Today is a special guest post from my sister who recently traveled to Europe. She doesn’t have a blog herself but really wanted to share her experience with her Eurail pass as it is often a highly debated topic when it comes to traveling Europe. So, was the pass worth it? Check out Leslie’s post below to find out!
My name is Leslie. I am a 26 year old PhD student living in Vancouver, Canada. After finishing my Master’s degree in September I was left with a 3 month break before starting my PhD the following January. An extended backpacking trip had always been a dream of mine and I wanted to take advantage of this free time before delving into more academics. I had never been to Europe before this trip and I was determined to see as much as I could of both Western and Eastern Europe in the 2.5 month time frame that I allotted for myself. Because I had so many countries on my to do list, I wanted travel that was flexible, comfortable, safe, and economical. For these reasons, I considered travel by train to be the best option.
I looked into the various available rail passes and I immediately saw that the Eurail Global Pass was probably the pass for me. I was skeptical that I would save money using the pass. I turned 26 a month before my trip so I got stuck having to purchase the 1st class Adult rail pass, which is almost €240 more (!!!) than the 2nd class Youth pass. Although I think this is a silly rule, I chose this rail pass because I was traveling solo and am not a seasoned traveler. Additionally, the Eurail Global Pass had good reviews by other travel bloggers (linked below) and travel agents (Travel Cuts).
For the 11 weeks I was in Europe I visited 14 countries. For the first 3 weeks of my trip I traveled without the rail pass because I was visiting remote areas of Norway (I traveled by plane) and the UK (the Eurail Global Pass is not valid in the UK).
The table below includes my expense calculations in euros to reflect the cost of bookings and reservation fees made at the time of travel. 1st and 2nd class ticket price comparisons were based on quotes provided by ticket vendors during booking or online on rail company websites. I chose to compare both 1st and 2nd class ticket prices to see if the 1st class adult pass is the best option for adult backpackers who want to save money.
My Rail Pass: Eurail Global Pass, Valid for 10 days of travel in 2 months. 1st class Adult Pass = €668.00 (€66.80 per trip)
Was the pass worth it? Short answer- yes!!
- Cost: You can see the math above- the pass was worth it! I saved money using a 1st class Adult Eurail Global Pass compared to regular priced 1st and 2nd class trips. Although the pass was a lot of money up front I saved money overall. If you have the benefit of paying a lump sump for a train pass before you leave than I think it is worth it if you plan to travel primarily by train.
- Comfort: As I mentioned above, I was skeptical of the global pass, but I think this was the best choice I could have made for my trip because I was covering a large distance and many countries in both Western and Eastern Europe. Additionally I was backpacking for over two months and found train travel to be extremely comfortable for short and long distance trips. I had no problems traveling by train- trains were efficient, safe, on time, and comfortable. Additionally because I was traveling during the low season in the Fall/Winter, I never found myself without a seat and trains were never crowded. While traveling by train I met great people (even some backpackers who I traveled in other cities with!), they had delicious food, and traveling by 1st class was very comfortable!
- Flexibility: I went to Europe without a schedule and sometimes I made travel plans the night before I left on a morning train to another city. Because I did not have a concrete schedule the rail pass provided flexibility and freedom. I was also very ignorant about travel in Europe; I had no idea how trains worked, what the major rail companies were, how traveling by bus compared, general safety, etc. I kept reading many travel blogs about Europe that said “Don’t worry- it’s easy!”. And it really is easy (!!) but this pass provided me with peace of mind while backpacking solo.
What would I do differently?
Although I saved money overall using the Eurail Global Pass there are a few things I would have done differently to save a few more bucks.
- Opt for bus travel in Eastern Europe instead of trains: Train routes are not as advanced in parts of Eastern Europe as they are in Western Europe. Train routes tend to take much longer. For example, the night train I took from Krakow to Budapest was 11 hours but when I spoke to a guy in my hostel he told me that the Eurolines bus he was taking was only a 3 hour trip. Not only are the trips faster, bus companies such as Student Agency, Orangeways, and Eurolines list cheaper ticket prices on their websites. Although buses in Europe are sometimes listed as cheaper on company websites, last minute bus tickets may be expensive and potentially exceed the cost of a train ticket. Last minute bus ticket purchases may also be difficult during high tourist seasons (i.e. during summer months).
- Opt for bus instead of train travel in France: SNCF (France) Trains, specifically Thayls (THA) trains, have very high reservation fees. When I traveled from France to Amsterdam I opted to pay second class reservation fees because the first class fees were extremely expensive (€60 for 1st class travel between Paris and Brussels). Instead of paying the higher reservation costs, I opted to take the high speed train to Brussels and then took the cheaper (slower) local trains (i.e. Eurocity (EC), or Intercity Express (ICE) trains) between Brussels and Amsterdam. According to Lonely Planet, inter-regional bus travel in France appears to be limited however Eurolines does include some destinations in France. Eurail lists additional information on their website about the types of trains that run for various rail companies and provides information on reservation fees.
- Use the pass for long distance travel: Each day of the Global Eurrail is for 24 hours of travel. This means that you may take a night train starting shortly after 7pm, arrive at your destination the next morning and still have until 7pm to travel by train. The more time in a day you spend on a train, the more money you are saving because you are traveling much farther distances! For example, You can see that for trip #4 in my cost-benefit table I saved a ton of money traveling from Hamburg to Prague (about €100!) on my rail pass because it was a 8-9 hour train ride.
There were certain trips that I took where I didn’t think of the distance between cities. For example, for trip # 6 I traveled from Budapest to Vienna which is a relatively inexpensive trip without the pass (€72 1st class, €48 2nd class) because it is only 3 hours. In hindsight I may have taken a bus or paid for a 2nd class ticket so I could have used the pass in countries with more expensive trains. Also while I was in Vienna I took a day trip to Bratislava. Because the train trip is only one hour it costs €14 for a return ticket it would have been a huge waste of money to use my rail pass for that trip!
- Eurail Global Pass is not valid for travel in Poland: I only noticed when I started my travels that the Global Eurail Pass did not include travel within Poland. I was upset when I saw this because I really wanted to go to Krakow. Determined to use the pass and still make it to Krakow, I was told by Czech Railways that I could pay the difference (€9.40) for travel between Zebrzydowice and Krakow. Unfortunately, I spent more money doing this using my Eurail Pass than I did if I had bought the train ticket without the pass. In hindsight, I would have used my Eurail Pass for an additional trip within Western Europe where trains are more expensive instead of using it for that Prague to Krakow trip. Although I spent more money, I definitely do not regret traveling to Krakow. I had an amazing time and it was one of my favourite cities. If you plan to travel extensively in Poland you may want to consider a one-country rail pass!
- Use the pass for more trips within Italy and Switzerland: Trains in Switzerland are expensive and also in Italy where high speed trains run between major cities. Additionally very few buses run within Italy and Switzerland making train use unavoidable. For travel in Switzerland, keep in mind that train routes within the alps are not included on the Eurail Global Pass (i.e. trains from Interlakken Oost to Swiss alp destinations). For extended travel in one country, you may opt for a One Country Pass with Eurail. If I could do my trip again I would spend more time in Italy. I would definitely consider the global pass in addition to the Italy Eurail pass. Some one-country Eurail passes also provide 2nd class passes to adults (26+). Switzerland has a separate rail pass called the Swisspass.
- If I were to do things differently I may have opted for the Eurail Select Pass for 3 to 5 countries. Countries that I would have chosen for this pass would have included Western European countries (i.e. Netherlands, Germany, Swizterland, Italy). However on Select passes the price per trip (e.g. 5 days within two months) still exceed the price per trip on the Global pass, but the Select pass may be a better option if you are spending a longer period of time in these places (> 6 days per destination).
Other Helpful Eurail Pass Reviews. There are other reviews online that may help determine which Rail Pass is right for you!
Should YOU buy a Global Eurail Pass?
It really depends on the type of trip you are going to take. Are you traveling all over Europe or just focusing your trip on one particular country or region? Think about the type of trip you want to take. It may make sense to mix up bus and train travel, or choose a railpass for only one or a select few countries. If you are under 26 years of age I think that most definitely the Global Eurail pass is worth it! Take advantage of the reduced price while you can!!
Do your research- read travel blogs, look at the inclusions and restrictions on rail pass websites, and talk to travel agents.
Good luck and Happy Travels,