Summer is fast approaching, and for those who are feeling the urge to spend it gallivanting through Europe, there’s no better way to do it than with the Eurail pass.
Eurail is a popular train pass with which you can travel by national and intercontinental railways to virtually any European country. It’s highly economical for those who wish to travel to multiple countries during a designated period of time, and much more convenient than booking flights every time you want to move to another location. Also, traveling by train is fabulous and in my opinion, exponentially more relaxing and enjoyable than dealing with airports.
Deciding to go on a grand adventure is the fun part. Having to figure out all the logistics of your multinational journey is hard work. Hopefully these tips will help you structure and organize your plans in order to make your summer Euro-trip dreams a reality.
Pick which Eurail Pass is best for you
There are 4 types of Eurail passes offered which determine how many countries you can visit. And then you have to decide the length of time you would like to travel with each pass. The most alluring is the Global Pass which allows travel to any of the 24 countries of your choice within the amount of time your pass is valid. Then there is the Select Pass with which you can choose 4 bordering countries to travel through during your chosen amount of time. The Regional Pass is valid for travel between two bordering countries—save for a few options like Croatia-Slovenia-Hungary and Scandinavia—so that you can explore a distinct region. If you want to focus your time and energy on one specific country there are also One Country Passes in 19 European countries, some of which are more expensive than others.
Once you’ve chosen which regions and countries you want to go to, you must decide on the length of time you would like to travel which is what ultimately determines the price of your Eurail Pass. You have the option of traveling for a select number of days within a set amount of time or traveling continuously throughout all the days your pass is valid. For example, 15 days within 2 months means you’re allowed to take trains on 15 select days during the 2 months your pass is valid versus 15 days continuous with which you can take however many trains you want for 15 consecutive days. The Global Pass offers the option of continuous travel for 3 months for $1,468 with middle price options like 15 days continuous for $532 or 15 days within 2 months for $823. All the other passes—the Select, the Regional and One Country pass—offer the select days within one or two months option rather than continuous travel.
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Design a general travel route
I notice that whenever people talk excitedly about their grand Euro-trip plans, they assume that they’ll be visiting every known destination on the continent. They seem to forget the realities of geographic distances like how all metropolitan cities don’t closely border one another and that getting to each of these destinations takes a significant amount of time. Despite having the option of going to 24 countries, you are not going to be able to see all 24 in just 15 or 21 days–maybe you could if you had 3 months, but even then it’s hard to see everything worth seeing in just one country.
Therefore, actually go look at the map of Europe to get an idea of which countries are next to each other and come up with a realistic route for the number of days you have to travel. For example, I personally bought the Global Pass for 15 continuous days and this is what my travel route roughly looks like: Madrid to Barcelona, to the south of France to Marseille and Nice, through the north of Italy, to Croatia by way of Slovenia, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and finally ending in Munich. Even this is looking pretty ambitious for 15 days so I’ll have to investigate how long traveling between each destination will take. The Eurail site has nifty maps like this one that tells you the number of hours it takes to get from one major destination to another by train. The Rail Planner app for Smartphones is also a convenient tool for looking up available train routes between cities and it tells you whether you need to make a paid reservation, train times, where you have to transfer and how long the journey will take.
Look into the stations to which you’ll be traveling
After generating your route you’ll have to get even more specific and consider which stations you’ll be traveling to. This is a much more daunting and tedious task as there are usually multiple train stations in major cities and not all of them are located in convenient proximity to the sites you want to go to. When looking up outgoing trains on the Rail Planner app, two to three destination stations will often pop up. Look up the locations of each station on Google maps and weigh your options for which will be more convenient for your trip. You also have the option of traveling to stations in smaller towns on the outskirts of cities in order to get to your desired destination.
Work out itineraries and accommodations
Traveling by train gives you more flexibility in scheduling your travel—unlike flights—which is great, but it’s also less clear exactly what day you’ll be arriving where and for how long you’ll be staying in each place. Thus it’s tricky to figure out whether you should book hostels or other accommodations. I often hear of people traveling by night to sleep on the train so that they don’t have to pay for a hostel. Consider how much time you want to spend in each location and the main things you want to do in each place. If you’re on a time crunch of 15 or 21 continuous days you won’t have time to see everything in each city so focus your energy on what you want to see most. Less is more when you spend quality time in a few locations rather than breezing through as many as possible, so travel smart.
These are just general guidelines for what you should expect when planning your Eurail trip. But of course, don’t expect everything to follow a tight schedule and leave some room for spontaneity. May your trip be full of whimsical discoveries every step of the way and be everything you dream of and more. Buen viaje!