If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me or the Facebook group Girls Love Travel about the Eurail pass, I could probably afford a Eurail pass. So I decided to write an all-inclusive guide to help you decide if a Eurail pass is the right decision for you.
What is the Eurail Pass?
Well… it’s a pass. There are two types of passes for European train travel. The Interrail Pass is for citizens of the EU and the Eurail Pass is for non-EU citizens. This post is all about the Eurail pass because I know about it and have used it extensively and I’m not a EU citizen… yet.
The Eurail Pass can be purchased here on the official website. I highly recommend purchasing through them, plus they sometimes have amazing sales. And when youre spending this much money, you want to save as much money as possible.
Which Eurail Pass Should I Get?
Here’s where this gets tricky. There are so many different options that it can get extremely confusing, especially if you aren’t familiar with the Eurail and train system. Eurail Passes can be broken into several different categories so I’m going to do my best to explain each of them.
Before you start looking at Eurail passes, it’s crucial that you decide where you want to travel on your trip. Are you planning on going everywhere in Europe? Or will you only travel to a few select countries? There are three kinds of passes and they each play a different role.
The first type is the Global Pass. I love the global pass the most because they work in virtually every European country. Hence the name ‘global’. It provides you with the flexibility to go anywhere. There are 27 countries that you can go to using the pass. This works best if you are planning on traveling to 5 or more countries during your trip.
The second type of pass is the Select Pass. This one allows you to travel among 2, 3, or 4 different bordering countries. It’s very helpful if you have a region of Europe in which you will stay. Sadly, the biggest downfall is that you can only travel to countries that border each other. So you can’t choose to use it in Portugal and Sweden because those don’t border each other and they’re over 4 countries away from each other. But if you’ll only be visiting a few bordering countries, then it is a great pass because it’s cheaper than the Global Pass.
The last pass is the One Country Pass. If you are only planning on using the pass to travel within one country, then this is the one for you. Prices start at only $75 and the pass lets you see a single country to your heart’s content. Unfortunately, you can only see that one country on that pass.
Now that you’ve decided which of those three passes to get, you need to know how long your trip will be and for how long you will be using the pass. Here’s an example of how I got the cheapest pass possible to make things easier to understand.
When I was living in Germany, I was a student and only had my Fridays through Sundays free. There was no need for me to get a continuous pass since a majority of my time would be in the same city. I chose to purchase 10 days within 2 months. So from the time I activated it, I could travel anywhere for 10 days in a 2 month period. Since I really only needed to use the pass on my trip there and back, that pass lasted 5 weekend trips for me. The weekends I wasn’t using the passes, I would take a bus or fly somewhere. When my parents and I were backpacking through Europe, we were on the go for a month straight, so it worked best for us to purchase a one month continuous pass. So if you know how long you will be traveling and where you will be traveling to, then you can choose the pass that best suits your itinerary.
There are two main types of passes. Passes are either continuous, or they aren’t. If a pass is continuous, it means that it works for ‘X’ amount of days as soon as you activate it. A non-continuous pass means that you can use it for ‘X’ amount of days within a ‘Y’ period. For example, you can purchase a pass for one month that is continuous and works every day for that month period. Or, you can buy a pass that works for 7 days in one month. You can ride on a train for 7 days within a one month period, the days can be spread apart or they can be all at once.
Just when you thought the passes couldn’t be divided any more, there are even more options! Now it’s time for you to determine your age. Just kidding, you’re stuck with your age. If you are under 27 years old, you’re in luck! Eurail passes are a lot cheaper for the youth because Europe wants to encourage the youth to travel. So rejoice! If you’re an adult, then you have to pay more. Or, you can even get passes if you travel as a family at reduced rates. The only caveat to that is that you have to all travel together.
The final breakdown of the Eurail pass is the class system. First class is the nicest and fanciest class. The seats are larger, there aren’t as many of them, and overall the mood is much more relaxing. Most of the time there will only be businesspeople in first class. A first class ticket or pass will cost more so consequently there are fewer passengers.
In second class, you will be among the masses. If a particular train is full, there will be people sitting in the hallways and the corridors between the train cars. However, it is the cheapest option. My mom will only travel in first class, whereas I don’t mind being in second. It all depends on what you’re most comfortable with.
How Do I Work the Eurail Pass?
The Eurail pass is fairly straightforward to use. In order to use it, you first must activate it. This can be done at any main railway station at the main train office. In Spain, this is done at a Renfe office. In Germany, this is done at the DB Bahn office. You have to have your passport in order to activate the Eurail pass. But if you’re traveling in a foreign country, you’d better always travel with your passport. The workers at the offices likely speak enough languages to help activate your pass and as soon as it’s activated you’re good to go! Just be aware if you have a continuous pass that once you activate it, your clock is ticking. Don’t activate it until you are ready to use it. If your train leaves early in the morning (before the office will be open), then be prepared to activate it the night before so that you aren’t stranded without a valid pass.
Once you’ve activated the pass, you can get on virtually whichever train you would like. You’ll sit there for a while and once the train leaves, a conductor will come around to check tickets. Before the conductor comes, you have to have your pass filled out for the day. This means you must write the current month and day in the first available slot on the pass. You also should write down below the pass your station of origin and your destination.
IF YOU ONLY PAY ATTENTION TO ONE THING READ THIS! You can get your Eurail taken away if you don’t have it properly filled out when the conductor comes by. To them, if you haven’t filled it out then you are trying to ‘cheat the system’ and illegally use it. Even though I’ve accidentally forgotten to write it in, I’ve been yelled at before. Thankfully nobody has ever seized my Eurail pass but it’s not fun to have a scary conductor yelling at you in a foreign language.
That being said, I typically wait to fill in the date on my Eurail pass until I see the conductor enter the train car. There have been a few times where I went the whole day without having my ticket checked and consequently wasted a day of my pass. So personally I wait until the conductor enters your car if you think there’s a chance your pass won’t be checked. But that’s just me and legally I have to advise you to follow the law. If you don’t follow the law, then that’s how to do it.
The conductor will look at your pass and if it hasn’t been stamped yet for the day, then he or she will stamp it. Typically they don’t say anything to you, but every now and then you’ll get a really friendly one who wants to visit. Typically the conductors are very nice and want to do their best to ensure that you have a good time in their country.
Do I Need Reservations?
Ah, this is the most difficult question of all to answer. Because sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t. Many train companies in Europe will give you the option to reserve seats on their trains. In some instances, you will be required to have a reservation. There’s a way to look on the Eurail timetable schedule and choose train routes that avoid mandatory reservations. Here’s the breakdown.
Since I used to live in Germany, my knowledge of the German train system is the most comprehensive. DB Bahn does not require reservations on their trains around Germany. That means if you have a Eurail pass, you can just hop on a DB train and go! But when you do get on a train, make sure that the seat in which you sit is not already reserved.
The reservation will be shown in green letters on a screen above the seat if you are on a DB ICE train. In less-fancy trains, the reservations will be printed out. Sometimes the reservations will show what legs of the train are reserved. So for example, you could be traveling on a train that goes from Frankfurt to Berlin, but you will only be on the train from Frankfurt to Cologne. If you find a reserved seat that’s reserved from Cologne to Berlin, then you can sit there as long as you get off in Cologne. Pretty neat huh?
Then, the reservation system gets even better. Lets say you get on that same train in Frankfurt but you want to ride it all the way to Berlin. The seat you randomly sat in is reserved from Frankfurt to Berlin but its not for you. Whomever reserved the seat has 15 minutes from the time the train leaves to get to their seat. That allows them time to find their seat on the long and congested train. Once those 15 minutes are up, the seat is free game and you’re able to sit in it. So if it’s been after 15 minutes and there’s still no one coming to claim their reservation, make like Rosa Parks and don’t give up your seat! Some Germans will try to re-claim their seat if they lost the reservation because they don’t expect foreigners to know about that rule. But if you’re in the right, then don’t let yourself be bullied!
Reservations themselves aren’t very much. Each one will cost you around €4-€8 euros for a standard seat reservation.
Overall, the Netherlands train system operates very similarly to Germany’s. Reservations are not compulsory for every train, but on popular routes you may want to purchase one to guarantee your seat.
The BeNeLux area is comprised of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Train systems consider these three countries as ‘one country’ . It makes traveling so easy because crossing any of those borders isn’t realy considered an international border so you won’t have astronomical international reservation fees.
France hates train travelers. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. As a result I try to avoid France like the plague. It is mandatory to make a reservation on all night trains, and virtually every other train. French trains have a limited amount of seats so they make sure that everyone is accounted for. But if you do use French trains, Thaly’s is the one to ride.
Another reason France hates train travelers is because the workers love to go on strike. Instead of going on break and having a coffee, the workers seem to strike instead. So maintain extreme caution when traveling through France on a rail pass. Once I had a train that was cancelled and I had to get on another one and pay around €50 for a ‘new’ reservation because the French messed it all up.
They just want to keep track of you and make you pay extra. I missed a train from Venice and had to pay about €4 for each leg that I changed. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, but I was still a little irritated that I had to pay. But it wasn’t an astronomical amount. You win some, you lose some.
If all else fails, you can go to the train station office and ask for help and a reservation. The Italians are very friendly and I have never once had a problem when asking the officials for ticket advice.
In my honest opinion, don’t get a rail pass if you’re planning on traveling mostly in Italy. It can be cheaper to get point-to-point in Italy than having an expensive rail pass that’s compounded by more reservation fees. But like with all trains, do your research ahead of time and it may be cheaper. As long as you research thoroughly you will be able to get the best deal.
Although Spain’s Renfe is one of my favorite train lines, they require reservations for trips going across the French border. If you want to take the Barcelona to Paris trip, the reservation will set you back €35 yikes!! In cases like these, it may be cheaper to just fly there! But then you’d miss out on the experience of train travel!
All long-distance trains in Spain require a reservation. A few regional trains allow for people to just hop on and go but not the large Renfe ones. Open seats are available on the day of travel but pre-book if you’re going during a busy season like Christmas. Reservations are open at least 60 days before travel and sometimes even 90 days for the long distance trains.
Basically, if your train trip is traveling over international lines, there’s going to be a reservation fee. End of story. Buh-bye. It honestly sucks, but that’s just how the train system works. A lot of high speed trains will also require reservations.
Why You Should Get a Eurail Pass
Since this post isn’t sponsored and nobody is telling me what to write, I can honestlytell you that the Eurail pass isn’t for everyone on every trip. They ARE expensive and sometimes it’s not worth it for certain trips. If you have done previous research online before coming here (shame on you), then it’s likely you’ll have heard lots of negative things about it. But let me tell you that the Eurail pass makes traveling by train in Europe SO MUCH EASIER! If you want to use some planes to maneuver around Europe in conjunction with your train travel, check out Skyscanner to get the best information and deals. Although the price up-front is a bit steep, you can still save on money by using it. Here’s why.
Most Cities Have a Train Station in the Center
The number one problem with flying (in my opinion) is that airports are rarely in the center of the city. Airports are usually outside of the city and require a bus, shuttle, or taxi to get to the center. Conversely, most European cities, no matter how small, have a train station. A majority of these train stations are very centrally located. Although you may pay a bit more for a Eurail pass, you won’t have to pay €20 to get from the airport to the city because you’ll already be in the center!
Trains Leave on Time
The second problem of airports if you have to be there a few hours before the flight leaves. Trains are not like that at all. A lot of train stations in Europe are open so that you can show up 2 minutes before the train leaves and there’s no problem! I LOVE that part! Stations in Spain frequently have security like an airport, however. But even then, there’s no need to arrive 3 hours early for international travel! When I say that trains leave on time, in most countries they will leave EXACTLY on time! You’d better ensure you get there a little bit early.
Train Travel is an Experience
Traveling in a train is more than just getting from Point A to Point B. Trains allow you to move around, get food (that’s not awful and overpriced). Plus, you get to see and experience the European countryside.
Sometimes You Can Get Free Days
If you know that you DO want to use a Eurail pass, be on the lookout for sales. The Eurail website will frequently have sales that give you extra days just for purchasing during a certain time. Take advantage of that!! Even if you don’t plan on using all of the extra days, you may end up using them!
So have I convinced you to book a train trip to Europe yet? I love traveling by train in Europe and will always try to take a train if I can!