If you’re planning a backpacking trip to Europe, one of the many decisions you’ll be faced with is, “Should I Get a Eurail Pass or Not?”. Most everyone seems to think that a Eurail pass is a must when backpacking through Europe? Is that really the case? Well, unfortunately, there’s not a universal answer for everyone. It’s going to differ for everyone depending on a person’s route and how much time they have to travel. The Eurail Pass definitely has it’s pros and cons, and it’s important to know them before you make your decision.
Tip #1: One of the first things to know about a Eurail pass is that there are also reservation fees you’ll have to pay for almost every time you take a train.
What are reservation fees?
A reservation fee is an additional fee that you have to pay in order to reserve your seat or bed on high-speed and overnight trains. It is usually a required fee for those specific trains, and it is an additional cost to the Eurail pass. (I’m guessing the cost is already included in the price if you were to just buy point-to-point tickets.) The reservation can be done early online or it can be done at the train station. If you’re going on an overnight train, I would book the reservation at least a couple days in advance, just to be safe.
How much extra will the reservation fees cost?
The reservation fees range from only a couple of euros to 40+ euros. The factors that effect the cost are mainly the length of the train ride and the kind of seat you choose. If you take an overnight train and you want a 6 bed couchette, then the reservation fee will be higher than if you wanted to just sleep in a regular seat.
Real example: Below is the reservation fee to travel between Barcelona and Paris if you hold a Eurail pass for Spain and France.
Route: Paris – Barcelona
Reservation mandatory. See table below for fees (in euros).
|Route||1st class||2nd class|
|Barcelona — Paris||€33.20||€25.60|
|Barcelona — Toulouse||€15.10||€11.60|
|Barcelona — Marseille||€19.70||€15.20|
|Barcelona — Lyon Part-Dieu||€22.20||€17.10|
|Barcelona — Perpignan||€8.60||€6.60|
|Barcelona — Montpellier||€13.60||€10.50|
Provided by eurail.com
As you can see, the reservation fees could add up to quite a bit more than you were expecting. It’s better to know ahead of time how much extra the stupid fees are going to cost you. Not only do you have to spend hundreds on the Eurail pass, you might have to spend over a hundred in reservation fees too, depending on your route. Better to know now, than be surprised by the cost later.
Is it possible to avoid paying the reservation fees?
Yes, sometimes it is possible. You can check and see if you can avoid the trains that require it by going to eurail.com. Sometimes, you won’t be able to avoid it. Other times, you might want to avoid it because you could end up wasting a lot of time taking a bunch of local, slower trains. (You’ll see more of Europe that way, though!)
Tip #2: Would buying point to point tickets be cheaper?
It could possibly be cheaper to not buy a Eurail pass, and to just wait and buy your train tickets as you travel. Again, it really depends on your route. You can check the cost of point to point tickets by going to raileurope.com. Plug in your cities and a date, and check out the cost. There are usually discount tickets if you book early. If you plan on just showing up at the train station and purchasing a ticket the day you want to travel, then you’ll probably pay full price. (To get an idea of the full price, put in a date that’s a few days in the future on the raileurope.com site. Or check out seat61.com for a LOT of information about train travel and cost.) The prices do differ depending on the time of day, so make sure to look at all the times. There could be a cheaper ticket a few hours later.
Tip #3: Budget Airlines Might be a Better Option
Have you considered flying to your destinations? Europe has some pretty sweet budget airlines that offer unbeatable prices for European travel. Plus, the amount of time flying saves is sometimes invaluable. The two main European budget airlines are EasyJet and RyanAir. (There are other cheap European airlines too, and you can discover them by using skyscanner.com to compare all the flights.)
London to Paris for $55 in 1 hour 15 minutes. London to Greece for $180 in 3 hours 40 minutes. Paris to Barcelona for $56 in 1 hour 45 minutes. Depending on the route, you could even get a cheaper flight if you’re willing to have stops on the way. Sound too good to be true? Well, it does have a few catches.
Catch 1: Strict Rules on Carry On Baggage, Among Other Things
The budget airlines tend to have strict rules about the size and weight of your baggage if you plan to carry it on board. Each airline is slightly different, with some being harsher than others. RyanAir is the worst… when it comes to their rules. The baggage rules for the budget airlines are not something you want to mess with because they charge ridiculous fees for not following them. In addition to baggage fees, there are also high fees they can charge you, such as if you don’t have your boarding pass printed out. (They do have to make their money someway.) If you can follow their rules, their prices totally make it worth the hassle.
Catch 2: Located Away From the City Center
A lot of budget airlines fly out of airports that are pretty far from the city center of the city you’re arriving to or departing from. For example, the airport that RyanAir uses to fly in and out of Paris, Paris Beauvais Tille Airport, is located over an hour outside the city center. The only option to get to or from there is by the shuttle bus (or taxi, but who wants to pay for that). The shuttle bus costs around 16 euros one way, so add that on to the price of the ticket. The shuttles depart about 25 minutes after your flight lands. (I waited for at least an hour.) Once you arrive in the city, you’ll probably still need to take the metro for 20 minutes or more, and then walk another 10 minutes to your hostel. Reverse it if you’re flying out of Paris. Another thing to keep in mind if you’re flying out of Paris Beauvais is that you need to BE at the shuttle pick up 3 hours and 15 minutes before your flight departure time. Much less convenient than flying in or out of Charles de Gaulle Airport, but usually cheaper!
Catch 3: The Cheapest Flights Tend to be Leave Early or Get in Late
Not only are the budget airlines far from the city center, but they also tend to leave very early or get in rather late. By early I mean they leave at 6-7am, which doesn’t seem that early, but when you factor in getting from your hostel to the airport, you mind as well not go to sleep the night before. For example, say your flight from Paris leaves at 7am. If you need to be at the shuttle pick up 3 hours and 15 minutes beforehand, that’s 3:45am! Factor in the time it’ll take to get from your hostel to the pick up location, and you’ll need to leave your hostel by 3:15am. The later flights tend to get into the city between 9pm-midnight, which isn’t ideal if you’re traveling alone in a foreign country. Sometimes it’s worth it, though, because of the cheap cost of the flight. Just remember to use common sense when traveling alone at night.
Tip #4: Why Not do a Combination of Train Travel AND Flying?
Depending on your route, maybe the best option is to do both! Flying tends to be the better option when traveling long distances in Europe. It saves a lot of time compared to trains, and the price is cheaper or comparable to train tickets. Train travel is handy for shorter distances, or for scenic routes. For example, train is the logical way to go when traveling between Rome, Florence, Venice, etc. It’s more convenient and not too costly. (If you’re looking for a scenic train ride, the route between Interlaken and Luzern in Switzerland offers stunning views and landscapes, as do many other routes.) By combining train travel with flying you’ll be able to get a Eurail Pass that is shorter in length, and one that has fewer countries on it, making it a bit cheaper. Make sure to check if the pass is still a better option than buying point-to-point tickets. If you’ll be traveling a lot in a short amount of time, the pass will probably be worth it. Otherwise, it might be better to skip it.
So there you have it. The pros and cons of the popular Eurail pass!