Photo via National Geographic
So you’re traveling through Europe for the first time, and you’ve decided the most convenient way to get from city to city is the Eurail pass. At first, the Eurail pass seems simple. You buy the pass, find the train station, and get on a train. While that is definitely a quick explanation of how the Eurail pass works, there are problems you can run into if you’re a newbie at using the pass.
Photo via Travel Generation
Note: I got scolded multiple times for putting my feet up on the seats. But when nobody was around, kicking back and looking out the window at the countryside was the most relaxing part of the trip. I’m assuming the travel blogger above felt the same.
Here are five tips for using your Eurail pass. I didn’t know these until I was halfway around the world, so they are from personal experience. Once you figure out how to navigate Europe’s trains, you’ll be able to easily travel from city to city (ignoring the fact that ‘easy’ can still mean overnight trains, train changes, train delays, and hours of sitting…it’s worth it, I swear).
1. Download the Eurail app and use the ‘Trip Planner’ option.
The Trip Planner tab is great because you can type in the city you’re leaving from, the city you’re arriving to, and the time you want to leave. If you happen to be traveling to and from a city that doesn’t have a direct train, this can be incredibly helpful in finding the train switches you’ll need to make. When I traveled from Geneva to Barcelona, I had to change trains four times, and I was traveling around 14 hours. With the app, it showed me exactly what train station to get off and change trains at, including arrival and departure times. Also, the app can be used offline.
2. Check the train station you are supposed to be leaving/arriving at.
There are, like, a million in every city. Well, actually between 1 and 6 (Paris has 6). This is important because you might be at the wrong train station and miss your train…And then take a bus to the other train station…And then wait until 1 am to leave Venice because you can’t afford to sleep there…And then the person you’re traveling with will be pissed at you…And feel like this…
GIF via Giphy
3. Check if you need a reservation.
On the Trip Planner underneath the train details, there will be an ‘R’ and it will say ‘reservation compulsory’ if you need a reservation. This is a particular pain in the ass because you have to pay 10-20 extra euros to get a ticket. This ensures that you will have a seat and trains won’t be overcrowded. Reservations will differ based on the country. For example, in Italy, the high speed trains require a reservation. This makes sense though. The high speed trains moved so fast my ears were popping the whole time. In Greece, we never had to get a reservation (but we sometimes didn’t have a seat).
If you need a reservation, get to the train station SUPER early. Maybe an hour before your train leaves, maybe more depending how many trains leave for the city you’re trying to get to that day. Or wing it and hope there’s a reservation left over. If not, take the next train. No biggie.
4. Map out how many days of travel you think you’ll acutally need.
The ’10 days within 2 months’ global pass is about $200 cheaper than the ‘1 month continuous’ global pass. If you think you’ll need 11 or 12 travel days, barely over the 10 day mark, there is also a pass which offers 15 days of travel within 2 months. You could also supplement additional traveling with buses or air travel. Keep in mind that trains are often more expensive than air travel in Europe, so buying an extra plane ticket to get to a city could be cheaper than buying the unlimited Eurail pass or an additional train ticket with the 10 days pass.
5. Check the pass benefits you receive.
On the app, there’s a tab for Pass Benefits which is extremely useful. You can get discounts on ferries, buses, audio guides, and more depending on the country. I used my pass to get ferry tickets from Athens to the Greek island Ios for 50 euros. This was already expensive, but without the discount, it would have been over 100 euros.
Where will you travel with your Eurail pass?