Trains

  • Make sure you check what station your trains are arriving and leaving from!  Many of the large cities in France have more than one station.  For example, I arrived at Marseille Blanchard and left from Marseille St Charles.  If you are connecting in Paris, it is not uncommon that your inbound and outbound Paris station may be different.  There will be a long enough connection time (in my experience), but pay attention to the specific station listed and plan to transfer by Metro or other means.
  • Work-specific: If staying near Civray rather than Poitiers, check fares from Ruffec.  Parking there is free and the tickets are often priced similarly or cheaper than those from Poitiers (where parking can be quite expensive at the train station).
  • Even if you can drive somewhere, check the trains.  I’ve found a number of cities where the train time was less than driving – sometimes a couple of hours less!  Plus, you get to sit back and relax while on the train!

Planes

  • For budget travelers, while Ryan Air is dirt cheap, they often fly to alternative airports.  When comparing prices, make sure you factor in the cost of the train ticket (or Ryan Air’s bus) to/from these distant airports.  In some cases, I’ve found that the Ryan Air airfare plus the train/bus ticket was more than flying with another carrier directly into the primary airport.  Alternatively, I’ve found that taking the train the whole way was cheaper and just as fast (by the time you factor in the need to arrive at the airport 2 hours early).
  • Unlike most of the train stations, which are typically centrally located or connected into metro networks, the airports are often located 30 minutes or so out of the main city.  Make sure you factor in the time and cost associated with the airport location.
  • When traveling longer distances, price both an overnight train (assuming you can sleep on them) and a flight plus hotel.  In some cases, I’ve found the overnight train to be a better deal (French, Italian and German trains are reasonably priced, although I found both French & German bunks rather uncomfortable; on Scottish trains I’ve found great bargains and they had the nicest accommodations!) and in other cases, I found it was cheaper to fly and book a hotel (Spanish night trains are rather expensive).

Automobiles

  • Realistically, there are some places you just are not getting to without a car.  Civray would be one of those places!  Even if you don’t have a car your whole trip, you may find you need to rent one in order to see everywhere you want to go.
  • Cars provide maximum flexibility, but they also come with some added hassles.  I’ve never driven while on an international vacation, so this is my first experience with it.  One of the things that I forget to account for is that parking is often limited, especially free parking, in many of the cities I’ve visited, so you end up having to hunt down a parking space or a garage . . . which can come with a much heftier fee than you’d expect!
  • Most of these towns were built a LONG time ago – before cars.  This means a lot of really narrow streets, at times having to pull over to let the other direction of traffic pass (these areas are marked with which direction has right-of-way OR if parking is on your side, the other direction has right-of-way).  It also means many one-way streets . . . which can end up feeling like a maze you can’t escape from, as happened to me in La Rochelle!
  • There’s no time to just relax and read a book or engage in other entertainment as with planes and trains – you are driving, with all of the stress and potential accidents that can entail!  On the whole, French drivers are very polite and the risk of accident seems minimal – until a wild animal leaps out into the road in front of you! (Please note my prior near collision with a deer)