How to Travel ~ Trains vs. Driving
Using the Trains
Train travel is a great choice for Italy, and it’s certainly the preferred way how to travel to visit the great cities. You can speed in comfort between Rome and Florence in just an hour and 39 minutes. Florence to Venice takes only 2 hours and 5 minutes. You can add transfers by private vehicle so that someone takes you to the station to board your train, and someone else is waiting for you at the next station to drive you to your hotel. We give your sources for checking your scheduling options, for buying your tickets or rail passes and seat reservations, and tips for riding the trains. For most Italy trips, point-to-point tickets offer the most economy compared to rail passes.
PLUSES of Rail Travel in Italy
- Trains are usually the most economical way to travel in Europe, apart from biking & hiking, of course.
- You can rest, converse, read or soak up the scenery. Trains are relaxing.
- Trains get you into the centers of key cities where you are close to the major attractions — without the hassles of navigating in or out of town, getting caught in traffic and finding where to park your car.
- Trains generally provide the most efficient way to get from point to point in Europe with minimal lost time.
- You’re on your own, with much control over how you spend your time (see also minuses). Except for getting to the next hotel that’s booked for you and catching any trains that are reserved for you, you can spend your time however you like.
- You do not travel with a group — the half-day guided tours are so short that they don’t count as group travel.
MINUSES of Rail Travel in Italy
- You’re on your own, with much control over how you spend your time. So if you travel without any prearranged transfers, you will need to take responsibility for getting yourself to and from stations and knowing what to see in the cities.
- Carrying bags around a train station, sometimes up and down stairs, and onto trains that may be crowded, is not fun. You need to travel light — TAKE BAGS WITH WHEELS — to enjoy the trains. The degree to which you enjoy a rail trip depends on how much baggage you take.
- In many parts of Europe, such as Tuscany, the trains are not good for visiting the countryside. You speed through nice scenery, but you cannot easily stop and explore the small towns and landscapes. Trains are best for getting you between cities. Trains through the Alps are exceptions where going by rail can be the best way to see the countryside.
Renting a car & driving yourself
By comparison with using the trains, driving involves higher levels of both freedom and responsibility. At the minimum, you’ll need a car rental and hotel reservations. Sometimes it makes sense to combine trains and a car rental so that you have a car where you need it most but can use the trains where it’s a hassle to have a car.
PLUSES of Driving in Italy
- Maximum freedom. There’s no one telling you what to do or where to go..
- It’s your schedule. You can start and stop where and when you want. If you see a quaint village, you can stop and explore it. You can park in the country for an intimate picnic. If a side road or hiking path beckons, just follow your state of mind.
- You can get away from the tourist centers and from high-season crowds. You can explore parts of Italy that people confined to trains, buses and boats can’t imagine.
- You have space for storing your stuff, have less far to carry it, and can travel conveniently with more baggage than by train.
- Privacy. You can keep to yourselves without needing to be around fellow travelers on motorcoaches or trains (see also minuses).
MINUSES of Driving in Italy
- You must be at ease navigating, coping with traffic and foreign driving customs, finding places to park, and occasionally getting lost — or your vacation can be as stressful as the life you left behind. If you deal every day with rush hour traffic and road rage, driving in Europe may be the last thing you need for recreation. You can mitigate the stress of driving by avoiding the cities and instead touring countryside areas where driving can be a joy.
- One little fender-bender can be an ugly experience in a foreign country.
- You must invest time in studying maps to get around efficiently. If you don’t have the time, or if there’s no one in your party who enjoys the navigation, you could waste a lot of time being lost and irritated.
- Driving involves a significant personal investment in preparation, attention, patience, and teamwork between the driver and the navigator. You need to be able to appreciate the joys of driving to make sense of driving in Europe. Driving just to get somewhere — or just because you can’t imagine traveling on a bus, a train or a boat — is an invitation to trouble. If you’re not sure you want to drive, look very hard at other options.
- If you go as a couple, you are totally on your own to experience both the pleasures — and the tensions — of traveling in Europe. Driving together can be an intense personal experience with no fellow travelers to offer suppport and good humor. On guided tours, riverboats, barges and even on trains, your interaction with other travelers can really enrich your vacation.
- Parking in Italy can be a real pain. It can slso be expensive. In many Italian cities and towns, you cannot park very close to your hotel. You may need to carry your bags for blocks or ride a bus to get to your room.
- We highly recommend against having a car in the cities. So if you just want to visit Rome, Florence & Venice, you should take the trains. And if you do a countryside Tuscany tour between Rome and Florence (very popular), you need to pick up the car only when leaving Rome and drop it as soon as you get to Florence.
Taking an escorted group tour by motorcoach
Most guided tours go by motorcoach. That’s another word for bus. You can expect to be traveling with 40 or more people on a motorcoach. There will be a tour director to tell you about the history and culture of the places you visit. There are many varieties now of motorcoach tours in addition to the original “if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” tours. You can still get those whirlwind tours of Europe where you change hotels every night. But now you can buy “leisurely” guided tours that stay in just a few hotels, or even one hotel, for the whole tour and take you on daytrips to visit other cities and countryside destinations. Or you can buy tours of just one country, such as Italy, that spend less time on the road and give you more free time to spend as you wish. But if you’re an independent traveler at heart, you may not like the structure and the idea of being in a group.
PLUSES of Guided Tours by Motorcoach
- Motorcoaches are great “platforms” for viewing Europe from the road. You sit above the cars and look through big windows while a professional driver deals with the traffic and navigation. You sleep when you want, or read or just stare at the scenery.
- Your baggage is handled for you. All you do is deposit your bags outside your hotel door in the morning and find them at the next hotel that evening.
- Your guide will show you what’s important at each destination, answer your questions, and generally take care that you enjoy your trip.
- You’ll waltz into museums and palaces because the tour company has made reservations and paid the entrance fees for you. Then you’ll have your own guide to show you around.
- Many, sometimes all, of your dinners are included so that you need not go looking for restaurants. When you do need to eat on your own, your guide will give you suggestions.
- You’re likely to make new friends and find people who share your interests — the camaraderie that develops in tour groups can really enhance your travel experience.
- There’s no need to find your way around foreign countries or even to worry about your schedule — it’s all done for you.
- Guided tours are more relaxing than independent travel because there’s no pressure on you to get around, find food & lodging, learn languages or study your destinations.
- Guides will suggest what to do with your spare time and where to shop for bargains.
- Security is higher when traveling with the group — less potential for theft.
MINUSES of Guided Tours by Motorcoach
- You must keep to the tour schedule — you won’t have much control over where you spend your time. But you can choose tours which offer lots of free time.
- There’s no “sleeping in” on travel mornings — you’ll need to be up early to catch the bus.
- It’s hard to get intimate with Europe when you’re with a group of 45 people, but again, you can chose tours where you have lots of free time away from the group.
- During free time, the tour company will offer other activities, such as additional museum visits, at extra cost. This is not a negative, except that many people do not anticipate the cost of those options and become annoyed at exceeding their budgets.
- There may be people on the tour that you don’t like but who will be near you for the duration.