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Traveling by Train in Europe: Save Money with a Rail Pass

A rail pass is an extremely useful thing to have for anyone wanting to hop from one city to another in Europe. I can save you a lot of money depending on how much you want to travel around while in Europe.

Book a Ticket or Purchase a Rail Pass?

Sometimes it may be cheaper to book tickets than a rail pass. If you aren’t going to be traveling much by train, or sometimes if you book far enough ahead of time, individual tickets can be cheaper.

Rail passes are best if you’re planning on traveling a lot within one country or several countries close to each other. They’re also handy if you want to wait to decide where all you want to go in Europe until you get there.

Which Pass Should You Get?

Passes will be for a certain amount of travel days within a time period (ex: 10 days in one month, or they can be continuous (2 months continuous). Continuous passes are cheaper but usage starts from the first day you use the pass and continuous until the last day of validity whether you use the pass or not. Continuous passes are better for those who are planning on moving on from one city to another. Basically for those not planning on staying in a city for at least 2 nights. For the more flexible pass, you just need to plan your travel days wisely so you don’t run out.

There are several options of rail passes:

  • One country passes
  • Regional passes (usually include 2 or 3 countries)
  • Select passes (typically 4 bordering countries)
  • Global pass (basically you can travel to any country in Europe).

Unless you get a Global pass, the countries you choose to include in your pass have to share a border.

Where to Buy Rail Passes

Both Rail Europe (tickets and passes) and Eurail (passes only) are good sites to buy rail passes from. The websites sort out all the options and help you figure out which pass is the best for you. You can just enter which countries you want to visit and for how long, and the booking tools will help you find the cheapest option. The latest deals and discounts will also be featured on their websites. Just remember, rail passes have to be shipped to you before you leave for your trip.

I personally purchased the German Rail Pass from Rail Europe for 10 days within one month while I studied abroad for a month. It was truly a handy thing to have when you decide spur of the moment what city you want to travel to for the weekend. It also save me some money when our group decided to go to Amsterdam. With the German rail pass, I only had to pay for a ticket from the border to Amsterdam.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

  • Make sure to go to the ticket office on your first day of travel to validate your rail pass.
  • If you have a flexible pass (not continuous) you’ll have to write down each day of travel on your pass before (or I did right after) you board the train that day. Don’t write anything on your rail pass before it’s been validated.
  • The dates need to be written European style: day, month, year.
  • On some trains, you may still need to purchase a reservations (mostly on high speed trains). Before you depart, make sure you understand whether your train requires, recommends, or doesn’t accept seat reservations. You can just hop-on, hop-off most regional and local trains.

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