Once you get to France, you may want to travel inside the country. Is the train the only way? Train travel in France is efficient, inexpensive, and peaceful. But it’s not the only way to travel! (I’ll still supply you with a few tips for train travel, though.)
Trains in France
You can access train schedules up to four months ahead of your trip. You’ll want to reserve your train ticket as soon as you can for a few reasons. One, you can get great discounts if you book early. (And don’t forget senior or youth discounts.) The later seats sold are more expensive. Plus, you can take advantage of Prems (limited quantity), an early-bird discount.
As with any other public travel, you’ll have more choices and therefore more flexibility with your travel plans. If the schedules are not yet posted, you can request an email alert. The SNCF (French rail company) will notify you when they are available.
You can download the SNCF Connect app to your phone if you want to check your schedule, verify the train car and seat numbers, or have a QR code of the ticket itself.
Companies you’ll see online such as Inoui and Ouigo are both part of the French train network, but have special routing and lower pricing. SNCF Connect is the current name to remember for French trains. www.SNCF-Connect.com. If you book directly with SNCF, you won’t pay a booking fee (as you would with RailEurope.com or TheTrainline.com., those these might be more user-friendly.)
The TGV fast train is very practical for getting across the country in a fraction of the time it would take to drive. Other train types are TER regional and Intercité trains. Only the TGV has mandatory seat reservations (and can sell out.) TER regional and suburban trains don’t have seat reservations and don’t usually sell out.
Flights in France
In 2023, France passed a law outlawing certain short-distance flights from Orly, for example, to Bordeaux. This was to cut down on high-carbon emissions, though similar flights are still permitted from Charles de Gaulle. Interestingly, many train trips are faster and cheaper than a flight. Getting to Bordeaux from Paris takes just over 2 hours by train.
That said, if you want to fly within France, check Air France and FranceBee, a low-cost French airline that flies within France, to the US, and to French islands such as La Réunion. For other low-cost airlines within France and outside, check Ryan Air, Air Corsica, La Compagnie (for business travel), and Transavia (a Dutch-owned part of the Air France KLM group.)
Other Options for Travel
You might be thinking, what else do I need besides trains, rental cars, or a flight? You might want a much cheaper option (like a bus), or find yourself amidst a French train strike (which happened to me once), or just might want to meet some local people. Here are some options for you.
Flixbus: This German-based bus company offers bus trips throughout Europe at a discount. Yes, trips can be long if you want to go across the country. But there might be a time when you’ll need one. www.Flixbus.com You can usually cancel free within 30 days of your purchase.
BlaBlaCars also has bus service (and covoiturage, see below.) For either BlaBlaCars or Flixbus travel, you can book directly with them or through SNCF Connect. www.sncf-connect.com/en-en/bus And don’t forget Ouibus.
Covoiturage: This term means sharing a ride with someone in their car. In this format, you share gas and tolls with the other passengers, and possibly a small supplement to your driver. If you find yourself amidst a French train strike, this is a good option, as is Flixbus.
BlaBlaCar is a leading network for carpooling as well as buses. Check their site for more detailed information. https://www.blablacar.co.uk/
This government-sponsored website gives an array of travel options. www.iledefrance-mobilites.fr/en/the-network/mobility-services/covoiturage
Up to 2015, there weren’t many public options for long-distance coach bus travel in France, only private companies. These private companies still abound, but there are other options for a comfortable city-to-city ride. The three main companies are Flixbus (see above), Isilines, and Ouibus. You can buy these tickets at Trainline.com, as well as other outlets (eg Kombo, GetByBus, Obilet). You can get BlaBla bus and Flixbus tickets through SNCF.
Of course, you may also opt for an organized tour, in which the company will provide buses and hotels for your complete itinerary.
But if you travel on your own, you can see there are many options!
Whichever option you choose, happy travels in 2024!
Note 1: Don’t forget your Travel Journal before you go! Planning and Making Memories: A Travel Journal, by K. B. Oliver
Note 2: The above companies are not necessarily vetted by Oliver’s France