Many U.S. road warriors have heard of — and taken advantage of — Eurail passes. The universal train tickets allow travelers to travel via train through multiple countries on one pass, and they are pretty easy to purchase online.
Planning travel train in some parts of Europe can be notoriously difficult, however. Each country has its own national rail companies and there are few websites that corral all train schedules effectively and reliably in one place. For Americans unfamiliar with train travel, navigating the planning process can get harder. Enter Eurail Planner, a brand new app that aims to make planning Eurail train trips as easy as booking discount airfare.
Eurail Pass: Where Things Get Complicated
The Eurail pass, which debuted in 1959, allows holders to travel throughout Europe on essentially one train ticket. It seems simple but can get surprisingly complicated.
There are three different kinds of passes:
- The Global Pass allows for travel in all 28 participating countries.
- A Select Pass allows up to four neighboring countries.
- A One Country Pass is valid for just one country or region.
Planning a European rail trip with the rail pass can be tricky for travelers who are unfamiliar with train travel and European train schedules.
There are varying rules for each national line, in addition to restrictions on the various passes. Passes are active once used, and must be activated within 11 months of the purchase date.
Once the pass is activated, travel must be completed within the expiration period. Eurail also has something called a Flexipass, which allows for a certain number of travel days over a set period of time.
Depending on the route and type of train, it is sometimes necessary to purchase a seat reservation in addition to the pass. On other routes, the pass is accepted to cover the entire fare.
- Taking the train in Italy? Check out our guide on the best Italian trains to take while travelling in Italy!
Eurail passes are for non-Europeans; Europeans can purchase Interrail passes which are almost identical to the Eurail. Together, these all-in-one tickets give travelers freedom of movement across the continent and the various rail networks.
When Do You Need To Purchase A Reservation on a Train in Europe?
It may seem like once travelers purchase a Eurail pass, they’re good to go on all trains. But that isn’t the case. All high-speed trains, overnight trains, and some intercity trains require seat reservations. In this case, a Eurail pass is only a ticket, and doesn’t include the necessary reservation.
This means that travelers must take their pass to the ticket counter and obtain a seat on their requested train. The combination of the Eurail pass and reservation is the ticket to getting onboard (and not succumbing to a hefty fine!).
A new platform, launched earlier in 2018, attempts to alleviate the stress of planning a European train vacation. According to Eurail Planner co-founders, the platform integrates perfectly with the Eurail pass so travelers can see at a glance where and when they will be.
Users enter their travel plans, adding or subtracting nights and the available routes take shape on a color-coded map. Each leg includes journey time and a toggle allows users to select a day or night journey.
In order to save a plan, users must sign up with an email address or Facebook account. The “Buy Pass” link takes users to the Eurail site itself.
Eurail Planner also helps travelers find accommodation through apps like Airbnb or Booking.com and recently launched a budgeting tool to ensure travelers stay on budget.
Our Trial Run
At first glance, it’s pretty straightforward, though once in the planning screen there are some frustrating limitations. For instance, choosing major cities was easy. Selecting San Sebastian, Spain, however, led to a spinning wheel. Some cities appeared in the drop-down menu right away, others took several tries before they appear (Porto, Portugal, for instance).
The budgeting tool is basic, and users need to know what they’re spending on accommodation, train reservations, spending money, and more in order for it to be useful.
So many links took me right back to the Eurail site (to check prices of tickets, to reserve seats, to buy tickets) that I half wondered if it was easier to just run my planning on the Eurail site! I would also caution that unless you plan to travel exclusively by train across at least three or four countries, the cost of a pass plus the necessary reservations is not going to be more than the cost of individual train tickets.
Overall though, the platform is easy to sign up for, straightforward, and smart.
Planning a trip using Eurail Planner can help alleviate the stress of planning a European rail vacation, but at this point, the application needs to do more to integrate price information, seat reservation costs and more.
Sarah is a luxury travel advisor and avid traveller. When she isn’t writing for Point Me To The Plane you can find her crafting custom itineraries for clients or exploring the far reaches of our wonderful planet. Read more about her adventures at The Girl With the Map Tattoo.