresses.
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  • The price for Eurail passes may vary depending on where you book them. If getting the lowest price trumps the desire to just book in one place and be done with it, it's worth shopping around. Prices sometimes vary between authorized Eurail sellers such as Eurail.com, RailEurope.com, and Railpass.com, and not all of them will run the same sales all the time.
  • If you're trying to decide whether or not to get a Eurail pass or just buy individual tickets and you know your itinerary, compare the Eurail pass price to the cost of individual tickets. To find the latter, check fares on the national rail websites for the countries you plan to visit (SNCF in France, Renfe in Spain, DB in Germany, etc.).
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