Traveling Europe by train with a Eurail pass is one of the most popular ways to get around during your backpacking trip.
I took the Eurail (Interrail) train around Europe during my first backpacking trip in 2015.
I traveled for a full month using Europe’s sophisticated international train system.
I paid one combined price for an Interrail pass and saw eight countries and dozens of European cities.
The only reason I was able to purchase an Interrail pass (which is cheaper than a Eurail Pass) at the time was that I was a legal resident of a European country.
If you’re not a resident or citizen of Europe, you must purchase the Eurail pass.
During the experience, I learned a lot about how to approach European travel with Eurail passes.
Here is what you need to know before you jump in and buy a Eurail pass.
What is a Eurail Pass?
A Eurail pass is a single train ticket allowing you to hop on and off trains across most of Europe at your leisure. It is your ticket to flexibility.
Don’t worry about missing your train as, with a train pass, you are free to hop on the next one that comes along.
A Eurail pass allows you to take a ride on most routes throughout the continent.
Although a few train companies require reservations before-hand, most will allow you to show up to the train station and board without a reservation.
It is the freedom to go anywhere at any time.
How does it work?
There are several types of Eurail passes, each valid for varying lengths depending on the duration of your trip.
Each also offers a different number of rides included.
Types of Passes
First, you must decide what kind of Europe backpacking trip you will be taking.
The Global Pass option allows the pass holder to travel freely between 31 European countries.
The One Country Pass only allows you to travel within one country.
Each of these passes has additional options to cater further to your trip.
Validity of Passes
Eurail does an excellent job of providing the customer with a wide selection of pass validity lengths so every traveler can find the pass which fits his/her itinerary.
Why travel with a Eurail Pass?
A Eurail pass makes everything a little more comfortable while backpacking in Europe.
You don’t have to worry about checking-in or printing tickets.
You don’t have to worry about itineraries as it allows you to choose as you go. You don’t even have to know where you are going while you are on the train.
You can get on, ride through the night, and get off the train at sunrise wherever you end up. It’s all up to you!
Besides that, it is nice paying for the pass in advance and not stressing over transportation costs as you go.
Things you need to know before purchasing
There are only a few simple questions you need to have answers to before purchasing your ticket.
They aren’t restrictive questions. They only give you an idea of what kind of pass you will require.
Know before you go:
- How long will you be traveling in Europe?
- Will you visit multiple countries?
- Will you be traveling in the same region or across the continent?
- Will you be traveling to many off-the-beaten-path destinations?
Answering those four questions will help you tremendously in deciding which pass, if any, is right for you.
Is a Eurail Pass right for you?
First, it is essential to note that those travelers under 27-years-old or over 60 will receive discounts on their Eurail Pass, which is a great benefit to those who fit that description.
To determine if the pass is right for you, you need to weigh the pros and cons.
What I feel are cons about the Eurail pass may be pros to others.
For example, its routes. I found the routes cater to those seeking to visit the big, well-known cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, and Rome.
I struggled to align my schedule and routes while visiting friends in small towns across Europe.
However, that could be an advantage to those who are traveling from capital city to capital city as there are many trains and departure times for that type of itinerary.
It is true. A Eurail pass isn’t the right choice for every trip, and, although the pass sounds convenient, there are some trips you would be better off traveling by bus or plane.
Would I do Eurail again?
This is a tricky question. If I were new to traveling still, I would. This is not to say the Eurail pass is only for first-timers.
It is just to say a Eurail pass doesn’t fit the type of travel I do anymore.
I know many travelers (even Europeans) who love to travel on the train. Hell, I love to travel via train.
The only thing that holds me back from purchasing another Eurail pass is the time restraints that it puts on you.
Though, if you have a definite start and end date, this could be the perfect way to keep your trip organized.
See also: Planning Your First Backpacking Trip
How to buy a Eurail pass
Purchasing a Eurail pass is as easy as a click of a button.
You can purchase your pass up to 11 months in advance, just make sure you leave enough time to receive it via traditional mail.
Note: If you are not sure which days you will be arriving/ departing Europe, that is OK. One of the greatest conveniences of the pass is it allows you to activate the pass at the train station upon arrival.
Do not activate it when you get it in the mail. As soon as you activate it, your time on your pass begins ticking.
Maximize your given time by activating the pass at the first train station you arrive at.
A journey on the ever-popular Eurail train in Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (well, it can be twice or thrice, if you fancy).
- Let’s go over the essential things one more time
- Know what type of trip (how many countries) you are going on
- Know how many days you have to travel
- Google distances between destinations to make sure a train is the right mode of transportation to choose
- Order your rail pass far enough in advance to allow time for delivery by mail to your home address
Ready to check out what rail passes are available? Head over to Rail Europe and start your search.
If you have any questions regarding travel by train in Europe or purchasing the right Eurail passes for you, share them in the comments section below.
Photo credit: All photos by Dave Lee
Last Updated on June 17, 2020 by Dave