How To: Train Across Europe with a Eurail Pass

1st class backpackers.

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.

Analog style.

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.

Trenitalia, we need to have a chat about your punctuality.

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.

Sometimes you get really lucky and get to sit next to people like this guy.

Damn it feels good to be gangstas.

Disclosure: We were provided with complimentary Eurail passes.


20 Responses to “How To: Train Across Europe with a Eurail Pass”

  1. Giulia November 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I am also considering the Eurail pass to explore Eastern Europe. Good to know it was not hard for you guys to move around Europe! As an Italian, I am a bit ashamed of Trenitalia, it’s incredible how we are so used to delays in train schedules, we just take them for granted. *embarrassed me*

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      HAHA! Trenitalia made me laugh at some point – seriously – it was so bad I just had to giggle after a while (after my mental breakdown).

  2. Noah November 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    I went around Europe by train back in 2004 and I found it was a lot cheaper to use the Eurail pass in Western Europe. But Eastern Europe had better bus service than train service and the buses were heaps cheaper.

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:12 am #

      I think we’re going to end up getting on buses when we finally make it that way. I keep hearing about how much better they are.

  3. Erik November 17, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    I did Western Europe on a Eurail pass back in (gasp) 1998 (yes, I’m old) and it was one of my greatest travel experiences ever. It’s amazing to go to sleep in Germany and wake up in Italy.

    I’m considering a return trip to Europe in 2013, especially since they’ve added close to 10 countries to the Eurail pass since i had mine 14 years ago!

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Well, to be honest, I would have been able to do it in 2000 – SO YOU AREN’T THAT OLD.

      Keep in mind that they are about to remove France from EURail but are adding TURKEY!

  4. Raymond @ Man On The Lam November 17, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    Like Erik, I visited Western Europe on a Eurail pass, but back in 1999. It’s what first fed my travel bug.

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      I can only imagine what that would have done. I really regret not doing it when I was 18. I was invited with a friend of mine!

  5. Caanan @ No Vacation Required November 17, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Our first european train experience was fairly recent. While our train from Bologna to Rome was late (no surprise there) the train itself was beautiful and WAY fast.

    I wish the train system in the US was as modern and easy.

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:14 am #

      I do like how quick those trains are. It drives me insane that we don’t have that infrastructure at home!

  6. Steve Whitty November 17, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    I must admit I am more of a coach man. That is because I work for a coach company in the UK so I am biased. Having said that Eurail pass is an excellent way of seeing Europe as long you do not try and cram in too much.

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      HAHA! I guess the thing is that after spending a cumulative 20 days on buses during our Latin America tour, we were kinda burnt out on it.

  7. Tom @ Waegook Tom November 18, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Nice post, guys! I’m not sure if I’ll use a rail pass when I head to Europe next year, though, as for some segments, planes seem to work out cheaper! Although you’re right in saying that travelling by train is just so much more stress-free and relaxing…well, apart from in Italy, by the sounds of it.

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Oh, we did plane around a lot – especially in and out of London. It is too expensive to train into Paris!

  8. Emily in Chile November 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I love trains! I haven’t used a Eurail pass yet, but it sounds like a great option if you’re going to be spending some serious time traveling in Europe.

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      You should! After seeing how much money the trains normally are, you save a LOT while using it.

  9. 30Traveler November 19, 2012 at 5:44 am #

    I’ve only been on a couple of overseas trains (from Moscow to St Pete in Russia, and in Thailand) and haven’t yet caught the train bug, but I need to give them another try. Great pics of you guys!

    • Erica November 22, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      YES. OMG. JEALOUS about your Russian train experience (and Russia in general!!!!!).


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