Europe By Eurail: What You Need To Know
Sure, using Eurail in Europe seems like a logical choice. I mean, it's in the name right? But is it really the cheapest way to go? Should you travel Eurail first class or second class? Do you need a multiple country pass? Multiple day pass? Is it safe to ride Eurail? There's so many things to consider before you buy those non-refundable tickets to get free travel days!
I've traveled numerous times using Eurail in multiple countries and found that the answers to these questions depend on where you are traveling and for how long. For example, the last time we used Eurail was for our honeymoon in which we traveled through France and Italy for 3 weeks (see our trip to Paris, Provence, and the French Riviera). We bought a two country pass that was good for first class travel for 5 travel day (plus a 6th day free) at $340 per ticket. This worked for us because we were only moving locations via train 5 times during our trip. But if you're planning to travel every day of your trip, a continuous pass gives you the freedom to do this.
Here's a few key things to know before buying your tickets:
Is Eurail really the cheapest option for public transportation? This totally depends. If you know in advance (3 months at least) specifically where you want to go and are unlikely to veer from that itinerary, it may be cheaper to buy advanced tickets directly from the train operator, but it will also take you more time as there is not one site where you can purchase all at once, and you'll need to check whether or not you can transfer the tickets should you miss your train or if something comes up. Sometimes there are penalties involved. If you're traveling with children, it's undoubtedly cheaper as Eurail passes for kids 0-11 are FREE!
Can I store my luggage at a train stop? Yes! Most train stops offer locker rentals so if you want to head in a little early and have lunch or sight-see, you don't have to schlep your baggage around with you.
What is a 'travel day'? Eurail calculates a travel day as a 24 hour period (midnight to midnight). This means that if you use your ticket at 10am to go to one city for a day and then train later that evening to another location (where the pass is valid), you will only have burned one travel day.
What kind of pass should I buy? Depending what your travel needs are, Eurail let's you buy passes to visit 1, 2, 3, or 4 countries. The only caveat is that they have to be bordering countries. Or if you're feeling adventurous, the Global Pass gives you access to all 28 countries that Eurail serves, so you don't have to worry about whether or not the countries you want to visit are adjacent to each other.
From there, the passes are sold by the number of travel days you want. If you want to travel by train on a set number of days, pick a pass that lets you choose when you travel over a given period. Example: 10 days within 2 months. You can still decide on the go when you use each travel day during the period your pass is valid. If you plan to travel by train most days of your trip, a continuous pass is more cost effective and gives you the freedom to travel every day if you want.
Should I purchase first class or second class? Having experienced both, I would highly urge you to pay for first class. While a few trains don't have a big difference from first to second class, if you're in Italy especially, you're gonna want to be in first class. It's not like an airplane where first class feels like a fluffy luxurious option to the more economical economy class. First class vs. second class on many trains in Europe that we rode could me the difference between having air conditioning vs. not. The comfort level is significantly different. To give you a visual, we sat in a lovely, air-conditioned cushiony seat with outlets for our electronics on our way from the Paris to the French Riviera. Conversely, we missed our train to the Italian Riviera and could only get on a second class ticket on standby for the next train, which was stuffy, crowded, smelly, and had absolutely no air condition (in the middle of July much less), yikes! The picture of me above is from a second class train.
Is the price of the Eurail pass the only cost I have to worry about? No, for some trains you have to pay an additional amount to reserve your seat. In most instances, it wasn't more than $15-$20 more, but I'd recommend booking in advance if you're traveling on a budget so at least you know what you're working with.
Is it safe to ride Eurail? Apart from the usual tourist concerns (pick-pockets namely) I felt completely safe while riding the trains in Europe. They travel much faster than any trains we have in the states, but the ride seems much smoother than you would think considering the high speed trains get up to 200 mph!
I hope this was helpful! If you have any additional tips or stories to share on your Eurail experience, please leave a message below!