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World on a Shoestring A beginnger's guide to traveling around the world...as written by beginners...

We´ve Got a Golden Ticket

SPAIN | Saturday, 25 August 2007 | Views [2780] | Comments [2]

If you´re the kind of person that loves to hang out at train stations, or routinely enjoys sitting upright for extended periods of time, then boy have we got a deal for you! I shouldn´t even have to point out to you the benefits of our Eurail Pass if you´ve been paying attention in the least. However, if you´re one of the very (VERY) few that has not been reading our blog, then listen up, cuz now´s the time to start taking notes...imma drop a bomb on it!!

So far, we´ve been everywhere...maybe not everywhere, but if we were conquering nations as we went along, we´d be giving Napolean a run for his Francs, if you know what I mean. Of the 18 countries covered in our Eurail Pass, by the time our trip wraps up we will have visited 15, missing only Denmark, Sweden, and Norway due to time.

If you´re not familiar with what the Eurail Pass is, then you´ve come to the right place. Well, actually, this is ¨the right place¨; here is just a good place to be...feel the love. The Eurail Pass comes in many shapes, colors, and varities that would take too long to cover (for all that, go to ¨the right place¨) so I´ll try to make this brief. Gen and I have the first class, three month, unlimited, flexi-saver pass. Basically what all that means is that we always ride first class, our pass is good for three months from the first use, we can go to any of the 18 included countries, and its only good if Gen and I are together when we use the pass. But, of course, each of these facets is optionable to suit your particular trip; these were just the most suitable for ours.

Now, given all of the available options for travelling through Europe, there is no better way than trains. Flying is too expensive, buses or cars are too slow, and hitchiking is apprently ¨unsafe¨. This leaves only one option: Europe´s ever expanding rail system, which, fortunately for you, can be exploited with a Eurail pass.

Given all the free time we have had sitting on trains and at stations, we worked it out: assuming the average cost of a train ticket without seat reservations (no, they are not the same thing, yes, you have to pay for them seperately, and no, they´re not included on the pass, though most countries don´t require them) is in the ballpark of 75€, and assuming that one rides the train every three days, give or take a day, taking into account the cost of the Eurail Pass, we´ve already saved a butt-load of money and the pass has paid for itself three fold; we´re essentially riding for free these days! Other than the seat reservation fee, the only other incurred cost to a pass holder is the bed reservation fee for overnight sleepers.

Sleepers are a funny thing. They´re the crap shoot of European rail riding. But, it is the best way to sleep your way around Europe without contracting an STD. Sexual proclivities aside, sleeper trains are the best way to glean a night´s accommodation without paying for a hotel or hostel. But, you´re comfort is in the hands of the fates. As of this entry we´ve had the (un)pleasure of riding on three overnight trains, with a positive hit rate of 2 out of 3. For what these trains are (essentially rolling boxes containing smaller boxes containing small beds, sometimes for two, sometimes for four, sometimes for six people) some of these trians can be downright luxurious...and some can be hellacious. As I have no pictures to include here, I´ll do my best to paint you a vivid mental picture. Our introductory sleeper ride was from Budapest to Sighisoara, Romania. In a decision that would prove to be unwise, we decided to go with the second class sleeper cuz it was cheaper. This second class sleeper was a six person sleeper car: no wider that six feet from wall to wall, three beds on each side, the highest bed is close enough to the ceiling to eliminate the option of sitting up (of course those were our beds as the other four were occupado, more on that shortly), and forget AC and open windows. The four other beds in our ¨room¨were occupied by a smoking mom, drinking dad, and their two ill, vomiting toddlers, who could have be subdued at any point in the night if their parents had taken time from their respective addictions, but since they didn´t, Gen and I were stuck with two screaming children for the duration...fun fun fun! But the real icing on the cake was what no one tells you until right before it happens: as you board the train, the ticket taker does just that...takes you ticket and doesn´t give it back until about an hour before you arrive. We´ll cover why this is such a HUGE ulcer inducing problem shortly.

Our second and third sleepers were in and out of Turkey, and these times we sprung for the plush seats in first class, and let me tell you, they were puh-lush! Air conditioned, wood paneling, fresh bed clothes, complementary refreshments, and even our own sink with power outlets! Our only SNAFU was at just after the Turkey-Greece border on our way into Turkey. About an hour after the border stop where you buy your Turkey visa (oh, btw, they only take €, something we wished had been brought to our attention earlier) which takes place around 2 AM, there came a knock at our door. It was the first class attendant come to tell us that while we had bed reservations we had no ticket to be on this train (the Eurail does not cover Turkey). We told her that we had asked at the window for both a ticket and a bed reservation, she must be mistaken, we surely had both! She showed us the ticket, and low and behold, she was right! The guy at the ticket window had short changed us, and this woman was standing in front of us demanding that we purchase the required ticket right then and there, only in Euro! Needless to say, we´d been drained at the border visa purchase, so were not prepared for this shakedown. And it was the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere Turkey on a moving train; there´s no ATM. So, we went to the mattresses; we went through every pocket, bag, oraffice searching for cash. We eventually scraped together the appropriate amount in an ungapatchka assortment of acceptable currencies. So remember kids, ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING!

But I digress. The Eurail Pass is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it grant us cheap or free rail travel, but it also offers myriad other benefits including discounts on boat tickets between countries, entry into first class train lounges, and even discounts on certain hotels. Just a word to the wise: the ticket is expensive, and if you lose it or damage it to the point where its unreadable, they will not replace it unless you´ve purchased their pass insurance. And the pass ain´t the most durable thing ever: its a few flimsy pieces of paper stapled together, and you´re not allowed to laminate it or anything of that nature. So now you understand why we were so terrified when the ticket taker walked off with our $3,000 ticket as we got on his train!

But, like all wonderful things, this, too, must come to an end and so we bid farewell to our generous travel companion and say adieu as we disembark from our last train on the passes last day of validity in Madrid.

Tags: planes trains & automobiles



Hi there! Mind sharing how much it costs to reserve a sleeper on an overnight train if we already have the pass? And how easy is it to make a reservation? I've searched so many days on so many sites but can't seem to find the necessary information. Will really appreciate it if you can email me. Thanks in advance!!

  Candy Aug 27, 2007 5:23 PM


just looked at your site , this is what i wana do with my 2 lads dont worry they both just tirned 20 could u give us some more info on train passes costs etc please look forward to hearing from ya cheers stve

  stve davies Apr 7, 2008 7:55 PM

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