Travelling smart is hard when you're foreign

WHEN you don't know how systems work in a foreign country, something as simple as catching a bus or train can cause stress - or explosive arguments with your travel mate.

Take the first time we caught a local bus in Italy.

No one told us about purchasing a ticket before we dared put foot on the bus; no one mentioned the ticket purchase had to be made from a small bar about half a mile away from the bus stop.

Trying to placate a driver and a bus load of impatient Italians ready to take off while my red-faced puffing travel mate huffed his way to and then back from the bar isn't something either of us will forget.

Boarding the TGV, the fast train, in France is so easy it's a pleasure - when you know the system.

Your ticket, conveniently pre-bought in Australia if you're organised, will have a carriage and seat number on it, but don't get on just any carriage and think you can wander down the aisles banging everyone with your bags until you come to the right one. Won't work.

You must go first to an electronic board on the platform and look at a cute picture of the train where each carriage has a letter on it.

Find the corresponding letter on the platform, stand on it, don't move, and voila, your correct carriage will pull up exactly at your feet.

No one will usually tell you about the electronic board on the platform so you'll thank me for this information one day.

Once on the TGV with the glorious French countryside flashing past at 300km an hour, a glass of chilled wine and a baguette in front of you, don't get too comfy because the TGV is so efficient it is always precisely on time and stops for mere minutes at each station.

The helpful people at Rail Europe ( will tell you more.

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