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Youth Beat

Get on Track for Savings in Europe

January 20, 2002|LUCY IZON

You can nod off in the snowy Alps and, saving yourself the cost of a hotel room, wake up on the sunny shore of the Mediterranean. Riding the rails in Europe is not always the least expensive transportation, but because the rail network is extensive, service is frequent and specially priced passes are available to people younger than 26, many young travelers have always found it attractive. Several new youth rail passes have been introduced this year.

If you want to hit the highlights of Paris, Florence, Venice and Rome, there's the new France 'n Italy Youthpass, offering unlimited second-class rail travel throughout these two popular countries. The pass is valid for travel on any four days within a two-month period for $199. Additional days, up to a maximum of six, can be purchased for $21 each. Two-country passes are a new trend that travelers will see more often in the future, rail companies say.

The new Swiss Youth Pass is valid for consecutive days of unlimited travel on national rail, lake steamers and transportation services in 36 Swiss cities. This pass is honored on some postal buses and selected private railways, such as the Glacier Express and the Panoramic Express. It is also valid for 25% discounts for many mountaintop excursions and entrance to the Lausanne Olympic Museum. The passes are available for first- or second-class service. A four-day pass costs $184 first class, $120 second class; eight days is $255 first class, $169 second class; 15 days is $308 first class, $203 second class; 22 days is $357 first class, $237 second class; and one month of travel is $402 first class, $263 second class.

With the new Italy Flexi Rail Card Youth, you don't have to travel on consecutive days. Each card is valid for a specified number of days of second-class travel, which must be used within a one-month period. A four-day pass costs $159, eight days is $223 and 12 days is $286. Passholders are also eligible for special fares on Artesia Premier Trains and for ferry service to Sicily.

Also geared to cost-cutting young travelers is the new second-class European East Pass, valid for five days of unlimited travel in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland within one month. It costs $154, plus $18 for each additional day.

To see if a pass will be a good value, log on to the Rail Europe Internet site at www.raileurope.com and run through the fares and schedules, comparing youth point-to-point fares with passes for the region you want to explore. Keep in mind that on many routes, if you board an overnight train after 7 p.m., only the next day is deducted from your pass.

The youth passes must be purchased before you travel to Europe. You must be younger than 26 on your first day of travel, and you must begin using your pass within six months of its purchase. Remember that not every train has second-class service and that reservations for high-speed trains and berths for overnight journeys cost extra. To avoid surprises, study with a travel agent the schedules of routes you are likely to travel before you buy a pass.

On the Rail Europe site you'll also find details on other 2002 rail passes that offer special rates for travelers younger than 26. These include the traditional 17-country Eurailpass, the Europass, the Eurail Select Pass, BritRail Classic Youth Pass, BritRail Flexipass Youth, France Youthpass, German Rail Youth Pass, Greek Flexipass Rail 'n Fly Youth and the Holland Junior Rail Pass. Foreign student travel services also sell youth point-to-point international rail fares and passes that can be purchased after arrival. To find addresses for such services, log on to www.istc.org.

Other travelers can be a good source of advice. On the Graffiti Wall (message board) at www.ricksteves.com or at Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree (www.lonelyplanet.com) you'll find shared information about trains. Recently a Canadian traveler related her experience on a rail trip in Eastern Europe: "I had a second-class ticket ... and once my train hit the border from Hungary to Romania the lights and heat went out in all of the second-class cars. I woke up shivering! I moved to the first-class car and paid the ticket man $10 to stay in first class for the remainder of my trip. The lights and heat remained on in first class."

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Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance travel writer and author of "Izon's Backpacker Journal." Her Internet site is www.izon.com.

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