This post was updated on February 2nd, 2020.
If you’re planning to travel around Europe, then the all-inclusive Eurail pass (commonly called a Europass or Eurorail pass) is worth considering. Being that summer it just around the corner, it seemed like an opportune time to relive our adventures last summer of train hopping and backpacking through Europe to some of the most historic and stunning cities.
If there is one thing I do know well, it’s the logistics of booking travel and budget travel, in general. David may like to take credit for our year long trip, but I was the one who ultimately masterminded most of the itinerary and figured out how to book our round-the-world flights for less than $300 a person! More on that in a later post, but for now, I’ll focus on train travel in Europe.
Note: If you think the pass is a good fit, you can buy the pass from Eurail through our site. It doesn’t cost you any extra but we receive a small commission when book through our link. Thanks for supporting this site!
Over the past year, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about the Europass based on our past European tour. Here’s a list of the most common questions we’ve received.
- Is the Eurail pass worth the money?
- How does the train pass work?
- Would you recommend buying the train pass?
- How do you buy the Eurail pass?
- What alternatives are there to European travel?
The concept with the Eurail pass is that you pay a flat fee upfront for use on a country's rail network, for an agreed number of days. You may find that getting the best value out of the rail pass is difficult since the system can be confusing. There are a few situations in which you can incur fees in addition to the cost of the rail pass, so understanding the ins and outs can help you make the best decisions to minimize your travel costs.
During our first year of travel I wasn't sure if the Eurail pass was worth the hassle. We loved traveling by train in Europe, but it is not always the cheapest mode of travel. But as we've traveled more, I've realized the value of the Eurail pass is primarily the experience, followed by the cost savings. We bought the most comprehensive pass which was called the Eurail Global Flexi Pass. The pass allowed us 15 travel days within a 2 month period of time, in 23 countries in the Europe. To be clear, this pass did save us a lot of money over purchasing individual train tickets, but there were probably cheaper alternatives.
Traveling by train is our favorite mode of transportation. The seats give you plenty of space to stretch out and you can walk around the train cars while in route. Most trains are equipped with a restaurant car (and bar!) and overnight trains are a reasonably comfortable way of traveling at night if you pay the extra fee for a bed. I prefer trains over planes any day. They are more convenient and the check-in process is painless. Trains depart and arrive in the center of the city and you don’t need to arrive two hours in advance at the train station like you would at an airport. If used correctly, the Eurail pass will save you money compared to buying full-price train tickets at the last minute.
The Eurail pass may end up being more expensive than traveling by bus or plane. Bus tickets are almost always cheaper but they are certainly less comfortable and slower. Europe has a very competitive budget airline market so finding flights for $50 or less is certainly possible. Some trains require you to make a seat reservation so it’s not always as simple as arriving at the station and jumping on the next train. The train individual train companies also lead you to believe that travel is seamless but every country actually has different rules and they don’t always work well together.
Consider all modes of transportation if you want to find the cheapest travel option. For example, if you want to travel from Madrid to Barcelona, search the prices of trains, buses, planes and rental cars. If you are traveling with a group then renting a car and driving may actually be cheaper since you can split the cost. In this case, Renfe.com will give us ticket prices for trains in Spain. You can search bus prices on Eurolines.com which is a major bus network in Europe. Each country also has individual train and bus companies and you can search prices online for most. Websites like Kayak.com will give you prices for budget airlines. This approach of price comparison takes a lot longer than just buying a rail pass but it’s the best approach if you want the cheapest price. If you want a lower stress mode of travel and you don't have hours to price compare then go for the Railpass.
EURAIL PASS TIPS
If you do decide to buy the Europass, here are a few things to keep in mind the make the most out of your pass.
Many high speed or popular routes require seat reservations and charge a fee. It’s usually less than $10 but can be as much as $20-$30 in some cases. If you're willing to travel on slower trains or routes with more transfers, you can often travel without paying any fees for seat reservations.
You can purchase the pass through either Eurail or RailEurope. If you purchased your Eurail pass through Rail Europe, don't use their website to reserve seats. It’s more convenient but is usually more expensive than reserving at the train station in person. If you want make reservations in advance, try booking a reservation through the countries' individual rail website. Not all websites allow this but some do, including the German website Bahn.com. Use the Eurail Map to help plan your train journey by knowing common hub cities. The Austrian OBB website is also a good train journey planner sight since it includes routes throughout Europe.
Check the price of a standard ticket on the individual rail company’s website. In some cases, it is cheaper to just buy the ticket outright then to use your rail pass. For example, you can purchase a ticket in Spain on a four hour train that only costs $20. The average value of each ticket on our Global Pass was roughly $65 so using the pass for this short route isn't a good value.
Make use of night trains that depart after 7pm. This overnight train journey saves a night of paid accommodations and the travel time feels short because you sleep through most of the trip. With a Flexi Pass (as opposed to an unlimited pass), this night travel also counts as only one travel day instead of two, as long as the train arrives after 4am the next day.
Check out The Man in Seat 61 for more advice. His blog is dedicated to train travel and he has a great section on using the Europass for train travel in Europe.
If you want a fun, scenic and comfortable mode of transport and are willing to spend a bit more money to avoid researching prices on every trip, then buy the pass and don’t feel bad about it. If you are primarily worried about finding the cheapest mode then don’t buy the pass. Rather, search for the cheapest route from one city to another whether it’s by train, plane, bus or rental car. This also allows you the opportunity to be more flexible in case you want to change your plans last minute during your actual travels or even more spontaneous if you plan your travels based on the cheapest destinations. But do remember that the cheaper option often takes a lot more time and effort to plan.