Probably the most common method of travel for European backpackers is via the vast network of national railways. One of the easiest and most cost efficient ways of accessing rail travel is the tried and true Eurail Pass. The Eurail Pass provides access to the national railways of up to 27 countries. This can allow you to travel pretty extensively through Europe for a decent price.
However, to get the most out of your rail pass takes a little planning and thought. Eurail passes comes in two different flavors, one that is valid for a set number of continuous days, and another that is valid for a certain number of days within a given time-frame (e.g. 15 days within two months).
Unless you truly plan on traveling inter-city every day, I would suggest one of the passes that provides you a certain number of travel days, rather than the continuous day option, especially if you’re going for a longer trip (>2 weeks). In addition to not being wasted if you aren’t traveling (i.e. when you’re sightseeing within a city), you can calculate out how much each days costs and then can decide to pay cash if it’s cheaper.
Another way to save is to utilize night trains to save yourself a night in a hostel. There are a number of different night trains that you can access, depending on your pass. All you need to do is reserve and pay for your sleeping accommodation type (privates, suites, etc.)
Additional Eurail Pass Benefits
- The 7PM Rule, if you’re traveling on a direct night train that departs after 7 p.m, you can count the arrival day as your travel day (so 5 free hours of travel!)
- Often overlooked are the numerous country specific benefits, this can include free or discounted travel on local transportation, ferries, as well as other benefits.
Some conditions/limitations of a Eurail Pass:
- You must be a non-European resident, living outside of Europe for at least 6 months
- Cannot be used in the United Kingdom, for that you must get a BritRail Pass
- The pass must be activated within 6 months of when it’s issued
The Eurail Global Pass allows you to travel in any of the 24 countries covered by the pass.
The big benefit to the Global Pass is that it provides you with the maximum flexibility travel wherever you wish. The downside is obviously the extra cost associated with that flexibility. Look at your itinerary and decide for yourself if it’s worth it to you.
The Select Pass has four different options, it provides 5, 6, 8 or travel days within two months. However, unlike the Global pass, the select pass is only valid for 4 contiguous countries that you select when ordering.
Another thing to remember when picking your countries is that major ferry connections can make two countries contiguous. For example, Italy is considered to adjacent to Spain, Croatia and Greece. So if you’re really adventurous, you can go from Spain to Turkey using a select pass (Spain -> Italy -> Greece -> Turkey).
To get the best value, think about which countries you will be doing long-distance trips in or through. Larger countries and more expensive countries are generally the better value, but again think about what your itinerary looks like a get a pass that matches it. Another thing to note is that Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all count as one country (Benelux), so if you plan on traveling extensively in those countries, adding Benelux could be a viable option.
Regional Passes are similar to the Select Pass, but have a certain number of predefined country combinations (2-3 countries). Each pass has its own set of versions, but are usually for a set number of travel days within a given time period.
Here’s a list of the current regional passes:
|Austria – Croatia – Slovenia||France – Germany|
|Austria – Czech Republic||France – Italy|
|Austria – Germany||France – Spain|
|Austria – Hungary||France – Switzerland|
|Austria – Switzerland||Germany – Poland|
|Benelux – France||Germany – Switzerland|
|Benelux – Germany||Greece – Italy|
|Croatia – Slovenia – Hungary||Hungary – Romania|
|Czech Republic – Germany||Italy – Spain|
|Czech Republic – Slovakia||Norway – Sweden|
|Denmark – Germany||Portugal – Spain|
|Denmark – Sweden||Scandinavia|
|Finland – Sweden|
One Country Pass
The One Country Pass is the simplest and most straight forward of all the Eurail passes. Pick one country and go. Like the Regional Passes, each country has its own set of versions, but are usually for a set number of travel days within a given time period.
This pass could make sense if you plan on traveling extensively within a larger country (Spain, Italy, France & Germany are all contenders). So take a look at what your travel plans for the country, and see if the one country pass costs less than buying tickets with cash.