Italian trains are fickle. They can be gorgeous, quick specimens that get you to your destination on time and in style. On bad days, however, delays can last for hours, someone may sit in your seat and a whole bunch of unsavory characters could riding your train. Of course, those are the bad days when the trains are, in fact, running. Ever since my first trip to Italy in 2006, I’ve had more than my fair share of unique experiences riding the rails. From talking my way out fines, to navigating strikes and squeezing an overstuffed suitcase into impossibily small spaces, there are a few tricks you need to know in order to enjoy Italian train travel.
1. Make sure to print and validate your ticket. Always, I don’t care if you think you don’t have to, do it anyway. The one time I didn’t do this, and thought I could get away with a simple itouch version of it, I nearly got fined. Luckily, I knew Italian and could talk my way out of it. Luckily, the train conductor was nice and didn’t make us pay 250 euro. Be safe and stick your ticket in the yellow box. Validate your ticket, if only for peace of mind.
2. Don’t bring any luggage you will dread carrying up and down stairs. Italian train stations are plagued by several flights of stairs to get to and from the platform. Sure, you may want to bring your wheeley suitcase or your laptop, but ask yourself how you’ll feel about carrying it before you pack it. Then there’s the issue of finding space on the train…
3. Check the timetable, especially if you have to make a connection. Italian trains only sometimes run to schedule. There was a recent issue with all the timetables for the fast trains changing. The trenitalia booking system will often book you a connection with only five minutes in between arrival and the departure of the next train. Play it safe and make sure you know when you should be leaving and arriving and that you have enough time to run to the next platform!
4. If you are going to travel at strange hours, make sure you aren’t traveling alone. If you are traveling alone outside of regular travel times, avoid speaking English. Italian trains are more/less safe, but there are a handful of unsavory characters who lurk about, especially outside of regular train travel hours when the tickets are cheaper. It may seem silly, but keeping a low profile is always better. I make it a general rule not to talk on my phone on trains. Use your brain.
5. Watch out for strikes. There will be a strike. You may have to take the bus. This will be horrible. Strikes generally impact specific regions more than the entire country, but it pays to check travel updates before you head to the station. If you’re going to a big city, there shouldn’t be an issue. Travel between two cities within the same region, however, can be difficult if not impossible. Whatever happens, make sure to take it in stride!
Do you enjoy train travel? Have you ever traveled on the trains in Italy?