Train Travel and the Freedom of the Eurail Pass

Hello, my dear friends. How have you been? This March I officially finished my epic winter two-month journey from Finland to Bosnia using my Eurail pass.

7000 kilometers, 80 hours, 20 trains, 9 countries and countless adventures later, I have now begun to reflect upon my experiences traveling with the Eurail pass and it’s time the answer the question all of you have been asking me ever since this new journey began:

“Is the Eurail pass worth it, Raphael?” Well, here are all the Pros and Cons of traveling with an Eurail pass. Are you ready? All aboard!

The Matterhorn of the Swiss Alps

The Matterhorn of the Swiss Alps

Hold on! What’s an Eurail Pass?

The Eurail Pass is the ultimate freedom ticket for train travel in Europe. It’s basically a physical pass that allows unlimited train travel within certain days and/or months. All you have to do is just purchase a pass, write down the travel date and board a train to wherever your heart leads you.

As of March 2015, the company currently sells different types of passes, the most popular ones being the 15 travel days within a 2 months period and the 30-day unlimited continuous travel days.

Pretty groovy, uh?

Train Travel in Europe

Train Travel in Europe

You can also buy regional passes (example: BENELUX Pass for Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) but you’re better off buying the Global pass that allows you to travel to 28 countries in Europe (this pass can only be purchased by non-EU citizens. If you are an EU citizen, you need to purchase an Interail Pass).

Last January, I was given a 15 days within 2 months Global pass by the friendly folks of Eurail for me to review. This was actually the second time I traveled with Eurail but before we weigh the Pros and Cons of the Eurail Pass I would like to share a story with you…

The story of 2012 Young Raphael.

The Ferris Wheel of Clermont-Ferrand

Flashback to 2012

Flashback to 2012 and Young Raphael Alexander Zoren

“Are you 100% sure about this? One thousand Euros is a lot of money” the bank manager said to me. “I know it is. And I’m not so certain about my ability to pay it back…but I need this ” I replied, with a gaze of determination in my eyes.

Truth be told, I never told exactly what the money of the student loan was for to the bank manager. I guess he assumed it was to pay for my rent in the kind of expensive town of Clermont-Ferrand where I was doing my Master in Management.

Heck, maybe he assumed that I needed the money for a family emergency, but the truth is that I needed the money in order to purchase an unlimited 3-month Eurail pass in order to travel in Europe during the summer of 2012.

For me, traveling was no longer just a far away possibility; it was now my life mission. My passion. My calling.

Sunset at Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sunset at Dubrovnik, Croatia

And yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Getting a student loan to travel the world is not a smart decision, Raphael” but trust me when I say that it totally was (have you read my article about the 7 tips to travel more this 2015?).

Traveling allowed me to acquire a specific set of skills that have allowed me to earn income from anywhere in the world. In the end, I somehow managed to pay back the full loan at the beginning of 2013 and ever since I have been grateful for the decision I made in that cold morning when I showed up to the bank to get a student loan.

And to think that a constant life of travel started with a single train journey in Europe…

Eurail Pass Pros and Cons


How to plan your epic European Journey with Eurail Pass

There are many different passes that Eurail is currently offering. This time Eurail gave me a 15 days within 2 months global pass to review. For a second class Eurail Pass it’s going to cost you 583 Euros (if you’re over 26, you need to purchase a 1st class Eurail pass priced at 894 Euros).

Using basic math, you will soon realize that the total daily price of the pass is 38.87 Euros for the 2nd class pass (583/15) and 59.6 Euros for the 1st class pass (894/15). This means that you need to maximize the value of each one of your 15 travel days in order to start saving potential money with your pass.

Train prices in Europe vary a lot from country to country and as a general rule of thumb, the further East from Germany that you travel, the cheaper and slower than the trains are. For example, the 8 hours train ride from Helsinki to Kemi is priced at 90 Euros while the 10 hours train ride from Kotor to Belgrade is priced at 20 Euros.

The spring time beauty of Kotor, Montenegro

The spring time beauty of Kotor, Montenegro

You need also to consider that some European trains require compulsory reservation from Eurail passholders and some even require you to pay a supplement. This is mostly common in Spain and France but other countries have some specific trains that require reservation as well. You can see the entire list here.

Speaking about France, you also need to pay attention to the fact that trains in France have a limitation regarding the number of passholders allowed per train and after a set number has been reached, the reservation will be now a flat fee of 18 Euros. This is usually only a problem during peak seasons.

For the duration of my entire journey in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia I never once had to pay for reservation fees.

My preferred method for planning a Eurail journey while avoiding having to pay for reservation fees is to go to Deutsche Bahn website and search for trains that don’t require reservation by clicking the “All Without ICE” option.

My Eurail Winter Journey. Finland to Bosnia.

My Eurail Winter Journey. Finland to Bosnia.

The Pros and Cons of the Eurail Pass

In my opinion, the main PRO of the Eurail Pass is the liberty it offers you to explore Europe at your own pace. Didn’t like Venice? Just hop on the next train and don’t worry about it. Weather ruining your day in Prague? Just hop on the next train and don’t worry about it. Got a crush in Interlaken that you’re dying to visit once more? Just hop on the next train and don’t worry about it.

Plus, there’s no luggage fees in trains so you are free to travel with your guitar, pets, bicycles and even with your children. Most trains in Western, Northern and Central Europe also have electric plugs, free wi-fi and a dinning compartment.

The Eurail Pass also has some extra free perks in selected countries such as access to Business Lounges at train stations (Switzerland and Sweden for example) where you can get unlimited snacks and drinks. Even better is the fact that some of the best boat journeys in the Swiss Lakes are included for free during any of your travel days (click here for a list of all Eurail benefits by country).

Traveling in Switzerland with an Eurail Pass is probably the most amazing way to see all of the small villages of this wonderful country. Have you seen my photo essay about Switzerland’s most beautiful landscapes?

So how about the main CON of the Eurail Pass? As of March 2015, it is a physical pass and not an electronic one. What does this means? Well, it basically means that carrying an Eurail Pass is the equivalent to carrying cash in your pocket and if you loose it, you’re basically done.

As an alternative, you can buy a 14 Euros insurance and get refunded in case of theft and loss in order to cover your costs up to the maximum value of the pass.

An important aspect to consider before purchasing an Eurail Pass is that trains in Eastern, Central and South Europe are relatively cheap so if your journey *only* involves countries located in said area, you won’t save much money with an Eurail pass and you’ll probably be better by using point to point tickets.

Also, bear in mind that there are certain bus journeys included in the Eurail Pass for connections not currently available by rail. For example, Kemi, Finland to Lulea, Sweden. However, this doesn’t apply to every single country. For example, there is no way to reach Dubrovnik with an Eurail Pass and you’ll have to pay for a bus from either Mostar, Split or Kotor.

Nevertheless, the Eurail Pass is a very unique way to explore Europe and I wait with great anticipation for my third Eurail Journey and beyond. Are you also excited as well?

Aurora Borealis and the Starry Sky

Aurora Borealis and the Starry Sky

So, is the Eurail pass worth the money?

In a nutshell? YES, it definitely is…unless your journey involves *only* Eastern, Central and Southern Europe of course. Or France.

But other than those places, the Eurail Pass is one of the best ways to get to explore Europe mainly because of the ultimate freedom that it represents and the way it helps you to save money on Europe’s most expensive trains.

Plus, nothing beats having the lifestyle of a worldly gentleman of wonders (even if it is only for a day!): Breakfast in Paris, lunch in Venice and dinner in Berlin. Isn’t that a lifestyle worth investing money in?

Rialto bridge, Venice

In the low season, the Rialto bridge area is extremely clean

In the end, I would say that even though the Eurail Pass is not the cheapest way to travel in Europe (budget flights with Ryanair, EasyJet, Norwegian and others take the crown here), it is definitely the most convenient, cost effective and eco-sustainable alternative for all types of travellers.

Have you ever traveled with an Eurail pass? Would you like to? How was your experience like? Share your thoughts and let me know what think!

Until next time, my friends!

Disclaimer: This article was brought to you in collaboration with Eurail. Be sure to check out their website for the latest special offers and discounts. What are you waiting for? Order your Eurail pass now and start your own epic European Train Journey!

The Ultimate Eurail Pass Travel Guide

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27 Responses

  1. Marilyn Albright

    I have enjoyed all the posts of your winter travel, and I’m sure you learned MUCH more than if you had used that student loan for college!

  2. Renuka

    I don’t think I ever read something so detailed about the Eurail pass! It’s one of my dreams to travel on an Eurail and witness the beauty of Switzerland. Thanks for bringing on the pros and cons that we might have never considered.

  3. Hannah

    I love train travel but always just book while I’m there. Keep this in mind for my next trip :)

  4. Ron | Active Planet Travels

    Although I have to admit, getting a student loan wouldn’t have been my first choice for funding my travels, I’m certainly happy it worked out for you! Traveling via Eurail Pass has been on my radar for a little while now.

    Seems like a great way to explore Europe with minimal worries. Can’t wait to get to that part of the world myself! :-)

  5. Ele

    What I find unfair is that Eurail pass for non-Europeans is cheaper than an Interrail pass for Europeans that we have to buy when we want to travel by trains. I don’t understand how come we, Europeans, are richer than, for example, USA visitors.

  6. Alli

    Really like the pros and cons for the Eurail pass, Raphael!

  7. Alli

    (I pressed enter too soon!) It’s really helpful how much you broke it down with the detailed pros and cons. Bookmarking this! :)

  8. Kate

    I absolutely love overland travel and the trains in Europe are awesome. Great post and information on the Eurail pass. I love your photos too. I just need to book my next train trip now!

  9. Ashley

    Thank you for this! I have been researching the Eurail pass for quite some time and Ive been unsure, my only question would be how long did you stay and did you find cheap accommodations in between being on the train, did you ever sleep on the train?

    • Raphael Alexander, The Man of Wonders

      Hi Ashley, I’ve been in and out of Europe for almost two years now. Hostels’ prices vary in all of the continent. For example, in Zurich you’ll end up paying close to 30 euros for a shared dormitory bed while in Prague you’ll pay as little as 3 euros.

  10. Sandra

    Great reading your pros & cons of the eurail pass. I have been researching the eurail pass and the countries I would like to visit and You have answered most of my questions. However I would like to know if I can use my pass for local train/bus travel as well if it is on the same day as I arrive in that country? Or do I need to purchase a ticket
    for travel around the city or country side.

  11. Jyoti

    Hi Raphael,

    I am currently planning a trip to Europe with a friend. We plan to go from France to Switzerland (to Italy if we end up going by train) to Greece. Would you still recommend a Eurail pass? We were also considering point to point tickets or flights. We want to plan the most cost efficient but also fun trip. Also do the trains without reservations mean a downgrade in speed and luxury?