When I began telling friends and family about my trip to Europe, I received conflicting advice. The older members of my circle told me to take the train, and the younger members told me that budget airlines were the way to go. There’s always been something more romantic to me about gazing out the windows of a train than of a plane, so I wanted a taste. After looking into the costs of train travel, and the most cost effective way seemed to be with a Eurail pass.
What is a Eurail Pass?
Eurail is not a rail company. It is a tourism company that partners with rail, ferry, and other transportation companies around Europe to combine services under one pass.
There are different kinds of passes, depending on your trip. Passes range from one country to global passes and for one week to multiple months. It also offers first and second class options. It is easy to find a pass that works for your trip. We chose a global pass (meaning we can go to any country Eurail serves) that gives us 10 travel days within a two month period.
How much does the pass cost?
The pass can cost anywhere from $100 to over $1000 depending on the pass. With such a
hefty price tag, make sure you do research to confirm this is your best option. We looked at the prices of our journeys via train, plane, and bus on Rome2Rio. If we were just going by the cheapest price, taking buses would have been cheaper than the pass by around $100. However, buses are usually slower and less comfortable than trains, so we decided the extra $100 was worth it to spend more time in our destinations.
Although Rome2Rio offers you a range of prices, we found that the absolute lowest train price it showed would also be around $50 cheaper. However this is a range, and therefore not 100% accurate. These lower priced trains were also less desirable to us because of time of day and journey length.
Flying was more expensive only because we have large bags and would have to pay oversize or checked baggage fees. Transportation to and from the airport is also typically more expensive than transportation to and from central train stations.
While Eurail passes allow you to hop on and off of most trains, some trains still require a reservation in advance. There is a fee associated with the reservation, and it varies based on service line and journey. Some fees will be around €5, while others can be as high as €20 if the route is popular. Overnight trains are more expensive, particularly if you splurge for a sleeper car. That being said, Eurail’s Rail Planner app helps you figure out which trains to take for your desired route, and if a reservation is required for any of the legs.
How do you get a pass?
Eurail passes can be purchased either at train stations or online, though typically the latter is much cheaper. This can be where it gets tricky for long-term or last minute travelers. We decided to get ours while traveling and had it shipped to a friend in Barcelona. Wherever you ship it to, make sure someone is there to sign for the package. They will not deliver it without a signature. Since DHL didn’t leave a delivery slip and we were unable to track the package while in Morocco, our friend never knew the delivery was attempted and the passes were sent back to Eurail. If delivery is unsuccessful and passes are sent back to Eurail, they only issue an 85% refund, which depending on the price of the ticket can be a major blow to the budget, so ensuring a successful delivery is of utmost importance.
We were able to avoid losing 15% by switching out our passes for new ones. Although we had to pay a processing fee of €15 per pass, we ended up saving money by getting cheaper passes and and cheaper travel arrangements.
If you plan to use Eurail, plan to get your ticket well in advance, and plan to be around when the package arrives.
How do you use your pass?
Using the pass for trains without reservations is easy. Use the trip planner function of the app to find out what trains you can take to your destination. Write your travel date and destination in ink on your pass, then hop on the train.
How do you make a reservation?
You can make reservations for some trains online, via the Eurail app, or the specific rail company’s website. However for most trains, an online reservation requires that a physical ticket be mailed to you. If you plan far enough in advance, you can mail your reservation tickets to your home. If, like us, you don’t plan far enough in advance, these reservations aren’t an option.
If you don’t get your reservations mailed to you, you must make them in person. This means you have to wait until you are in the home country of the rail line you’re using to make the reservation with a line representative. Unfortunately, by waiting until 3-4 days before your travel date, you run the risk of more popular routes being completely booked.
Is it worth it?
We had an incredibly difficult time getting our passes, and an even more difficult time dealing with Eurail’s customer service representatives. There is no such thing as prompt customer service with Eurail, which is nerve-wracking when you have a train to catch with your pass, but have no pass. We were pretty determined to dislike the passes, but overall, they have proven themselves useful.
We missed our train from Milan to Verona, making us miss our train from Verona to Munich. The quickest way to get to Munich was to go to Verona, then to Venice, then on to Munich via overnight train. Although the journey was significantly longer, thanks to our passes we didn’t have to buy new tickets. The journeys to Verona and on to Venice were both reservation free, and the overnight train to Munich came with a €30 reservation fee for an overnight sleeper car. If we didn’t have the passes, missing the train would have been a significantly more expensive mistake.
Depending on the length of the trip, a Eurail pass can be worth it. It depends on what type of travel you’re doing. Though it is usually more beneficial to the well-planned traveler— one who weighs the cost of traveling with the pass versus the cost without the pass, and arranges to get the pass weeks in advance—it shouldn’t be overlooked by those who favor a less structured, carefree travel style.
As long as you avoid trains with reservations, the pass is still extremely helpful, as it gives you the freedom to travel on a whim and avoid the cost of same day prices for trains or last minute flights. Just make sure to make the most of your pass by using all of the journey’s you’ve paid for.
The pass makes train travel cheaper and is great for a 2-3 month trip, but for a longer trip the best way to minimize your transportation budget is to use a mix of planes, trains, and buses. This does call for a decent amount of advanced planning in order to find the best prices, but is worth it in the end.
Have you used a Eurail pass? Let us know how you liked it in the comments below, or contact us directly!