looking for european adventure? Get on track with a eurail pass by jayne clark
My first trip riding Europe’s rails was fueled by wonder and fraught with user error.
I had just turned 18, had never set foot on foreign soil, and couldn’t wait to see how far a
21-day Eurail Pass would take me.
The adventure got off to a rocky start. I missed two trains out of Luxembourg City, thanks to a failure to grasp military timetables.
Once onboard, I overshot my initial destination, thanks to a failure to figure out how to open the train’s door.
By the time of my second Eurail adventure a decade later, I was smarter, though not much wiser. A friend convinced me we could see it all – and save money! – if we visited a different European capital each day and slept on the train each night. Yes, we saved money. Yes, we saw a lot of Europe. Only, given the frantic pace, I don’t remember much of it. But as they say, third time’s a charm. A recent late-summer Eurail jaunt through Poland and Germany assumed a more leisurely pace. The trains still run (almost freakishly) on time. They were blessedly uncrowded. On major routes, there was Wi-Fi and in-seat electrical outlets. The compartments were clean and comfortable. There were niceties I didn’t recall from past journeys, like attendants making the rounds of first-class cars offering gratis bottled water, tea or soft drinks, and snacks. Food served in the dining cars was freshly prepared.
But perhaps most personally gratifying was the fact that decades after breaking in my first
Eurail Pass, I experienced the same sense of freedom and possibility that so exhilarated my 18-year-old self.
While the Eurail Pass is simple to use, it’s part of a complex system of more than 30 railways
and other partners, including some ferries and bus systems, spanning 155,000-plus miles.
The Pass was introduced in 1959 as a means of filling first-class compartments with American tourists (it’s sold only to non-European residents) and its popularity grew as a cost-effective way to discover the continent. Since then, it has evolved to encompass four distinct
passes that allow users to tailor it to their individual plans.
The best-sellers are the Global Pass, which enables travel in 28 European countries, and the Select Pass, for travel in four neighboring countries. Eurail also markets a Regional Pass, good for travel in two countries, and a One Country Pass, available in 20 nations. Each pass offers variations in the number of trips within a given period, plus the option for first- or second-class travel. In addition, Youth Passes (ages 12-25) offer lower fares, and Saver Passes can bring significant discounts for two to five people traveling together.
The latest Eurail innovations are truly attractive for families. Up to two children ages 11 and younger can travel for free with an adult. And the new first-class Youth Pass lops 20 percent off ticket prices. Some incentives to travel now: Europe is on sale, thanks to the strength of the U.S. dollar. And Eurail is creating further incentives for off-peak travel this winter with 20 percent discounts on its Global Pass and Select Pass, or a free extra travel day for Regional or One Country Passes. Sample deal: A first-class, four-country Select Pass for Croatia/Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia runs about $222 for five days of travel within a twomonth period.
Other Eurail innovations, like a Global Pass that allows five days of travel within a 10-day
span, cater to more time-pressed travelers. (Sample itinerary: two days each in Berlin, Munich, Milan, Lisbon and Porto.) Though American travelers still overwhelmingly favor France, Italy and Germany – three countries I conquered on that initial Eurail journey so long
ago – Eastern Europe is popping up with greater frequency on wish lists.
This year, Eurail added Poland (along with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro) to its Global Pass options, which is what inspired my Polish sojourn. Disembarking for the first time in the center of three fabulous cities – Krakow, Warsaw and Wroclaw – I was struck by how the sense of discovery never gets old, even for a seasoned traveler. Plus, I’ve finally mastered how to open a train door.
The Eurail Pass is sold in the U.S. by authorized vendors and through travel agents. For more information, visit: www.eurailgroup.org/eurail-vendors
Jayne Clark is a travel reporter who has covered the travel beat at multiple newspapers, including USA Today.