If you have made the decision to wander (or re-wander) your way through Europe, then congratulations! You are one smart cookie.
The Old World is chock full of charm, history, art, culinary masterpieces, landscapes that make you pinch yourself, stunning architecture, and wine. Lots of wine.
These are all very nice things.
When thinking about logistics and the best way to travel from country to country, using a Eurail pass has probably crossed your mind. But, is it worth it? Is it the best way to get around?
Very good questions indeed.
- First of all, the train is not for everyone, and Eurail passes are not for everyone. Some people would rather spend an hour on a plane than 12 hours on a train to get to the same place.
- Some travellers have very specific dates and times that they want or need to follow. In this case a Eurail pass might not be the best option. Point to point train tickets-when bought in advance-might end up being cheaper.
- If you are only going to a couple of destinations, it might be better to just buy individual tickets, or consider flying. Sometimes a flight ends up being easier on the pocketbook. The best way to figure this out is to go to the eurail website, pick a pass that fits your circumstances and price compare. Keep in mind, that if you will be travelling with other people, you might be eligible for partner or group discounts. Keep an eye on their webpage as well as promotions pop up from time to time.
Ok, so we know who the pass might not be good for, but who might it be perfect for?
If any of the following points apply to you, as much as they do to me, then a Eurail pass might be just the ticket. (See what I did there?)
1. You feel like you may have been born in the wrong century.
For people like me who were born nostalgic, the train is not just a vehicle to take you from here to there. It is a time machine. It is an experience. It is the most romantic way to travel and is a wonderful inspiration for us writing and shutterbug types. There is just something about the train that you cannot get from other modes of transport. Plus it’s much more relaxing. I don’t get the take-off and landing jitters that I do from flying, and there are no traffic jams or questionable bus/taxi drivers to worry about.
2. You are a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ kind of traveller.
You like the idea of spontaneous decisions and dread having to commit to certain dates or schedules. If words like: restless, free-spirit, and gadabout are thrown around while describing your travel and/or life style, you’ll probably like the freedom of using the pass. (Yes, I know that nobody uses the term ‘gadabout’ anymore, but they should.)
My husband and I used the 15 day global flexi pass to gallivant our way around Europe and absolutely loved it. It was a great fit to our personalities and travelling styles.
We had 15 non-consecutive travel days to use within 2 months. This gave us unlimited travel on each travel day- from midnight to midnight- making as many stops as we wanted. It doesn’t matter how many trains you take or how often you hop on and off. The global pass also allows you to travel within 28 different countries. How’s that for space to roam?
I loved that we could wake up in the morning and decide where we wanted to go that day. Heck, sometimes we didn’t even know where we were going until we were at the station. Sometimes someone on the train told us about a great spot nearby, and we gladly made a detour to go see it. If we would have done this without the pass, the last minute tickets would have cost a fortune.
3. You really want to get around.
If you want to cover a lot of ground, then a pass could really save you some euros/pounds/insert appropriate currency here. With the pass that we used, we made stops in 13 countries! (Yes, we sucked every last drop out of it).
Woo Hoo! What a ride!
(Disclaimer: I’m counting Monaco even though I only peeked out of the train door for a few seconds. Technically only my head has been in Monaco but we are here to talk about the glory of train travel, not quibble over technicalities).
I am usually a SLOW traveller, staying weeks, months, or even years, to get under the skin of a place, so I was a little worried about feeling rushed. Happily, that did not happen. Because we had 2 months to use the travel days, and they were non-consecutive, I had the freedom to stay longer in certain places that I especially loved. Being able to travel at my own pace is important to me, so I was tickled pink that I had the freedom to linger wherever my little heart desired.
4. You care about the journey as much as the destination.
Travelling by train is not just about the places you are going. The people you meet in the seat next to you; the fleeting glimpses of scenery; and the stories you witness or become part of, are all part of the trip. The book you read on the way from Hamburg to Amsterdam will always remind you of this time. The conversations you have with strangers (that sometimes contain more hand gestures than words) will somehow stick in your memory as being profound. The other travellers that you see in the train stations will spark your curiosity and imagination and make you want to travel even more than you already are.
You want to be present for every moment of your trip. You don’t want to worry about booking tickets, or making it to the station in time for previously booked ones. (You will still have to check schedules of course, but this is where the Rail Planner App comes in. It’s very easy to use and works offline.)
5. You like to let serendipity help plan your wanderings.
Missed your train? So take another one! We hadn’t planned to go though Switzerland, but I accidentally jumped on the wrong train. As the one I was supposed to be on pulled out of the station, my moment of panic was replaced with giddy relief that I had a Eurail pass in my hot little hands.. The train I WAS on was going to Switzerland, so we went to Switzerland. And how great that we did because passing by snowy alps was in
a word two words: cool beans.
6. You like the idea of being happily suspended between places.
“I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” Anna Funder
That ‘in-between places’ feeling is something that is hard to describe, but if you love train travel then you have surely felt it. It is a mixture of freedom and security. I felt this even more with the pass because I could concentrate on the feeling, and not worry much about the logistics. The train is a place to wind down, think back on where you have been and look forward to where you are going. It is a place where you can let your experiences sink in, and yet still be in the moment. You have stillness and movement at the same time.
7. You have never been accused of being organized.
Having a punch-style train pass is, in a word: easy peasy. (Ok, fine, it’s two words. What a bunch of sticklers). Having one pass instead of individual tickets makes things simple, in particular for people like me, who may lean on the organizationally-challenged side of things. I liked having only one ticket to worry about, and that it covered most (but not all) trains.
If you are considering getting a Eurail pass, here are some tips and things to remember:
- The Eurail pass is for non-Europeans. If you are from Europe, you can still use a pass but you will get it from Interrail instead.
- You might need reservations that are not covered by the pass. We travelled almost entirely on non-reservation trains, but this can be tricky in some countries. (Spain for example). The reservations didn’t break the bank however. We paid 10 euros each for the high speed Ave train from Barcelona to Sevilla and 4 euros each from Sevilla to Granada.
- All night trains need reservations. Sometimes this can end up being cheaper than a hotel or hostel. Sometimes it is not. We reserved a 6 person couchette about 3 minutes before the train left Budapest to Munich, and paid 27 euros each. We ended up being the only two people in the compartment, and I slept like a baby. Nothing quite like being rocked to sleep by the rails. Find out more about reservations and night trains HERE.
- Download the Rail Planner App . It works offline, and If you want to avoid trains with mandatory reservations, you can put that as a filter. We loved the App, as it did most of the work for us.
- Validate your pass the first time you use it, and make sure to follow the specific instructions for your particular pass (filling in dates and destinations etc.)
- If you will be going a very short distance on one of the days, you might want to buy a point to point and not waste a travel day.
- Make sure you know the 7 pm rule if you are using the global flexi pass. It can give you some extra time.
- Remember that the pass can not be used on all trains. We never encountered a problem with this, but we also had a very flexible schedule.
- Make sure you read the fine print and understand your pass. Know its perks and limitations.
- For the love of God, pack lightly.
- Make some great memories so you’ll have tales to tell when you’re old and eccentric.
I travelled Europe with the 15 day global flexi pass, courtesy of eurail. As always, all opinions and impressions are very much my own. (Just ask anyone who has ever had to live or travel with me.)