When I first got my Eurail.com pass, I skimmed through the information quickly, it was all pretty clear to me except something obvious: booking a ticket.
Flying overseas to Europe there was no way for me to book a ticket in advance, which kind of made me nervous. I read the warnings in the information packet that only a certain number of Eurail spaces are given on each train.
In the end, my worries were all for not, as the process is simple and not nearly as terrifying as one might imagine.
If you’re a constant planner, like I am, and you want to plan your entire trip down to the day you leave and the time you make your journey it’s simple. At any train station in Europe you can go to the booking desk and just tell them you have a rail pass and give them the dates you want to travel. Since you’re making a reservation, you’ll have to pay a reservation fee which is can be as little as a couple Euros in most countries or as many as 10-15 in Spain. (Note that you have to pay this reservation fee with or without a Eurail pass)
In some cases, especially short local trains you won’t even have to even have to make a reservation. You can simply jump on the train and show the ticket agents your Eurail pass as they wander by.
The process is insanely efficient, and maybe because I had been coming from South America, I worried that this would be a fiasco.
Personally, I travelled in the off-season so I never encountered a problem. I would usually book my ticket out of a city on the same day I arrived in it just to give me some peace of mind. But in many cases, I would just show up to the station an hour early and book right then. I think that if you’re travelling in the summer time you’re best to book as early as you can as the trains fill much quicker and the amount of Eurail users is much higher.
I do really think there is a small flaw in the system. In a couple cases, depending on the country, there is no way that people can make their bookings online before showing up in Europe.
If I was travelling mid-July and I flew into Madrid and was planning on heading to Paris three days later I would be worried that there would not be enough space left for Eurail users. I’m sure they are, but I’d love for Eurail to look into a way of allowing people to make their bookings online, because to your average traveller the worry of not finding space on a particular train might be a cause for stress.
As I mentioned, however, I had no problems at all booking a day or two in advance. In some cases, it seemed like I had the trains to myself. But again, I travelled off-peak which for many people isn’t possible.
Website for Train Times?
Another small issue I had when booking was simply finding the train schedules. And while every country in Europe seems to have a website where you can book tickets and see the schedule, there isn’t one that covers all of Europe.
For me, I found that using the German site Bahn.de gave me the best look at all the train times for all of Europe. It doesn’t matter if the trip isn’t anywhere near Germany, the site shows the route. The German national rail website is also in English, French, Spanish, and Italian which makes things a lot easier. And while as a Eurail user you won’t be able to book your tickets on the site, it will give you a good idea about the various options for train schedules and times.
Considering a Eurail Pass?
If you’re planning on travelling by train a lot in Europe, getting a Eurail pass is definitely the way to go. I made a bit of a breakdown on how much the Eurail saved me on my first Europe train trip here. It’s worth noting that I have done three or four rail trips around Europe. I’ve never once had an issue with the rail pass.
It seems like a bit of a strange situation logistically at first, but the Eurail system does work and is a really great way to travel.