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An insider's guide to Eurail

Published September 20th, 2013

With Europe Early Birds well and truly flying around, a lot of us at Student Flights HQ have already started planning our 2014 summer holidays. From the Greek Islands to Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Berlin, there’s so much we want to see that a Eurail pass looks to be the best way to see it all. And so with a Europe holiday on my mind, I decided to sit down with our resident rail insiders Laura and Joy to start planning my holiday find out everything there is to know about rail travel in Europe. Here’s what the insiders had to say:

 

It’s a super ear and stress-free way to travel

I think what people don’t realise about rail travel is just how seamless it is. You depart from the central area of one city and then you arrive in the central area of another city. No need for taxis or anything. To me that’s really the biggest perk. You also get to sit back and enjoy the scenery. It’s just so easy. And the network and variety of trains in Europe is incredible too from high speed trains to local little regional trains and even night trains where you get to wake up in a new city.

 

You don’t waste time like you would on a plane

A lot of people are scared about language barriers when travelling through Europe but with rail it’s so easy. There’s no need to go through customs or anything, it’s all done onboard. You’re also avoiding all of the waiting time you would normally have before and after a flight, particularly the 3 hours before an international flight so in some cases rail is much quicker than flying. All you really need to do is just rock up say 15 minutes before the train’s departure, find your seat and enjoy the ride.

 

If you plan on visiting more than a couple of countries, they recommend the Global Pass

Our most popular rail passes would be the Global Passes. With the Select Passes you can choose between 3, 4 or 5 countries to travel around but with the Global Pass you can travel around 24 countries in Europe. The Global Pass comes in two different options; flexible or continuous. A flexible pass gives you 10 or 15 days in a two month period so that means you can use any 10 or 15 days over two months to travel on trains throughout the 24 countries included in the pass. The other option is a continuous pass which ranges from 15 days to 3 months consecutive which means you can go on a train every day for that 15 day to 3 month period. If you’re not sure what time frame you’re going to be travelling in, or you’re planning on doing a limited number of trips, then we recommend the flexible pass. On the other hand if you’re just rocking up to Europe with no real itinerary and are planning on travelling a lot, then the continuous pass is your better option as it allows you to take as many train trips as you want.

 

 

There are rail classes

There are usually two classes of service on Europe trains. Second class is a bit like economy class on an airplane although there’s a lot more room and the seats are a bit bigger. There’s usually a dining car on board where you can purchase food from, you keep your bags at the end of the carriage and there’s toilets onboard. In first class there’s even more space and some trains offer drinks and snacks as complimentary. Travelling in first class is an upgrade option with the rail passes. Second class with the Global Pass is only for the youth market though – so discount prices for passengers under 26 years of age. Whereas first class with the Global Pass is only available at adult prices. There’s also a saver pass option which is for 2 to 5 passengers travelling together, so if you’re travelling with a friend in first class you can get a discount of around 25% in first class.

 

Don’t forget to make a seat reservation!

One thing to bear in mind that people often don’t know is that you need to make a seat reservation before you board, which costs extra. So when you purchase a rail pass, it doesn’t guarantee you a seat on the train. I’d say about 75% of trains in Europe require compulsory seat reservations so there are some that don’t require reservations, however that doesn’t guarantee you a seat. The best way to avoid any confusion is to ask your travel consultant. As a general rule though, most countries in Europe will require you to make a reservation and if you haven’t, they’ll fine you.

 

 

Try and make your reservation as early as possible

To make a reservation you can usually do it locally at the train station. To give you a rough price estimate it’s usually around AUD$20 per person per sector. You can also do it prior to leaving Australia with your travel consultant. Usually the time frame is 60 to 90 days prior that you can book in your reservation. Most people usually buy their passes early then make their reservation closer to the travel date. The benefit in booking it earlier is that some trains only allocate 60 seat reservations for passes per train, so if you have to be on a particular train, say if you need to make a flight or a tour, it’s better to make your reservation earlier. Because if all of those 60 seat reservations for people travelling on Eurail passes have been allocated, you’re going to have to purchase an actual ticket which can be quite expensive if it’s last minute. So in that sense it’s ideal if you book your seat reservations before your trip.

 

It can often work out cheaper too for example with the Eurostar, the earlier you book your reservation, the cheaper it is. If you’re already over in Europe though, we recommend booking your seat reservations a few days before the journey at the train stations. The train stations throughout Europe are all linked as well so you can make a reservation on a train ride in say Italy, while you’re in Paris, at the main station Gare Du Norde.

 

Try and make your reservation as early as possible

To make a reservation you can usually do it locally at the train station. To give you a rough price estimate it’s usually around AUD$20 per person, per sector. You can also do it prior to leaving Australia with your travel consultant. Usually the time frame is 60 to 90 days prior that you can book in your reservation. Most people usually buy their passes early, then make their reservation closer to the travel date. The benefit in booking it earlier is that some trains only allocate 60 seat reservations for passes per train, so if you have to be on a particular train, say if you need to make a flight or a tour, it’s better to make your reservation earlier. Because if all of those 60 seat reservations for people travelling on Eurail passes have been allocated, you’re going to have to purchase an actual ticket which can be quite expensive if it’s last minute. So in that sense it’s ideal if you book your seat reservations before your trip.

 

It can often work out cheaper too for example with the Eurostar, the early you book your reservation, the cheaper it is. If you’re already over in Europe though, we recommend booking your seat reservations a few days before the journey at the train stations. The train stations throughout Europe are all linked as well so you can make a reservation on a train ride in say Italy, while you’re in Paris, at the main station Gare Du Norde.

 

Lauren Burvill

Australian born but London based, I'm a sucker for big cities and small tropical islands. When travelling, I like eating like a local, dressing like a local, but staying in 5 star style. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @laurenburvill.