I am trying to finalize our itinerary for our summer 2014 travel plans. My family would like to travel from Paris to Lille in July. (July 13th-15th). From there we will be traveling to Ghent Belgium. There are 5 of us (2 adults, 3 children) so even small differences in train fares can be significant when multiplied by 5. We have never before been to Europe and are a bit confused by the train system (purchase in advance, purchase at station, validate all tickets, 60 days advance, 90 days advance (some say 120 days), print at home, not able to deliver tickets USA, etc...). We need to budget and determine if this side trip fits in the budget or if we stick with Paris and Ghent and skip Lille.
What are the most cost effective train options for traveling between Paris and Lille? Are there inter-country trains or are we limited to the Eurorail train? About how much can we expect to pay for Paris-Lille in July? (it seems too early to get a quote for July on the sites I was using-- but we would need an idea for budgeting purposes). Do we need to purchase in advance and is it 90 days from travel date? What ticket site would you recommend?
If we do visit Lille (the plan) I will have the same type of questions about travel to Ghent Belgium but there seems to be more concrete information on this trip online here on TA. The Paris - Lille information seems to be conflicting and/or confusing.
Any and all help would be appreciated. We will be on a tour prior to this where all travel arrangements have been taken care of for us. We are excited to extend our trip but now the transportation arrangements are becoming overwhelming (especially for a travel novice with no public transportation experience - even here in USA). The rest (hotels, activities, locations, air travel) have been relatively easy thanks to TA. I don't want my fear/ignorance about transportation to limit our travels.