In the winter of 2015/2016 I went backpacking around Europe for 10 weeks, with my passport, backpack, and a Eurail pass. I often get asked different questions on my “Backpacking Europe” vlogs in regards to how to use a Eurail pass, and if it’s worth the money. Since these are some of my most commonly asked travel questions, I thought it would be a fitting topic for my first travel guide on this blog.
What is a Eurail Pass
A Eurail pass is a train pass that allows you to travel on any national rail service in the countries and time period that your pass is valid in. Only non-European citizens or residents can use a Eurail pass, if you are a European citizen or resident you are eligible to travel using Interrail.
Purchasing a Eurail Pass
If you plan on traveling around Europe between different countries and cities via train, purchasing a Eurail pass could be very valuable.
Is it worth the money
My Eurail pass cost me a total of $1500 when I purchased it, and throughout my journey I caught over 130 trains. This means that each trip cost me an average of $11 or so, which is extremely cheap considering some of the long distances I traveled would have cost hundreds of dollars if I was buying each ticket. It was definitely worth buying.
If you don’t think you will be catching that many trains throughout your journey, just calculate the cost of buying each ticket and compare the total to the cost of a similar Eurail pass- if it’s cheaper to just buy a few individual train tickets don’t bother with Eurail.
Choosing the right pass
I traveled around Europe on a 3-month continuous global pass, meaning I could use my pass on any national rail service in any European country (partnered with Eurail) at any time within a 3-month period. The was perfect for me because I had booked a flight from Australia to Amsterdam, but had nothing else planned for my trip. I wasn’t even sure how long I would be gone for, but I had 3 months of uni break, so my plan was to take it day by day and return home when I’d run out of money.
Compare how you intend to travel around Europe with the pass options available to you. Take into account how long will you be traveling for, where will you be traveling to, and if you think you will continue to travel by rail within these countries. Is there a pass that will suit your needs? If there isn’t a pass that will suit your intended travel plans, you may be better off just purchasing tickets for each leg of your journey.
When choosing what type of pass you will get there are two important things to consider: what countries it is valid in, and how long it will be valid for. You want to make sure you purchase a pass that you can use in all of the countries you are visiting, and it will be valid for your entire trip. You will also have the option of traveling 1st or 2nd class. I purchased 2nd class (because it was cheaper) but never had an issue with the 2nd class carriages, and they were always clean and comfortable.
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to countries and a time period. You can get a one-country pass valid in a single country, a select pass for use within 2, 3, or 4 neighbouring countries, or a global pass for exploring 5 or more countries. You can choose to have your pass valid for a certain number of consecutive days, a certain number of days within a certain number of months, or continuously for 1, 2, or 3 months.
How does a Eurail Pass work?
You’ll receive your Eurail pass in the mail some time before you leave for Europe. Your pass will have a date of issue, but the time you have to use your pass doesn’t start until you’ve had the pass validated in Europe (the pass must be validated within 11 months of the issue date.)
You have to activate or validate your pass before you can use it. On the day of your first train journey, you can do this at the ticketing offices of any train station. You must also ensure your details are correctly filled out on the pass.
The pass itself consists of a paper pass and a pass cover with a travel diary. Before you board any train you need to fill out the details of our journey (date, time, origin, and destination) in the travel diary. If you fail to correctly fill this out in black or blue pen you may be fined by inspectors once on board.
Benefits/Tips for Traveling with a Eurail Pass
One of the best things about the pass is that you can use it on ANY national rail service in the valid country. Not only does this mean you can travel from country to country, or from city to city, but you may be able to use it within each city that you visit (I remember this was especially handy traveling within German cities). You can avoid spending extra money on buses, metros, or taxis and use your Eurail pass to travel around each city via train, which can save you extra money.
The Eurail app with be like your bible whilst traveling Europe. Make sure to download it, as you can use it to check offline timetables and plan your journey. It has loads of information and other features too.
It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the high-speed or overnight trains in Europe will require a reservation. When you’re planning your journey on the app it will tell you which trains require a compulsory reservation. You can reserve your spot online, but you need to have your reservation ticket posted to you. This is done using express post, so if you’re planning any long distance travel try to reserve it in advance, calculate when it will be delivered and get it delivered to your accommodation. If I knew I wouldn’t be staying at a particular hostel on the day my reservation arrived, I’d set my postal name to “Tiyana Jovanovic (arriving dd/mm/yy)” and I received it when checking in. If you don’t have time to reserve a spot on a train you will still be able to travel to your destination (you can search routes that don’t require a reservation on the app,) but it will likely take you a lot longer. I made this mistake when traveling from Berlin to Paris- instead of one short high-speed train, I had to get 8 different trains across 12 hours.
If you have any additional questions about Eurail or my experience, leave them below and I’ll get back to you.
Check out the Eurail website for prices, more info, or to purchase a pass.