May

7

Let’s Go Europe

Written by

Europe is scary! For those of you considering a summer romp through the continental continent, Caitlyn Levin, an Actual European, details her journey through Europe and describes the workings of the mysterious Eurail system.

The cultured man’s choo-choo train.

If you’re thinking about traveling around Europe this summer, you’ve probably already heard the term “Eurail” thrown around, and if you’re anything like me, you have no idea what it means, because (being fairly ignorant of how train travel works) the concept is completely new. I was in a similar situation this past Spring Break, when I decided to embrace my Junior year abroad and travel forth into the great unknown of Europe–scary, I know. Friends told me that if you’re making the great train trip, a Eurail pass is the way to go. There’s an abundance of information on the Internet about Eurail passes, but most of it is confusing who have never traveled anywhere in Europe by train before.

Thrown into deep confusion, my research into these multi-faceted passes began.

Basically, a Eurail pass is a train ticket that enables you to take multiple trains through multiple cities on multiple days. Simple, right? They’re often recommended to people, especially young people, who want to travel via train through Europe with the flexibility to plan their course as they move. It sounds easy—and for the most part, it is—but it’s important to do research beforehand to figure out whether or not you actually need one.

The passes are produced by Eurail Group, a non-profit organization, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Firstly, they’re broken down into four categories:

  • One-country passes get you anywhere you want within the country you choose
  • Regional passes get you through two countries
  • Select passes allow you to “select” three to five countries
  • Global passes give you virtually free reign to run wild and free through the continent

These passes vary in price depending on which countries you choose, and how many “travel days” you want to have. “What is a travel day?!” you shout.

A travel day is a day on which your ticket is valid. When you get the ticket, there will be little empty boxes on it, one for each travel day you bought. When you want to use the ticket, you simply fill in one of the little boxes with the date, and then you can travel as much as you want that day, through any of the countries that are included on your pass.

The point of the passes is to save you money and to make Europe more accessible to non-EU citizens (who are the only people eligible to buy them). So the question is, will it actually save you money? The answer to this question is different for everyone, so you’ll have to do a bit of research. If you’re only traveling around one country, then check the price of the pass for that country, and see how many travel days you will need. There are a variety of places where you can check the price for train travel. Most countries will have their own rail network and you can look at booking tickets directly through them (but be warned, most places won’t give you an e-ticket, and shipping can be outrageous). Travel agencies are more than willing to help out for a small price—raileurope.com is an online agency that specializes in train travel and will help you get an idea for what your trip would cost. Comparing the price of the pass with the point-by-point total seems really simple, but there are some hidden fees to watch out for during the process.

First of all, when you see or hear the term “reservation” remember that a reservation is not the same as a ticket for the train. For many trains, a ticket is all that is necessary, but for most high-speed trains, a reservation is required in addition to a ticket. When traveling with a Eurail pass, you always have a ticket, but never have a reservation. Nearly all reservations come with a fee, and in some cases that fee can be more expensive than buying the ticket on its own (The THALYS trains in Belgium, for example, charge you a huge reservation fee if you’re traveling on a Eurail pass). In Italy, they will often require a seat reservation and will charge a fee to make it.

The tricky thing about these reservations is that you usually don’t need them. Basically, the Eurail pass is a ticket to any train that’s covered under the package you bought, if the train has seats available. During the peak season in the summer, a reservation might be a good idea. It will guarantee a seat on the train, even if the train is packed.

Reservations can be difficult to make if you’re in the United States, because the easiest way to make them is to go to a train station in Europe and speak with someone at the ticket desk. Travel agents can help with this, and some will even do it for you online.

All of this information seemed really overwhelming to me when I was doing my research—and some of it was absurdly hard to find and sort out—but the gist of the Eurail pass is this: If you’re going to be traveling through multiple countries (especially if you’re going to travel through all of Europe), the pass is definitely going to save you money. Not only does it cover unlimited travel on the days you chose to use it, it also covers regional trains in the city once you get there, which in some cases is like using the subway for free all day. Berlin, for example, has a huge S-Bahn network that runs through the city just as thoroughly as the Underground system, and if your travel day is activated, you can ride the Bahn to your heart’s content without paying a Euro penny.

The pass comes with a travel guide that lays out all the rules and regulations to watch out for while traveling and tells you about special discounts in each country to which your pass entitles you. It also comes with a giant map that shows you the train routes drawn through all of the countries and a book with timetables of popular trains in it, broken down by country—very handy when you’re standing in Poland unsure of your next move. If you’re a type-A personality like I am and you need to plan your trains more thoroughly, OBB has a route planner that allows you to search for specific trains on the day you think you’ll be traveling and tells you if those trains require reservations or not. Use it, and feel your blood pressure decrease.

Overall, if Europe in general is your destination this summer, check out what they’re offering over at Eurailtravel. The website provides more information than you could ever need and links to sales agents that can give you even more excruciatingly detailed information about how the passes work. If your goal is to see as much of Europe with as little debt as possible, the Eurail pass is truly the way to go.

The oblong fruit of your language requirement labors via Wikimedia.

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16 Comments

  1. bitter student  

    grumble grumble i wish i was traveling across europe this summer; i'll be at my minimum-wage employment instead grumble grumble.

  2. Anonymous  

    Yeah the reservations are such rip offs...
    Almost for all trains that travel between countries, you need reservations, and any high speed trains, like the article says. Often, reserved seats can be sold out too, which can suck if you want to travel on a specific day and there are supposedly no seats left. But you can just hop on the train and act like a confused American ('but I have a ticket!!' if a conductor asks to see your reservation) and first of all, you will be able at the very least to stand up in the space between cars. Or, after the first stop or two, people will get off and you can sit in their seats. So I would recommend to never actually buy a reservation from the station if you want to save money, because the conductor will either force you to buy a reservation on the train (where they charge the lowest price level) or you will get off without having to buy one at all. And this can be expensive because a reservation on a train to travel from Paris to Basel, for example, would have cost us 106 euros=~$140

  3. Anonymous  

    Try buses. Trains get very expensive after a lot of travel...even with (especially with!) a pass. When I took trains, I'd buy tickets directly from the country's lines rather than through Eurail, but some bus companies can get you where you want to go for a fraction of a cost.

    Swebus - https://www.swebus.se - they have an English language option for the site. I spent $40 to get from Oslo to Gothenburg to Copenhagen. Their buses also run to popular destinations throughout western Europe, including Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam.

    Student Agency - http://jizdenky.studentagency.cz - lots of travel in the east. I spent $14 to get from Budapest to Bratislava. Best thing = booking an actual seat number in advance.

    Obviously in some cases a train will get you there faster than a bus, especially the Thalys, ICE, and TVG. They're also the trendy way to travel, and offer crazy spectacular views...Salzburg to Zurich was unbelievable. But often, trains will get behind schedule, which makes transfers a bitch...the Deutsche Bahn trains have this way of turning a five hour route into a full day experience, and they will sometimes cancel trains at random. Sucks if you get on in the middle of a train's scheduled route...don't be surprised to see people sitting all over the floor.

    If you don't have the time to waste on train or bus rides or want a cheap option to the UK, check out Aer Lingus (http://www.aerlingus.com), Ryan Air (http://www.ryanair.com), and easyJet (http://www.easyjet.com). Many flights are free - you just pay the service and luggage fees. I spent $30 to fly from London to Stocklholm on Ryan Air. Aer Lingus has insane deals if you're flying from Dublin.

  4. Anonymous  

    WHY ISN'T BWOG POSTING MY COMMENT

  5. current euro-person

    Come on over! We party 'err day.

  6. Anonymous  

    Try buses. Trains get very expensive after a lot of travel...even with (especially with!) a pass. When I took trains, I'd buy tickets directly from the country's lines rather than through Eurail, but some bus companies can get you where you want to go for a fraction of a cost.

    Swebus - they have an English language option for the site. I spent $40 to get from Oslo to Gothenburg to Copenhagen. Their buses also run to popular destinations throughout western Europe, including Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam.

    Student Agency - lots of travel in the east. I spent $14 to get from Budapest to Bratislava. Best thing = booking an actual seat number in advance.

    • Anonymous  

      Obviously in some cases a train will get you there faster than a bus, especially the Thalys, ICE, and TVG. They're also the trendy way to travel, and offer crazy spectacular views...Salzburg to Zurich was unbelievable. But often, trains will get behind schedule, which makes transfers a bitch...the Deutsche Bahn trains have this way of turning a five hour route into a full day experience, and they will sometimes cancel trains at random. Sucks if you get on in the middle of a train's scheduled route...don't be surprised to see people sitting all over the floor.

      If you don't have the time to waste on train or bus rides or want a cheap option to the UK, check out Aer Lingus, Ryan Air, and easyJet. Many flights are free - you just pay the service and luggage fees. I spent $30 to fly from London to Stocklholm on Ryan Air. Aer Lingus has insane deals if you're flying from Dublin.

      (Sorry, I tried posting websites for these companies but I'm pretty sure Bwog thinks it's spam...)

  7. Anonymous  

    Thanks for all the help, Bwog & commenters!

  8. Anonymous  

    1. www.sncf.fr
    2. I didn't realize that post-graduation Europe trips were still a phenomena.

  9. abroad student

    From my experience, Eurail passes are a rip-off. Reservations for trains can be up to 15e or more per train which basically ruins any price difference. Plus, if you're in Europe already at least, they charge you another 20e to even get it sent to you.

    Really calculate everything before you buy a pass - make sure you know EXACTLY how many days you're going to be traveling, and check out the reservation prices in advance - throwing on one or two extra days "just in case" can make the whole pass pointless as far as saving any money.

    PS: the best site is voyages-sncf, and to the person who mentioned RyanAir - yes it's cheaper when you look at the base ticket price, but don't forget the 15e 1-hour long bus ride you have to take to get to the random airport that's not really in the city you're going to, and the insane charges if your carry-on is overweight and has to be checked.

    • Anonymous  

      Yeah, Ryan Air and the other budget airlines have a catch, but if you know how to pack for them, you're fine...and most major airlines have exorbitant baggage fees now anyway.

      Eh, there are only a few cities where the airport is out of the way. Berlin is one. But most are fine. I went through Gatwick in London which was a 15e train ride, but spending about $50 total including the flight, luggage, and train beats what would have been a $200 fare for the flight alone on a big airline. There are pros and cons to every option, but being on a budget, I go for what's cheap...an hour bus or train ride is worth it if I can save $150.

  10. Van Owen

    To hell with Europe! I'm going to Iran. I love women who are freaks in the sheets!

  11. JJ 5  

    The Eurail passes are actually somewhat of a rip-off. You really have to really be traveling a lot on the days you choose for your rail passes. It's probably better to invest in one of the European discount railway cards, like the SNCF Carte 12-25 for 50 euros: 50% off almost all trains (25% on peak, fully booked trains) in France. Plus all tickets are fully refundable/changeable free of charge up to the departure date. You can also accumulate points to use for free trips later (like a frequent flyer program).

    I don't whether this option is still available, but you used to get up to 25% on full Y fare economy (12.5% on discounted economy) on United Airlines, Lufthansa, and other Star Alliance carriers. Also discounts on Avis car rentals

  12. also  

    i used a eurail pass two summers ago. like a previous poster mentioned, i bought a couple extra days "just in case"--mistake! they only checked our passes on 3/7 trips we took, and you're expected to write in the date in the box yourself. thus, if you just don't write it in and they don't check (likely, or at least it seemed to be) then it's as if you didn't use your travel day. or you can not write it in and if they do check, you can say you forgot and write it in on the spot.

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