A Eurail Pass is something that many backpackers use in order to travel through Europe cheaply by train. When planning your trip, it can get confusing understanding all of the different passes and figuring out which one you should get, if any. Here are some tips to figuring out if you should get a railpass for your backpacking adventure and, if so, which type.
There are a few different types of passes, and the price of each will vary depending on trip length, type of pass, and your age. There are global passes (covering 22 countries) as well as country passes (if you’re traveling through 1 country), regional (if you’re covering 2 countries) and select passes (if you’re traveling to 5 countries). For explanation purposes, I am going to use the global pass as an example, as usually backpackers cover a wide-range of countries. Also, the lessons learned can be applied to the other types of passes.
So there are flexi passes and consecutive day passes. Flexi passes allow you to choose between 10 or 15 days of travel to use within a 2 month period. Remember, a travel day is a 24-hour period, so you can take multiple trains in one day and it will only count toward one of your travel days. It is important to remember to validate your pass the first time you use it (you can do this at the train station the first time you use the pass) and fill in the trip journal on the pass prior to boarding each time you want to use it or you could get fined. When I was using the trains I would usually wait until I saw a ticket checker coming around the fill it out, in the hopes that they wouldn’t check me and I’d get a free ride, but just know that this comes with a risk. It is also important to note that if you are taking an overnight train after 7PM, you will only have to fill in your pass for the following day (therefore, you are only using 1 of your flexi-days).
Then there are consecutive day passes. These are the better option if you’re going to be traveling almost everyday. Basically, you can travel as much as you want throughout the time period the pass is good for. This is also convenient when plans change.
Take into consideration if you plan on using any of the extra pass benefits, as there are various ferry routes, museums, tours, and even hotels you can get discounted or free. And remember to think about if you are actually saving money on these extras by using the pass. For example, if you are planning on using the pass to take a short Rhine-river cruise, it may not be worth it. However, if you want to use it for a longer ferry ride that is more expensive, it could be to your advantage.
Should You Get One?
The most important thing to take into consideration when deciding if you will purchase a railpass is figuring out if it will actually save you money. Some routes are cheaper than others, so a little math is involved to figure this out. Also, the DB website can help you look up routes, train types, times, and if there is a reservation required (reservations cost extra and are not covered by the railpass, which is something else to take into consideration). If you do purchase the pass and do not get a “consecutive day” one, do a little math to see which routes make sense to pay cash for. For example, say your pass is good for “10 Days Within 2 Months” and costs $577. Divide $577 by 10 and you’ll get about $57/$58. If a train ticket from Naples, Italy, to Bari, Italy, costs $30 then it wouldn’t make sense to use the pass for that particular trip. Also, before purchasing a pass, check your planned route to see if you have mostly cheap train rides or rides that make sense to use a railpass for.
My Experience With the Railpass
While I definitely saw the benefits to having a railpass, such as not having to wait on line to get a train ticket, having a helpful team of customer service reps to help me when I was confused, and receiving a handy booklet that included a railway map and all train schedules (I would have paid $100 alone for this book), there were times when I doubted my decision. Since I was traveling extensively for 2 months, I purchased the 15 day ticket within 2 months ($758 with my youth discount). At times, such as on overnight trains and the ferry from Bari, Italy, to Athens, Greece, I felt that I had saved a bundle. However, there were times when I realized I had extra days left that I needed to use and ended up wasting travel days on really cheap train travel.
In my opinion, the pass is great if you know you are going to be traveling many consecutive days, or you really know every train you are going to take and the prices and that it will make sense in the end. It’s also nice having the freedom to change your plans without worry of being fined and not feeling held back from taking the train too much because of expensive fares.
For information on railpasses, you can visit the Eurail website.