AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
The idea of catching a train might sound like a throwback to travel 100 years ago, but in Europe it's a snap and relatively inexpensive to boot. Someone else will be doing the driving, plus with many train stations centrally located you'll be dropped right into the center of town.
When traveling by train, you have three choices: (1) Buy point-to-point tickets for every leg of the journey, (2) get a regional pass, or (3) buy a Europe-wide pass.
Point-to-point tickets are best for when you are staying in a single country, or making a one-time trip. You can get them in ticket windows, automatic machines, or, in Italy, at the tobacco shops in the station. Tren Italia is the only option for train travel in Italy and the two train stations most easily accessible from base are Pordenone and Sacile. Longer trips, such as to Florence or Rome, usually require you to first travel to Venice and then transfer to another train. Keep in mind that Italian names for cities are sometimes different then the American translation (i.e. Florence in English is Firenze in Italian.) This can sometimes make things difficult when looking up your destination in the automatic machine.
All trains offer a variety of classes, from first-class sleepers which provide your own compartment, to single seats in a crowded economy class. Consider how far you'll be traveling before you make your selection. You might be okay in economy for a couple hours, but might want to shell out a bit more money for a comfortable long trip.
Getting a timetable in advance will help with your planning, but all timetables date so ensure the one you have is recent. You can also check times online. When traveling through Italy, www.trenitalia.it has all the travel times and you can reserve tickets as well, usually the cheaper method for longer journeys. If backpacking through several countries in Europe timetables found online can be purchased before a trip and lists most train stations in Europe and can be a huge help if you don't have access to the Internet on the go.
Eurail passes can also be key if you're touring the continent. They can be purchased at www.eurail.com with passes available for 15 days (from $485) to 3 months (from $1,360), depending on how many days you want to travel during the time you select. The pass is available only to non-Europeans and must also be purchased in advance. The passes allow travel to most European countries (except Britain) and include some ferries. They're not cheap, but they're super convenient and cover almost everything.
Use common sense when traveling on trains. Travelers should never adventure solo. All travelers should consider ways to secure their baggage, particularly if they plan on sleeping on the train. Before going anywhere check the government travel advisory at www.travel.state.gov.
For directions to the Pordenone and Sacile train stations visit www.aviano.af.mil/library/newcomers.asp