The majority of American students study abroad in Europe, and so as each new semester approaches many of our students have the same question: should they get a Eurail pass? My answer is that it depends on what type of traveling you want to do. If you want to travel on the weekends, it might not be worth it but if you are planning to travel for a longer period of time, it could be a cost-effective and flexible option.
How It Works
The rail pass is a piece of paper the size of a train ticket that covers the cost of train travel in a certain country (or countries) for a specific number of days. You can buy the pass in your home country or Europe and have it mailed to your address. It is possible to buy passes at certain train stations in Europe but the options are limited so if you decide to do it, it’s best to get one ahead of time.
Before you start using your pass, it must be validated. You bring it to the train station and they will stamp it with your first date. Eurail passes are purchased for specific time periods and if, for example, you buy a one month pass, it’s valid for one month from the date you first use it. With the pass you can go on any train that is covered without buying a ticket and show the conductor your pass.
It used to be that you could buy a pass and get on any train. Now it has become more difficult as sometimes there are only a set number of seats available for pass holders and many countries have reservation fees. Reservation fees are required for night trains and can be a small fee of 5-10 euros ($7-14). So that means on top of the cost of the pass, you are also paying a small fee for the seat. More recently, as railways have had to deal with budget airlines, they have changed their pricing model so that the earlier you book, the cheaper the ticket will be and the later you book, the more expensive the fares are.
What Are My Options?
For many, the pass is about flexibility and being able to jump on and off trains when you want. If you are traveling long term, and especially if you don’t have a set itinerary, you will want the flexibility of the pass. Raining in Berlin and want to leave early? Want to spend an extra day in Cannes? With the pass you can take a later train and you won’t lose your transportation.
It might not be worth it if you are only traveling on the weekends, and more directly to one city. There are many different options for passes so it is worth it to research and see which one fits your travel schedule.
The first popular option is a regional pass. You can choose from over 20 regions and how many days you want to travel. For example, there is a Greece-Italy regional pass and you can choose how many days you want to travel in that region within 2 months. If you choose the 5 days within 2 months, you can travel for any 5 days (as stamped by the office in the train station) on the covered Greece-Italy trains within two months from your first date stamp. Another popular option is the one country pass. You can choose how many days, up to 10, you want to travel on trains in that country within a 2 month period.
A 3-country ten day select travel pass could be worth it for a spring break so you can travel to major cities as well as day trips. Also, a one month continuous pass would be worth it if you want to travel for 1 month to an unlimited number of countries.A train pass isn’t right for all trips but for most people who are planning to spend a long time in Europe and travel long distances and frequently, having a pass will save you money and time.
So, Is It Worth It?
The bottom line is figuring out if the pass is worth it requires taking the time to look at your travel schedule and do the math. What trips do you want to take and how much, approximately, do the tickets cost? There are budget airlines, but take into consideration the price as well as the convenience. Many of the budget airlines use small, regional airports. So flying to Rome Ciampino with Ryanair is fine because you are just as close to Rome as if you flew into the main airport. But flying into Luton or Stansted instead of London Heathrow is another story.
The Eurail pass is more than just the money cost of the pass. It’s also about the experience of hopping on and off a train as you please. It comes with a book of all the train departure and destination cities so you can flip through it and make an impromptu trip anywhere. Plus, it comes with discounts for hotels and local attractions. And ultimately, there is something to be said for enjoying the scenery of every beautiful country you travel to or through.