The summer off bouncing around Europe by way of rail has been a rite of passage for many people growing up. There was little doubt that this was the way to travel around Europe for an extended period. It was a great deal , but what about now, if you’re older and not going for a month or two?
Few people will argue against traveling around Europe by rail with a pass in hand. I have logged countless miles from Lillehammer to Cannes and Barcelona to Berlin. It is a great way to see even more of Europe when going from point A to B and C,D,E and F. Rail is also romantic way to go. Allowing a more social atmosphere than a plane. Trains running in Europe tend to consistently maintain their said schedules and if you are visiting a major city you will most likely disembark in the heart of the city unlike an airport which may be 20-30 km outside the city limits.
Paying for a pass and train hopping use to be that easy. Something’s have changed. If you are under 26 and going to be traveling heavily it will still be the best deal. Sites like Eurail and RailEurope are fairly easy to navigate and now offer many options. You may not be traveling all over Europe or for a whole summer for that matter. Now you can select 3,4 or 5 countries to use your pass in and use it for a limited amount of days, lets say 10 in 2 month period. Just write in the dates you will travel on the pass while you are traveling. Now all the countries you are picking must be boardering. Or they offer regional passes as well for select areas. There really is a vast array of options to accommodate most any type of traveller. Another thing to note now is that if you are over 26 certain passes have no choice but 1st class at an increased rate. Order your pass before you head over, when you land have it validated at a station and you’re good to go train hopping, or are you….?
Having used the rail extensively over the years I have noticed this ever growing trend. You have your train schedule and decide you want to go from Marseille to Barcelona. Only, next to the departure time it says “reservation required”. Now this can mean different things. Some places it really just means they are hitting you up with a surcharge. After you spent $700 gor your pass you thought you were all set. It may just be a few bucks or up to twenty dollars. Or, on a recent trip from Paris to Amsterdam, I arrived at the station an hour before departure to make the reservation. I showed them my pass and I was told the train was booked. I went and got a coffee and tried to figure out what to do. After a while I went back to the counter and spoke to another agent and asked when the next train to Amsterdam was. “The 1110” she told me. The same train I was told was booked. Now I hadn’t showed my pass & I simply paid the money and got my ticket as I was eager to meet some old friends in Amsterdam. So after all was exchanged I asked the agent about the sudden opening. She nicely explained that they only accept so many rail reservations per train. In other words, if the train had a 100 seats and they decided only 10% could be used by pass holders and if those ten seats were already booked you would be told you couldn’t go regardless if the rest of the train was empty. So I was still going to be hit with a €5 surcharge but nevertheless I was denied. Now obviously the idea of a reservation makes sense especially during peak season but holding back because you have a pass is completely unjust. This happened to me at a later time in Italy as well. This time I just waited for the train to come, saw it was not busy and got on regardless. When the conductor asked for my ticket I presented my pass and was told I had to pay a 20€ surcharge and if the train got full I’d have to give up my seat. I didn’t have to. As you can see though, if you are traveling on a budget and were planning to use your pass a lot some of these surcharges and add up quick.
If you are traveling in the off season you might be better off purchasing a ticket point to point. These days it is easy to check online for availability while you are traveling. So if you have an idea of what countries you will be visiting and how often you will be traveling I suggest looking into both pass and point to point options. Either way, the rails are a great way to get around and see more of Europe just do some research beforehand to know what type of ticket or pass is best for your needs.