60 Years Of Eurail Passes
Eurail passes have almost a mystical history behind them. They been around for, hell, almost as long as me, and just celebrated 60 years since they were launched. For decades it was “the way” to visit Europe via train and yes, it certainly does that. For those “of a certain age” that maybe traveled Europe via the train in the “good old days” of the sixties and seventies (you know who you are), the Pass was a great way to get from one place to another. Using paper maps were the only way to travel back then, long before technology and Google Maps and various travel apps simplified the process.
Two Types Of Eurail Passes
The Eurail pass is a two sided system, one side for European Union (EU) members who get the Interrail Pass , and those outside the system, who get the Eurail pass. That includes Americans, who BTW, pay more for these passes, but hey, we ARE the visitors here! But there is a downside to the pass and sometimes the math works out in favor of the pass, but sometimes I think it’s easier to travel without it. The biggest downside is the reservation of tickets process, or actually, the LACK of one.
With today’s many travel and train apps, like Omio, Trainline, Rome2Rio, etc.. you can find many options to get from Point A to Point B, and they include using trains, buses and sometimes the combination of them. Over the past few weeks we’ve had to BUS several times since trains weren’t an option and so far we have been happy with FlixBus and LeoExpress. They both offer good sites which allow you to book and pay in advance which removes any concerns of not getting a ticket.
Eurail Downside: With the train passes that is not an option.
The Downside Of Eurail: No Advance Tickets
We left Prague, Czech Republic, intending to go to Warsaw on the only direct train on that day, but since we could not book in advance we had to wait till we got to the station. And that train was sold out… Plan B involved hanging out at the train station for four more hours and taking a later train to a stop in between then transferring to another direct train to Warsaw. That plan didn’t work since the Plan B train had mechanical problems and was stagnant for over an hour while we waited for another engine to haul us.
It all worked out (it usually does!) but timetables and expenses got pushed out including having to grab a bus instead and getting to our room many hours later than planned. Had we been able to book in advance this could have been averted. HINT: If at all possible, get your departing train ticket ASAP, even as you initially GET to that location. Better safe than sorry. Oh BTW, even when you use the pass you still must pay to have a “reserved seat.” That can run from a few dollars to as much as $10 per ticket which is on top of the initial cost.
Is A Eurail Pass Worth It?
Another downside to the Eurail pass. Many times national railways do not honor them AND sometimes the train trip is just too bloody long. A six hour train trip could be a four hour bus ride, so which is better?
The rail offers room to get up plus bathrooms and if you are lucky (we mostly were) you get electrical connectors and wifi, though that wifi can be spotty. Bus seats are not as comfortable and most of the long hauls DO have onboard water closets, but not all. Those without generally stop every two hours for that break and sometimes a driver change. And remarkably sometimes the bus is significantly cheaper than the train EVEN WITH the discounted Eurail package. Most of the buses we found had electricity and wifi is hit or miss.
With that being said, we will be taking our first overnight train this evening, a two-step transfer in Budapest, then a 13 hour ride to Brasov, Romania. We went to the station a day in advance, that way we’re covered.
So what is the solution? In my honest opinion, I’m less a fan of the Eurail pass than I used to be. You can also get the passes for specific countries or several of them, so compare those packages, too. What has been your experience?