Europe is really a dream destination among dream destinations because of how ridiculously close the dozens of countries are to one another and the ease of which you can travel between all of them. This is exactly why we were beyond excited to have the opportunity to explore this vast continent by train with our two 1st Class 1-month continuous Eurail Global Passes. Seriously, you can do a lot with these things, which is why we started planning our itinerary right away when our passes arrived.
If you haven’t heard of Eurail then you’ve probably been living under a rock, you don’t travel much, or you may know them by their European counterpart, InterRail. InterRail is the same exact thing as Eurail except it’s for Europeans, while Eurail is for non-Europeans. It does matter which one you purchase, but you shouldn’t normally be stumbling onto the wrong website if you’re browsing from your home country (and not using a VPN).
The main point of Eurail is to make your life easier while traveling around Europe. For many travelers, Europe is a destination where many cities and countries will be visited in one trip, which means they have to figure out how to get between all these different points. Air transportation is pretty cheap in Europe, but for the most part trains are just as cheap and usually a lot easier since you can just keep traveling a few hours to get to the next city.
Yes, you can book all of your train travel yourself without having need of a Eurail pass and it may or may not come out as a cheaper option, but it will definitely require some more research and work on your end. With a Eurail pass, most of the time you just have to show up at the right time for your train and then fill out the details in your Travel Diary.
Different Types of Eurail Passes
With Eurail there are different types of passes available. It mainly comes down to how long you want a pass for, what countries you’re visiting, and whether you want 1st- or 2nd-Class. For the best, worry-free experience we would recommend a Global Pass because this will allow you access to all countries associated with Eurail. This means you can use your Eurail pass in any available country (of which there are 31 to choose from). You will then be able to choose the amount of time you want the pass to be available for. Some options include: 7 days within 1 month, 15 days within 2 months, 15 continuous days, and 3 continuous months.
If you’re sticking to one country on your trip then you would benefit much more from just doing a one country pass. This will give you the freedom you want to get around and hit the best spots within your country of choice.
How to Use Your Eurail Pass
When we first started the process of ordering and receiving our Eurail Passes we soon came to realize there’s a bit more to it than we first understood. Give yourself some time before your trip to get your passes because they will actually be mailed out to you. I believe ours arrived in less than a week (to the United States), but shipping times may vary, of course.
When your pass(es) arrive there will be some important information in there that you should go over and review, but the most important documents you’ll receive in your packet will be your actual ticket (pass) and your Travel Diary. They should be connected in their own little grouping of papers. Your pass will have your information (name, last name, country, passport #), the type of pass it is (global pass or one country), and how long it’s valid for, including the actual start and end dates. It should be known that you will choose the start and end dates when you first order your passes so it would probably be a good idea to have a skeleton of a plan ready for your upcoming trip. For us, we already had some flights booked in and out of Europe, but we didn’t necessarily know the exact amount or order of countries we would be visiting.
The actual pass will come with instructions on how to use it, but I’ll include the steps here as well just as a heads up since it was a bit confusing for us our first time.
Before making your first journey, activate your ticket at your travel agent or a train station ticket window. If your ticket has already been pre-activated during your purchase online, you can skip this step.
Update your Travel Diary details before each journey. If you have a Flexi Pass, also mark the travel date on the Travel Calendar on your ticket. Never change a date and always use blue or black permanent ink (no pencil)!
It is compulsory to show your Eurail Pass and valid passport/identity document during the journey when requested.
Once you have finished traveling, please send us your Pass Cover including the Travel Diary and ticket. We will send you a gift in return!
Our passes were already activated when we acquired them so we didn’t have to worry about that before starting our first journey. However, it’s quite simple to get that done at any train station (just have the right person stamp your pass). For the actual filling out of the Travel Diary, we found it was easiest to first make sure you’re boarded on the correct train and then once we found some seats we would fill out our journey details. You have to put in the date, time of departure, the station you’re leaving from, and the station you’re arriving to. During the train journey a train attendant will come around to check tickets. As long as you’ve filled everything out correctly and your pass is valid, you should receive a dated stamp next to the journey details you’ve just filled out (Italy was the only country we traveled to that didn’t stamp our passes). In 16 journeys, I don’t think we were asked once by a train attendant to show any identification along with our passes.
We filled 16/25 entries in our travel diary, but you can also find more blank pages in the Eurail Pass Guide that will be in the same initial packet as your pass.
Also, just be careful when traveling with your pass because if you lose it or it gets damaged beyond repair then you won’t be receiving a replacement, or at least that’s what we were told.
Booking Train Travel
The actual booking of train travel was a bit confusing for us in the beginning. I didn’t quite understand what we needed to book because we already had our Eurail Passes, but I knew that seats could be reserved and I didn’t want to risk a train being full at the times we wanted to travel. We found that you need to think about things just a little bit (crazy, I know) when doing train travel because it can definitely save you some money.
Train reservations are not the same as train tickets. Your Eurail Pass is your train ticket. However, that does not mean you automatically have an assigned seat on any given train. It actually never means that unless you specifically make a seat reservation. Some trains require a train reservation for you to be on there, so just having a Eurail Pass won’t be enough. For instance, when we traveled through Italy we initially made reservations for a train from Venice to Verona which cost us 10 Euros per reservation (or 20 Euros total). We thought that was actually a bit of a high amount for a journey that was only about an hour. Later we found out that there are plenty of public, slower trains (but not much slower) making that same journey that you don’t need any reservation for and leave all the time. In cases like that it’s up to you whether you want to be on a bit of a nicer train with less people or you’re fine with the public train. Honestly, the majority of trains are just fine, whether you need a reservation or not. Just make sure to check if actually do need a reservation because that could ruin your trip at least for a few hours or maybe the entire day.
A good resource for researching your train routes is the Eurail Reservation Portal. There you can plug in all the different routes you want (with dates) to see what kinds of journeys are available. You’ll be able to see if there are transfers, how long the journey is, and if reservations are required or not. If you’re paying for reservations via this site then be aware that there may be cases where the reservation will have to be mailed to you instead of emailed. We found this out after having made reservations for a night train from Vienna to Venice in the middle of our European travels. It was a bit alarming at first, but we ended up having the reservation mailed to our hotel in Vienna before we arrived there and it worked out just fine. It could be a potential snafu for some, though.
Another amazing resource for getting valuable train information is just talking to the agents at each station. Whenever we would arrive to a new city by train we would immediately seek out the nearest counter agent and find out about dates, times, and reservations for the next leg of our journey. If reservations were required then we would make them right then and there. This saved us a lot of time and stress because we would do it right when we arrived. This, of course, implies that you know where you’ll be heading next, which we always did, but I get that some people won’t yet have that information because they like to have a bit more freedom.
1st-Class Passes VS 2nd-Class Passes
To be honest I’m not sure if we experienced much of a difference by having 1st-Class passes while we were traveling. I thought there would be more perks, but it didn’t seem like there were, or at least not in the countries we were traveling through. I guess YMMV (your mileage may vary) when it comes to having a 1st-Class pass. Perhaps it would have been a lot better had we traveled in Germany or Switzerland more because it seems like there are nicer trains and more perks in countries like those.
Having used our Priority Pass liberally while flying around the world we thought it would be nice to have lounge access with our Eurail Passes, but in one month we only ended up visiting one lounge and it wasn’t that great. It was nice to have a place to sit and use WiFi away from the crowds, but compared to airport lounges it would have been rated as one of the worst ones we’ve visited.
I will say we automatically received the option to sit in 1st-Class seating on multiple trains, which was nice, but also not necessary.
Our Experience Traveling Across Europe with Eurail
I won’t make this long, but let me include some of my favorite parts about using Eurail in our European travels. Eurail has been around for a long time (over 50 years) so they know what they’re doing. They could possibly have some things to figure out with streamlining their process of making reservations, like having an app that works well, but in general things worked out fine for us. I can imagine it would be hard to constantly keep things updated when you’re working with the policies and train systems of 31 different countries.
I like the fact that every train conductor and/or agent knew exactly what the Eurail Pass was as we were traveling because that was one less thing to worry about. Also, the process of actually using the pass is quite easy because all you have to do is fill out the Travel Diary on each of your journeys.
With our 1-month continuous Global Passes we were able to visit Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Krakow, Oswiecim, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Verona, Venice, Sirmione, Trieste, Ljubljana, and Zagreb. Not too shabby for one month’s time, although we do like to spend at least a few days in each place. In the future I think doing a one country pass would be great to really explore just one place that you really like, but for this trip the Global Pass was great since we just wanted to hit up a lot of cities at once.
Overall, it was a great experience. I’d always heard good things about train travel in Europe (and had experienced it for myself years ago) so I was quite interested in seeing what Eurail was all about. I haven’t completely calculated what it would have cost us to book all of our journeys separately, but I doubt it was that big of a difference, if at all. All I know is it was extremely easy to use Eurail and it saved us lots of precious time while we were out and about traveling and enjoying life. If there’s one thing I don’t want to do a lot of while traveling it would be worrying and stressing about things that I shouldn’t have to worry and stress about. Enter Eurail and a lot of your planning is instantly taken care of. Can you put a price on such a great stress reducer?