You are heading to Europe with plans to venture far and wide to see as much as possible during your month away but you are still not sure if this Eurail pass you have heard about is what you need, and if it is, how do you use it? Well we are here to help! After our 2 month trip gallivanting through Europe, using our pass to jump from country to country we have certainly learnt some tips and tricks along the way.
After our experiences and mistakes we have come up with an easy guide for first timers using the Eurail pass and how train travel works in Europe…
So, what are Eurail passes?
Eurail passes are there to make your train travel experience through Europe as simple as possible, designed to give you flexibility during your travels and to ultimately lower the cost of your transportation. There are multiple passes that can be purchased for a specific time period (up to two months) and a specific number of countries (up to 28 countries). Eurail passes are available for non-European citizens only. If you are a European citizen, you will need to purchase a Interail Pass instead.
Should you get a Eurail pass & what type will best suit you?
There are different types of Eurail passes with different prices, duration, and coverage. The type of pass you choose will depend on how much, and where, you intend to travel.
The Global Pass is the most flexible pass, allowing you to travel to up to 28 countries in a time frame of your choice. This pass is perfect for those planning a long trip with many countries on the itinerary. Prices are dependent on the length of your travel and how many trains you are planning to take. Starting from 5 days within the month to 3 months of continuous train travel – it is up to you.
The Select Pass is for those planning a shorter European adventure. This pass allows you to choose 2 to 4 bordering countries you would like to visit and again passes depend on the length of you travel and how many trains you are planning to take. *Remember, the countries you visit must be bordering.
The One Country Pass is the best choice if you want to spend your vacation experiencing 1 European country. With this pass we recommend comparing the Eurail price with the cost of the individual tickets of the trains you are planning to take and go from there.
In our opinion, if you intend to take only a couple of trains to just a few countries, then it is likely that a Eurail pass is not for you, as the individual train tickets may cost less than the pass itself. However, if you are planning to jump from country to country and using trains constantly throughout your travels the pass will be your best option.
If you are a planner when you travel we recommend working out an itinerary first of where you want to go, how many trains you will need to catch and from there compare the total price of all point to point tickets verses the pass. A fantastic site for this is RailEurope, just put in your travel plans and work out the fares from there. However, if you are like us and prefer a more spontaneous, flexible trip the pass is perfect for you. Being able to hop on trains whenever we pleased, jumping from country to country during our 2 month stint was a breeze using the pass.
We also want to mention that the Eurail pass does not include the Eurostar and travel through the UK, just to keep in mind when planning your travels with this pass.
How to purchase your pass?
Jumping on the Eurail website and purchasing the pass that best suits you is a simple process, however there are some things you need to know before buying it…
1. You can only receive your pass by mail to your home country or a European address. Passes can only be mailed to the purchaser’s address or an address within Europe, so if you are already on the road like we were you will have to get the pass sent to a family member or friend back at home who can then mail it to you. Tickets are not available electronically.
2. The pass needs to be purchased between 6 months to a week before your trip. So, take into account shipping time and the fact that you have 6 months to validate your pass at a train station in Europe before you can use the pass. So, what’s this whole validation thing about?
How to validate your pass?
When arriving in Europe with our Eurail pass in hand we had no clue that we had to validate our pass. Luckily we came across a lovely railway officer who noticed our confused faces as we attempted to use our passes for the first time.
We learnt that you must validate your pass at a train station in a country where Eurail is valid. You will need to find a railway official who will stamp your pass to validate the date on which your train travel begins. Remember you must activate your pass within 6 months of the issuing date and you need proof of ID and the pass to get it validated.
If you do not validate your pass and jump on a train the officer checking the tickets may make you purchase a full price ticket before sending you off to validate it at your arrival station, so this is a very important step you must not forget.
How do train travel days work?
When you purchased your ticket you would of decided on how many days you will be travelling during your time in Europe. For example, you may have chosen 5 travel days within a 1 month period. A travel day is one 24-hour period, commencing at midnight – but during those 24 hours you can take as many trains as you like, and it still counts as one travel day. Therefore, you may end up catching 8 trains with your 5 travel days pass as you can take multiple trains during the 24 hour period.
How do you find out the train schedule?
Finding out the train schedule and what trains you should catch is a very simple process. We recommend using the Eurail Timetable to plan out your trip, also available as an offline app too. You pop in your departing/arriving stations and the time/date you plan to leave and it will find trains available for you, will show you wether you need a reservation or not and if the Eurail pass is accepted on the specific train line.
We used the Eurail Timetable during our 2 month trip and found it extremely reliable and easy to use to plan our train journeys.
Do you need to make reservations & how to make one?
Some trains do require a reservation, mainly overnight, high speed and cross country trains – the Eurail Timetable will let you know. If you do need to make a reservation it will cost you a fee, varying country to country. Sleeper train reservations cost more than day trains, and some countries can only be travelled through via reservation (we had to make €10 reservations for all our trains in Italy).
We made all our reservations at the train station the day before departure to ensure the train wasn’t booked out. We simply found the ticket sellers and stated that we had Eurail passes and we want a reservation for the train from here to here on this date and at this time. They will then tell you how much the reservation will cost and then they will give you your reservation ticket. You will need to show you reservation and your Eurail pass when on the train.
How to keep track of your travel days
Your Eurail pass consists of your ticket and your pass cover. Before boarding you must record your trip in the travel report on the pass cover and write the date of travel on your pass. You will need to travel with your passport and have it readily available when requested. If you travel without having filled out the travel report and pass, you may be fined and will be made to pay a full fare ticket.
If you have any questions related to the Eurail pass our train travel in Europe please don’t hesitate to ask, we are more than happy to help.
A big thank you to Eurail for allowing us to experience train travel through Europe. As always, all opinions are our own.
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