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How Eurail Passes Work

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European Train

European Spring by Train

Courtesy Rail Europe

What are Eurail passes?:

Eurail passes are created by a European train carrier-owned consortium called Eurail which sells European train passes to non-European citizens through sellers like Rail Europe. Eurail passes can cover train travel in up to 22 European countries and are bought for a specific length of time, like one month, and a specific number of Eurail travel days therein, like three days in one month.

Why buy a Eurail pass?:

Eurail passes are useful to travelers taking trains across more than one or two European countries or planning to travel on trains for more than a couple of single trips, because Eurail passes may save money over single Europe train tickets. Eurail passes are convenient, too -- you can buy one before you leave the US and, once you're on the road, hop on a train anytime and anywhere in Europe that's covered by your pass.

Where to buy Eurail passes:

Buy Eurail passes from the United States before you leave for Europe. You can't buy the same Eurail passes in Europe that you can in the US -- a certain number of Europe train seats are reserved for pass holders, and those tickets are usually meant for US travelers in order to promote European rail travel in the US. Try Rail Europe to buy your pass -- the site's easy and telephone help is awesome.

What kind of train pass to buy:

Decide how many European countries you're visiting before you buy a pass.

Read about train travel days below.

What travel days on Eurail passes mean:

A day on a pass is usually one 24 hour period. Travel commencing within that 24 hour period uses up one day on your pass, although some night train routes exist (below). Eurail passes come with the option to choose a number of travel days. Three days on a pass means three twenty four hour travel periods (usually) commencing at midnight, not three train trips.

About receiving your pass:

After you buy your pass from an outfit like Rail Europe, which you can do online, it will be delivered to you via UPS or other trackable delivery. Treat it like cash from then on, keeping it as safe as you will your passport -- if you lose it, you may be out of luck until you're back home. Don't write anything at all on your pass yet. You'll be writing on it once it's validated in Europe. Read on to learn how to validate your pass...

About validating Eurail passes:

Before you start using your pass, it must be validated. Validating Eurail passes means marking the date on which train travel begins. Eurail passes are purchased for specific time periods, like one month. That means that if you buy a one month pass, it's "good," or valid, for one month from the date you first use it. A train station attendant will validate it at first use in Europe.

European night trains:

If you board a train before 7:00 p.m. that does not stop until after midnight, you're still on one travel day. If you board a train before 7:00 p.m. for a train trip that may cause you to travel all night, but change trains before midnight even though you will still be traveling after midnight, you will use two of the days on your Eurail pass. Specific "overnight" train routes do exist, though.

How to get a discount on Eurail passes:

If you're 12-25 years old, you qualify for a Eurail pass discount. These are called student discounts -- "student" is a catch-all descriptive for those under 26; you needn't be in school to get a student discount worth hundred$ on a pass. All pass merchants offer the same prices; sales happen, though. Watch for sales on Eurail passes in the Student Travel blog.

About making reservations on European trains:

Some routes, especially for night trains, may require reservations -- make them at the train station up to half an hour before departure or get a reservation online with your pass. Reservations cost a bit extra ($3+) per seat.

Will my Eurail pass cover a Eurostar ticket?

No. To take the Eurostar train under the English channel from London to Paris or Brussels, you'll have to get a Eurostar ticket. You may get a voucher deal for a Eurostar ticket with your Eurail pass, though (and there are other, cheaper ways to cross the English channel, too):

Last tips on Eurail passes

      Eurail maps

      When you buy a pass from an outfit like Rail Europe, you'll get a map with your tickets. Remember to take this -- it's fun to see where you are as you read the names of train stops out the train window. And it's an invaluable travel planning tool before you go and when you get there.

      European Train Travel Guides

      You may want to read a European train travel guidebook before you leave -- sometimes you can find a tidbit about a stop or special train that suits you.

      • Compare Prices European Train Travel Guides and Maps

      Safety on European trains

      Use the same common sense on a European train that you do while traveling anywhere, which is to say the same safety precautions you take at home. Some special train safety tips:

      • Never, ever leave your backpack on the train while you're out of the car, especially if a stranger is gesturing for or asks you to come outside -- it's probably a scam.

      • Sleeping in European train stations happens all the time -- if you do it, use your backpack as a pillow, pull both backpack zippers toward your body and lock it up.

More Backpacking Europe Tips

If you're packing a pass and a few hostel suggestions, you're halfway to a great backpacking trip in Europe. Read Backpacking Europe 101 next, and figure out just a few things before you go, like how to prepare for air travel, how to stash travel cash, how to pack a backpack lightly, learn that overnight trains may save time (but not money), and find answers to the top 10 frequently asked hostel questions. Enjoy the journey!
    "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."
    -- Oscar Wilde

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