Traveling Europe by train has become one of the world’s most popular travel adventures.  Exploring from the grand cities of Paris and Rome to the countryside villages of Switzerland or Germany is all possibly via Europe’s extensive and well run train system.  Before you hop on a train or even head to Europe though, you’ll have to do some serious planning.

For most people considering a train trip around Europe, the assumption is that they will need to buy a rail pass.  The Eurail passes have become an iconic part of European travel, especially among young, backpackers.  The reality though is that the iconic status is fast fading and before you buy that pass, you need to consider if it is really worth it.  Many people still buy the Eurail passes because that is what they have been told to do.  In reality though, changed over the last decade have made the passes less valuable in a lot of ways.  Before you just buy a pass, take a look at some of the pros and cons below.  After that you should be able to decide if it is worth it for your trip or something to skip.

Con: Lots of Pass Options to Navigate

The first challenge of the Eurail pass system is figuring out what pass might work for your trip.  Many people just grab the Eurail Global Pass, which is the most flexible but also the most expensive.  The other main option is one of the Eurail Select Passes, which cover just 3, 4, or 5 bordering countries rather than the wider number covered under the Global Pass.

In both cases, once you figure out what pass might work, you need to decide how many travel days you will need.  The passes are set up to cover a certain number of travel days, which can get a bit complicated when you start adding in overnight trains.

Pro: Hop On or Off And Plan as You Go

The value of the Eurail passes have always been in their flexibility.  Once you buy a pass, you have thousands of options on how to plan out your trip.  Decide you want to spend an extra day in Paris?  No problem!  Without a point-to-point ticket for a specific day, you are free to adjust your trip to fit your needs, on the fly, without losing out on the cost of pre-booked tickets.

This “plan as you go” feature is great for travelers who don’t necessarily like planning ahead.  You can hop on and off the trains as you wish, skip cities completely if you decide to, and head in a direction you never thought of if a great opportunity arrises.  You gain all of this flexibility without extra costs.

Con: Still Often Need to Make Seat Reservations

Well, speaking of extra costs, it is not exactly true that once you buy your rail pass you are clear and free of any addition fees.  In fact, more and more fees for rail pass trips pop up every year.  The main culprit are the reservation fees required for many of Europe’s main train routes.  Overnight trains, long distances trains, and high speed trains almost always require you make a reservation ahead of time.  That reservation comes with a cost – usually between €2-10 though some are as high as €50.

Pro: Great for Multi-Month Long Trips All Across Europe

While there are plenty of ways to save money by skipping the Eurail passes and just buying your own point-to-point tickets, the pass still is a good option in a few cases.  The best type of trip for a European rail pass is a multi-month long trip that spans all across Europe.  Planning ahead for such a trip and buying all of your tickets in advance is risky, as plans naturally change.  Buying last minute tickets as you travel will also add up.  In this case, a Eurail pass might actually be a great way to save money and will allow you to see as much of Europe as possible during your trip.

Photo Credit: Matthew Black via photopin cc

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