At first glance a Eurail pass seems like a daunting contraption. Finding what you need to get, and deciding where you want to go on your European train journey, may feel like a complicated process. But once you figure it out the rest is easy.
We were recommended a Global Pass. It allowed us 15 days of travel across 2 months. A ‘day of travel’ consists of unlimited train rides within a 24-hour period. So it’s important not to think of it as 15 train journeys, but 15 days of travel. Within the 2 months we managed to fit in 26 individual train rides.
Before You Buy…
Ticket pricing – Do your research on the destinations you want to visit and if the pricing is going to benefit you. You can see the breakdown of costs and our exact route on our Ultimate Europe Train Trip post.
Included countries - Check the Eurail website to make sure the places you are heading to are included as part of the Global Pass.
Download the mobile app – Eurail provide a free iOS and Android app which will give you information on train times and routes. Most importantly, it works offline. We found this to be the most essential tool in planning our journeys. Highly recommended. Here’s a few screenshots we took to highlight the functionality:
Read the material – Read through the guides and maps that are provided with the pass. In particular look out for overnight train rides – most of them only count as 1 day of travel, not 2, which is a bonus. All the instructions on how to use the pass are explained in detail. Importantly, you need to “activate” the pass 1 time before your first train journey. This can either be done online or at a ticket booth at any almost any train station.
Reservations – Some trains require a reservation. During peak season these need to be done in advance. We travelled during the off-season (starting in late August) and had no problems booking reservations the day of our journey. Naturally there are limited spaces on trains so the most popular routes often provide a reservation system. You can check the mobile app if a reservation is required for your particular train trip.
Well, a Eurail pass doesn’t come in a literal box, but here’s a comprehensive view of what is included:
On The Train
I was a bit naughty and never filled in our tickets before we got on the train, in case we missed one or had last minute changes.
Once we boarded I got out the tickets and a pen to fill in the form. It’s not as complicated as it looks.
The actual information the ticket inspectors are looking for is simply a date in the box at the top and they will then stamp underneath the current date.
Then there is a section at the bottom that Eurail prefers you to fill in to collect important information at the end of your journey. This portion of the ticket is simply sent back to Eurail via snail mail upon the completion of your final train trip for the purpose of gathering statistics on how the pass is used. In return they send you back a small gift. How nice!
The only slightly bothersome thing I found with the ticketing system was filling in 4 separate tickets on every train ride (1 for each person in our family). But it was a small price to pay.
Make sure this is done before the ticket inspector comes around as you may be accused of trying to cheat the system and issued a fine for not holding a “valid ticket”. The ticket inspectors we came across were usually friendly and on the odd occasion we overlooked filling it in, they didn’t mind. In fact one of them even offered us a pen.
The Cons – What I Didn’t Like About The Global Pass
Forms - As mentioned above, filling in 4 forms was a slight bother, but it did give me something to do on the long train journeys.
Reservations – Checking to make sure your train is free or requires an extra fee required a little advanced planning. But regardless if using a Eurail pass, these reservation fees would still have to be paid. This can be done online or at a train station ticket booth.
Countries not included – A couple European countries are not included in the Eurail pass and although it was my own fault for not checking, it would be great for a few more Balkan countries to jump on board the program (I’m looking at you, Serbia and Macedonia).
Trains – Trains varied. We went from First Class with on-board playrooms and cafes, to 6-hour trains without food facilities and dingy toilets. Western Europe generally had nicer trains, if you are determined to travel in style.
Cost – even without a Eurail Pass, training your way around Europe is expensive. It certainly is not the cheapest way to travel.
The Pros – What I Loved About The Global Pass
Wait Time – Catching a train in Europe is so convenient. There is no need to arrive 2-3 hours in advance like a flight, just hanging around waiting. You can rock up when you like, even just a few minutes before the departure time.
Luggage – Unlike flights there are generally no strictly enforced baggage limits. We never had to worry about if the shampoo was in the checked baggage verses the carry on or if my tweezers were going to be confiscated.
Space – During the off-season European trains had plenty of space. We were able to spread out and comfortably enjoy the ride. The kids could walk around, lie on the floor, and switch seats without bothering other passengers. That was a big bonus when travelling with young children.
First Class – How much would you pay for a bed that lays flat on a plane? First class on the train is much more affordable in the bigger scheme of things verses first class on a plane.
Ticket Collection – I loved that we had our tickets with us the whole time. We didn’t need to stop to buy tickets or find cash to do so. The Eurail pass was so handy and a big time-saver, especially in those moments when we arrived at the train station just minutes before departure.
Views – The views from the train were phenomenal and we saw so much more of Europe – quaint towns, beautiful landscapes, rolling hills and majestic mountains.
Electronics – Unlike flights, there’s no restrictions on using laptops, phones and other electronics on trains. So that meant as soon as we got on board we could pull out our laptops and start working. Some trains even included power points which kept us going on the long-haul journeys.
More than trains – the Eurail pass also includes access to certain buses and ferries. These are outlined on the Eurail website and on the mobile app. First class tickets include free access to premium lounges at some train stations.
Journey In Pictures
Here’s just some of the many delightful destinations our Eurail pass allowed us to reach:
The Last Word
If you are contemplating an epic train journey throughout Europe my final suggestion is “do it!”. We thoroughly enjoyed our own epic train trip from Belgium to Greece. We got plenty of work done, soaked up plenty of eye-gougingly scenic vistas and had plenty of space to stretch out. And most importantly, our kids loved it.
The pros outweighed the cons for us and if you can manage the biggest hurdle – the cost – then you will find training around Europe is an unforgettable experience you should do at least once in a lifetime. And if you’re lucky, more than once.