John and I traveled around Europe for two wonderful months without ever getting behind the wheel of a car.

I loved it every time we strolled along a street so narrow that a car would be a handicap, every time a hotel added 15 euros for parking and it didn’t apply to us, and every time a public bus in its dedicated lane passed a few hundred cars stalled in a traffic jam and we were on the bus.

Okay, okay, there were a few times it would have been nice to have a car — when we wanted to visit a little town off the beaten path, or when it would have been fun to buy a big souvenir and put it in the trunk, rather than reluctantly pass it by because we didn’t want to carry it around for the rest of the trip. (I know, we could ship something home, but we’re not big spenders anyway.)

Then John would remind me about the friends who had parked their rental car next to a garbage bin behind their hotel, and the bin was set on fire, and their rental car was burned to a crisp.

And I would remind him about the time we bumbled around England in a rental car, knocking off a mirror on one side and ruining a tire on the other side before we got the hang of driving on the left.

In my current opinion, trains, trams, buses, metros and taxis are a great way to go. Maybe this is just an interim stage between the adventure of driving yourself and the security of having a tour operator take care of transportation and just about everything else.

Getting on a train in Europe and heading for the next place we wanted to go was a pleasure. The seats in both first- and second-class were always comfortable — hugely more comfortable than any airplane seat in economy class. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the train departed and arrived right on schedule.

On most overnight trains in Europe there is the option of a two-person compartment with clean and comfortable bunk beds. (That, however, does cost a substantial extra fee. More on Eurail’s “extra” fees next time.)

Every metropolitan area we visited made me realize what a difference there is between American and European approaches to public transportation.

In America we build roads, try to keep them in reasonable repair, and encourage people to buy cars and drive them everywhere. Is there really an “American love affair with the automobile” or is it that our other choices are few and far between? In Europe, public transportation is plentiful, convenient, low-cost and well used by local people.

Gasoline costs more there, too. Somewhere between the high price of gasoline and the narrow winding streets probably lies the reason Europeans drive smaller cars. 

Our biggest transportation hassle was figuring out the different systems in each place: read a metro map, find the route, determine the cost, check whether to pay for a ticket in a kiosk or a machine or on the tram or the bus, and so on. It’s not an overwhelming problem, but it does take time. Still, it’s not all bad. You meet a lot of helpful strangers this way.