Boats and I have a rocky relationship. Buses and I are taking a break after spending over 20 accumulated days on them traveling from Mexico to Argentina. Planes and I are good, but oftentimes their cost-to-worth ratio makes me consider straying. So who is there waiting with open arms to comfort me in my hour of need? Trains. Smooth, relaxing, classic, trains.
They’re not perfect, but there is definitely something special about train travel. So if you’re planning a trip across Europe, you should start with the Eurail pass best suited to your journey.
No doubt you have questions or worries, so this simple guide will get you prepared to ride the rails all over Europe.
Is a Eurail pass worth the money?
If you are planning to bounce around from city to city or country to country, yes. If you are only taking a couple trains during your entire trip, no. So, in short, vacationers probably won’t see the value (unless you’re one of those crazy people who cram 12 cities into a week-long excursion) but travelers will be giddy with savings.
Getting Started: Validating your Eurail pass
This seemed to be one of the most daunting tasks that beset the first-time Eurail pass users. You could see them nervously standing in the ticket line, as if they were about to take a test and studied the wrong chapter. But fear not. Validating your pass is as easy as waiting through the ticket line and saying “I’d like to validate my Eurail pass”. However, it never hurts to practice that line until you commit it to memory.
Pro tip: You can validate your pass and make your first reservation in the same transaction.
Using your pass
With most regional trains, you can just hop on and go whenever your fancy is tickled. However, if you’re taking an international train, you’ll want to make a reservation- and as early as possible. The reservation fees vary by country and train company, but on average they are only €10. In either case, you will also have to fill out the date on your pass. You. With a pen. Writing, analog style. If you forget to fill out said date, conductors may go hulk on you. We failed at this a couple times, so we started carrying a pen with us at all times. And that’s why we’re pros.
Replacement tickets/reservation changes
There may be times when miss a train due to oversleeping, getting lost, or being in Italy (seriously, everything is always late). If you find yourself in this situation, do not panic.
CALM DOWN. Simply wander around until you find the ticket offices in the train station and they will get you taken care of. If for some reason they are unable to assist you, then it’s okay to panic or rage (see above)- though we never had this occur.
What else should I know?
If you’re planning a winter trip, you can save 20% on the Global or Select passes if they are purchased before December 31, 2012 and your trip is completed before March 31, 2013.
Now, you’re almost ready. All that’s left to do is watch The Darjeeling Limited, Thomas the Tank Engine, or Speed 4: Off the Rails (not sure if this is a real movie or a recurring dream)- whichever best suits your taste. Oh, and download some good train music like a dubstep remix of “Eye of the Tiger” and the original “Damn it feels good to be a gangsta”. Now you’re ready.
Disclosure: We were provided with complimentary Eurail passes.