Trains are dead.
Sure it's romantic, and the whole notion of criss-crossing the European continent in a train has made it's way onto many a traveller's bucket list, but it's just not what it used to be.
Let's take a look at this from a few different angles. We'll use a couple of hypothetical scenarios to illustrate.
You want to go from Berlin to London, as an example. A train will take you anywhere between 10 and 20 hours. Maybe you don't care about that. Maybe you think it's a good way to see Germany, France and you know taking the train under the English Channel is something you can tell the grandkids about.
And you're right. It could be absolutely lovely. But we haven't gotten to the best part yet. There's no way you're making that trip for under $200--per person!
If you don't mind taking the time, you can get around in Europe much cheaper in a bus. Berlin to Hamburg for $12, Hamburg to Paris for another $20, Paris to Marseille for $40 and the list goes on. European bus lines can be quite charming as well. They provide onboard entertainment, drinks and chairs as comfy as any train.
It gets better. If you really want to get around in Europe quickly, cheaply and without any hassle, it's budget airlines all the way. You might have heard about EasyJet. That Berlin to London trip we talked about earlier? An hour and a half trip for $40.
There are more. Check out German Wings, RyanAir, and Air Berlin. Even the big boys are getting into the game and you can often find budget prices on airlines like Lufthansa, Air France and KLM.
The best way to take advantage of Europe's budget airlines is to get yourself a home base. Let's just say for the sake of argument that you're coming from the U.S. Get yourself an AirBNB apartment somewhere central like Paris, London or Berlin. Keep it the whole time, store your giant luggage and take little two or three-day trips from there. That way, you can avoid hefty baggage fees. Unfortunately, one of the trade-offs of cheap air travel is their draconian baggage policies. (They've got to make their money somewhere.)
Generally, you will be limited to about 20 lb. for a carry-on. Everything else will cost you. However, this limit can be pushed and if you're feeling bold and you don't want to pay extra, try just nonchalantly breezing through the check-in line with a larger bag. Most of the time, attendants are too busy to go around weighing everybody's bag. It's a gamble, but can be worth it in a pinch.
Still, nothing beats a $30 flight to Athens or a $35 flight to Barcelona. Get crazy and spend $60 to get to the Canary Islands or Egypt. Once you're on the continent, an entirely new world is opened up to you.
Or you can waste your precious little vacation time on half-day train rides; it's your call.