Once upon a time, I lived in a place that made you think public transport was beneath you. Unless some life-changing event, like a DUI, happened, there was no reason for using public transport. Then I moved to the glorious PNW, where I learned there is nothing shameful about using the public transport system. Though some times it may take longer to get where you are going, you get to bypass the traffic and the annoying difficulty of finding a parking garage/spot.
The first time I got on a metro train line I was nervous. I didn’t want to look at anyone, nor did I want to tell anyone I had taken transit. Why? Again old habits die hard, as do attitudes. You see what I mentioned above had been drilled hard into my mind, body and spirit. So that first time was a bit of an eye opener. I saw respectable business individuals, people wanting to seek out adventure in the city, or merely to see friends and family. Needless to say, after that first time I began to change my attitude towards the public transit.
Fast forward and now I am a pro at riding the metro. When I first arrived in France, I will admit that the train system was a bit of a puzzle, simply because it was new. But unlike the US the trains are a central part of the country. They don’t cost very much to ride and you can go pretty much anywhere. There are even stations inside some malls!
Here are a few tips to help you get on your way on the trains.
1. There are Several categories of Trains!
The first train is the metro and that is managed by the RATP. This train covers ground throughout Pairs and the surrounding suburbs. To take advantage of the metro, all you have to do is buy a ticket at any metro stop, determine where you are going and hop on board!
Next is the RER, this train also runs through Paris and the surrounding greater suburbs. The RER is a set of five suburban rail lines that makes stops within Paris and also goes to the airport and Euro Disney. You can use the RER just like you would the metro inside Paris. However, once you leave Pairs the rates increase a little. At any station or rail, you can buy a book or a weekly pass which is more economical than buying individual tickets. Also, at every train station, there is an attendant who is happy to help if you are confused.
Then there is the Transilien, this is a train line that runs through the region of Ile de France. These trains only depart from the major train stations. You take these trains if you want to head to places like Chantilly, Fontainbleu, or Giverny.
Lastly, there is the TER, which will take you to the other regions of France. You could also take the TGV, which is high-speed trains. The TGB travels through France.
2. You can Plan ahead!
Thought buying a ticket at the train station is not a hassle, and you can even purchase your ticket in English, sometimes we want to book in advance. In some cases, such as the TGV, you have to book in advance.
Remember if you buy at the station you can do so in English, and if you need help there is an attendant who is happy to help. Though sometimes they do not speak English, so make sure you learn a few phrases beforehand. Such as;
“J’ai besoin d’un billet pour Versailles, s’il vous plaît.”
Luckily you have options to do this. One you can drop by the train station or the SNCF office, which can be found throughout Paris, and buy your ticket in person. For those techie folks out there you can book online at the SNCF website (conveniently available in English!)
3. Watch France through the windows!
Train traveling can be fun and relaxing, even if you decide to jump on randomly. You will even find that at most stations there are food vendors or vending machines loaded with snacks and drinks for the ride. Some trains have dining cars but that can be pricey. You are allowed to bring your own snacks and treats.
You can board the trains up until two minutes before departure, once we were running late and the attendant managed to hold the train for us but that is a rare event! The announcement of the train departing happens 20 minutes before, and at most stations, the announcement is given in several languages, including English.
If you are traveling with a bag, make sure you have a luggage tag, and that you store it on the racks found at the entrance of each car. Smaller items can be placed above your head.
Remember riding the train can be an exciting time, and once you get the hang of it, riding the train or bus can open up new avenues of travel for you. I am living proof that riding transit can even make you fall more in love with the city you live in!