When a Eurail Pass is Worth It and When It Isn't

After 12 years of international travel, I finally took my first Eurail trip, that is to say I just traveled for two months in Europe on a Eurail pass. I am really grateful to have had this opportunity, because now I understand the beauty of the Eurail pass, when in the past I was hesitant to ever get one because of the seemingly high prices. I do believe there is a specific type of travel that is perfect for having a Eurail pass, and there is another type where the pass may indeed be more expensive than what a traveler (especially a budget traveler), needs to pay. I’m going to do my best to set this straight. 

Details of My Trip

Pass: Eurail Global Pass
Dates: Valid for 15 days of travel within 2 months (which I set when I ordered it)
Class: 1st
Pass Price (as of publishing): €903 (about $1,020)
Countries: Valid in 28 countries
My pass was provided to me by Eurail, all opinions of this post are my own

When a Eurail Pass is Worth It

Objective: Travel all over Europe within a specific amount of time, without a set plan

If you are like me and like to fly by the seat of your pants, a Eurail pass can be like having a golden ticket. When I was on my two month trip, there were several days when I decided my travel plans the day before I would need to get on a train. My plans changed a lot, and I had all the freedom to take whatever train I needed that fit whatever plan I made.

Why this is awesome: Throughout Europe, train ticket prices go up as the travel date gets closer, and on the day of, they have the potential to skyrocket, we’re talking €500 to get from Hamburg to Salzburg the day of. A Eurail pass allows travelers to forget completely about prices, only paying attention to timetables, train types, connections, and whatever looks like the best combination of these things to get them where they need to be. BOOM.

Result: I calculated the price of every ticket I would have had to buy throughout the 13 days that I ended up using of my 15 days. With the flexible schedule and last minute tickets that I would have either had to buy or change my entire schedule to avoid, the cost would have been roughly €1,540, and that’s for 2nd class, AND there were two days left that I didn’t even use! That means the Eurail pass technically saved me well over €600, AND gave me the perk of traveling 1st class.

Ladies and gentleman, THIS is when a Eurail pass is worth it.

Eurail Pass
In Austria, about to board my first of four trains (including overnight) to Spain in Jan 2016

General tips for using a Eurail pass:

  • With the 1st class option, which I highly recommend, you are almost always going to get a seat in a quiet train car, without a reservation*
  • Be very careful to fill out your dates correctly (with DD/MM format, which is not what North Americans are used to), because if you mess it up, it could cost you a day
  • Don’t fill out your travel dates ahead of time, wait until you actually get on your first train of that day to fill it out, in case any of your plans change. This way you won’t accidentally lose a day
  • Be sure to read through the Eurail manual that comes with your ticket so you are clear on what you should and shouldn’t do, plus benefits, etc.
  • Download the DB Navigator app, which is technically the German train schedule. It was my go-to since I was in and out of Germany a lot, however, it also works for routes that don’t enter Germany at all and is a brilliant resource for having a Eurail pass.

*Reservations are not always required, but be sure to research your route ahead of time and pay attention to the R icon, which suggests that a route requires a reservation. The price of reserving a seat varies from country to country. I paid as little as €3.50 in Germany all the way up to €30 in France (yeah, that sucked). Watch out for French trains. You can make reservations at the ticket kiosks or at the travel centers in the train stations.


When a Eurail Pass is Not the Best Choice

There are certain situations where I imagine the price of a pass like this is higher than what you would pay for individual tickets. However, keep in mind there are several different options of passes, with various numbers of countries and travel days available. It is worth it to do the research and find out if there is a good deal for what you need, as every pass and every trip is different.

  • When you have set dates and can purchase tickets ahead of time, thus saving money (however, you can’t then change your plan).
  • When the countries you want to visit aren’t close to each other, perhaps it’s easiest and cheapest (and takes less time) to fly on a budget airline instead.
  • When you are only planning to take a couple of trains, i.e. if you really only need to get from A to B, perhaps stopping along the way in a few places, it may be cheaper to book individual tickets. For example, if you need to get from Spain to Italy, research what a train trip from Spain along the French Riviera into Italy might cost and compare it to a three-country Eurail pass which, for adults, starts at €310 for 5 days within 2 months.
  • Regional train travel within Germany with a small group of people – you can use Länder tickets, which are sold at train stations and valid by the day within each region in Germany and up to five people can travel on one at a time (you must buy one for each region, i.e. Bavaria, Saxony, etc.).

Honestly, after my experience with my Eurail pass, and knowing how expensive European trains are, I’m a believer. Plus, trains are fun! Feel free to ask questions in the comments below, happy travels!

Thanks to Eurail for providing the pass. All opinions are my own.