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Eurail Pass

USA | Thursday, 28 December 2017 | Views [373]

Moving around in Europe we used the Eurail Pass. Eurail is actually a travel company with agreements with the rail companies to sell a special pass to non-EU residents, it covers the cost of the ticket not reservation cost, if a reservation is necessary. I originally thought it was a pass from the rail company, but it is not.  I cannot say I completely understand all the rules for all the different countries we visited with it, but I learn enough to give a couple of tips.  We purchased the Eurail Pass when it was on sale, which included kids free at the time.  I am pretty sure it was a good deal for us.  The rail pass was actually the first thing we purchased, it is what locked us into the trip, so it will always be a good deal for us.  Depending on how many countries, which countries, and how much you will travel needs to be considered when deciding if the Eurail Pass is worth it.  This was a bit difficult trying to figure out what countries we would go through, what trains we needed, or how to figure out cost of train tickets.  When we did purchase, I knew we would be doing a lot of train travel for three months and over several countries, so without fully comparing, we purchased the rail pass. 

I think I would come to the same decision if I took more time to figure out, but it would have cost a lot of time.  I think now I could do it pretty quickly.  I would plan out the basic route then add the link between each route as a line on the spread sheet.  So, our first line would have been Madrid to Barcelona.  Second line would be Barcelona to Saint Raphael.  There is two costs for each trip, the ticket cost and the reservation cost, at times the different cost can be difficult to distinguish.  Next, find the website to make reservations – I usually would search on google.com “Spain Train Reservations” using the starting country.  I would follow the site to get an approximate cost, I say approximate because most reservations can only be made 3 months out, we did cost analysis well over 3 months.  I would pick similar day and times to get a good approximate value.  In this example, I would need to do it twice for Madrid to Barcelona one for ticket and reservation and once for just reservation.  The reason you need to separate these is you still need to pay reservation cost for tickets.  Then I would add the ticket cost to my spreadsheet row and reservation (reservation just so I know the total cost, you have to pay this either way).  Once you work through all your train rides, compare the total ticket cost to the rail pass cost.  One day I may sit down and check the difference.  I can tell you we paid about $2500 for our Eurail and the cheapest ride just between Madrid and Barcelona, minus reservation, is about $250.  We had many more than 10 rides and much longer, so I think we are in good shape.  Also, since our pass was with kids we got first class tickets, if we wanted to pay the increased reservation.

Our decision was pretty easy, unfortunately, if your travels are short, only involve one or two countries, or include countries like Germany it may be a hard decision.  If you are on a tight budget I would take the time to plan out the train rides using their local website to determine if it is cheaper buying individual tickets or the Eurail Pass. 

If you decide to purchase the Eurail Pass there are a couple things to keep in mind. Almost every non-local train needs a reservation.  Eurail recommends making reservations through them as soon as possible, which is about 60 days prior to the ride.  We did most of our original reservations through Eurail.  It was easy, plus at the time we had no idea how to make reservations, which trains, or if they would be available later.  Eurail charges the reservation cost plus $8 per reservation (a reservation includes everyone in your party, so even if you have 4 people the reservation is still $8 on top of the reservation cost).  The first time using Eurail and learning the European rails the additional $8 per reservation was worth it.  Now, we understand how it works and know there is almost always a seat I would make my own reservations.  I will note, at least one of the last-minute reservation we did not get to sit together.

If you are making a reservation yourself, it can be really easy.  If you are in a big city just go to the rail station and use customer service to make a reservation.  Make sure you show them the Eurail and they understand it is your ticket.  The only place we had trouble was in Poland, who often seemed confused with the Eurail pass.  They would need to speak to a manager.  We even had to explain it to some of the conductors.  Anyways, if you are not in a big city or rail station, first check if there is an app.  Many of the rails allow you to make reservations with an app, they have an option to select Eurail.  Next, is their website and final is the phone.  At least, this is the order I tried.  As I stated above we never found a train we could not get a reservation, but we did have one or two we did not sit together.  However, most of our major trains were booked well ahead of time.

The one thing I still could not tell you is what trains require reservations.  The Eurail app seemed to provide pretty accurate information, but I wanted to be able to tell locally.  I never figured it out.  If the train does not require a reservation, you just get on and find a seat.  If the train is optional reservations you can reserve a seat (pay reservation) or just find an empty seat.  There are two ways to find an empty seat, there may be carts with no reservation or there may be reservation carts you find an empty seat until someone comes with that reservation.  Just make sure you are in the correct class.

The first train we boarded we had no idea what to do or where to go on the train.  Lucky, after someone claimed the seat we just sat in, another couple explained trains.  If you have a reservation it means you have a reserved seat in a specific cart on the train.  The first thing to do is find your cart to board the train, once you are on the right cart find your seat.  Seat numbers and cart numbers at times can be a challenge to find, each company - even train does it different. It will not take long to figure out the pattern. When you board the train do not be shocked to find people sitting in your seat. It is fine to show them the reservation and seat number.  As mentioned above, if reservations are not required they may not have an assigned seat.  Additionally, others may just not like their seat and sit somewhere until the seat is taken.  The train conductor does not check seat assignments, they just check to make sure you have a ticket for the class you are sitting.  Once you are in your seat enjoy the ride.

We read plenty about locking your luggage and all the theft on trains.  We did not see this problem at all.  We never locked down our luggage.  We usually tried to place it were we could see it, but that was it.  We would also carry our main bag with important information.  We saw plenty of people place their luggage in different carts and didn’t have a worry at all.  I think most of the fear has come from years ago, most trains are pretty safe now.  However, do what makes you feel comfortable. 

The most important things to know to find your train.  First, use the train number.  If you know the train number it is usually pretty easy.  I would use the train number and verify with the ending destination of the train.  Second, if you are not sure about the train number look for the final destination.  Trains are often listed with the last destination of the train, so it makes it a little easier to identify if you have it.  Finally, the time the train departs.  Usually, not always, only one train leaves at an exact time, so you can usually easily find the train solely based on departure time.  Even if the train is going to be late the original departure time is listed. 

Transfers between trains.  It is easy to transfer between trains.  Our shortest trans was 8 minutes and we had plenty of time.  If you have a short transfer just be ready to get off the train when you approach the station.  The trains are planned out very well and expect transfers, so short transfers are usually close.  You are not likely the only one transferring, there will be a good crowd.  I was nervous about our first short transfers, but I would not be now.

The European train system is really easy to ride and move around almost anywhere.  If you use the rail, subways, and busses you can get about anywhere in Europe.  The only place we rented a car was southern France, because we drove up into the mountains.  Everywhere else we traveled through Europe we did on public transportation.

Tags: eurail pass, europe, trains

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