Transportation has been the bane of my existence these past couple of months. Why the heck is it so difficult to get this figured out?
There are so many options: Eurail passes, one-way tickets, global passes, 2 country passes, 3 country passes, 5-day passes, 3-day passes…. *bangs head against the wall* We are on a budget and we need to save as much money as possible so my job is to figure out if a multi-county pass is really worth it or if it is cheaper to book single rides.
I feel like one of those crazy people on that TV show “Extreme Couponing” who spends hours of their day researching every single option, making lists and comparisons, just to save some money. I wish there was a travel agency that just booked transportation for me (oh I looked).
After all this research and frustration, I think I may have it figured out. Keep reading to see how I finally regained my sanity and see the resources that helped me. If you’re roaming around multiple countries in Europe like I am, maybe this can help you too.
(Frustrating) Facts about Trains in Europe
I need to get from Germany to Italy to France to the Netherlands and then back to Germany. It doesn’t help that France decided to not participate in the Eurail multi-day pass packages. Really?? However they do participate in the global pass and some 2-county passes. The global pass runs about $770 and it’s good for 24 countries. I guess if you’re traveling a lot, it might be worth it, but not for me and my 5 countries.
If you’re going from Germany to Italy, don’t forget that you cross Austria in order to get there. So if you were thinking about getting a three country pass for Germany, Italy and something else, make sure the “something else” is Austria!
A lot of the inter-city trains are not covered by the Eurail pass. Those passes are usually cheap, but an additional cost nonetheless.
Some trains require reservations, some don’t. Some are high-speed which is awesome but they require reservations, cost more, and are not covered by Eurail passes (although I think you do get a discount).
It seems to cost up to $80 more for tickets with flexibility in cancellation or adjustments. You better be sure you can make your reservation on time if you want to save money (I will have like, three alarms set in the mornings so I won’t be late).
Rail prices fluctuate like airline prices do. Buying them in advance will be much cheaper than buying them the day-of.
Just when you think you’ve figured it out, you come across another site and find even more prices and options!
How to Figure Out What Will Work Best for You
I tried making spreadsheets with numbers all over, comparing pass prices vs. single fare prices. It was all so confusing that I finally decided to lay out all my options in notecard form. This allowed me to visually see the different options I had for each country.
For example in Germany, my options were, 1. Buy the Germany rail pass, 2. Buy a three county pass to also include Austria and Italy, 3. Buy single fares, or 4. rent a car. On each card I would write out which cities/destinations each pass would cover and at the bottom would be a card with the price. I did the same with the other cities I planned to visit.
When everything was laid out the total cost ended up being similar across most options. Go figure. At this point you can decide if you are traveling enough to get your money’s worth out of a Eurail pass or not. We decided to rent a car in Germany so purchasing single train passes in other countries was my best option.
The next step was to pick the routes I wanted and price them out. There are many websites and train companies to choose from. I found that booking directly was the cheapest option. Here is an example of the price comparison I made:
Luckily all trains offer a discount if you are traveling as a group of two or more and if you’re under 26 years old. (I missed it by ONE year, damn!). Also, my family in Italy told me that 2nd class is just fine.
Here are all of the websites I used to price out my rail purchases:
- Eurail Global Pass
- Eurail Select Pass (3, 4 or 5 European countries)
- Eurail Regional Pass
- DB Bahn (Germany)
- Rail Europe (Searches all countries)
- SNCF (Searches all countries)
- Trenitalia and Le Frecce (Italy – regular and high-speed)
- Thello (night trains within Italy and France)
Here are some helpful links all about the Europe rail system that really helped me:
- How European Rail Passes Work (Rick Steves)
- European Rail Maps with general costs per distance (Rick Steves)
- European Train Ticket Costs (Rick Steves)
- Plan out European train times (a neat tool)
- Paris by Train (SO much useful info here)
- Paris transit options (David Lebovitz)
- Eurail pass breakdown (Nomadic Matt)
Now I guess my next step is to go and experience it! Have you had the same frustrations with booking transportation around Europe?