Traipsing Through Europe

Trains: Part I
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This is far and away the easiest (and cheapest) way to max your miles. On the whole, the European rail network is quick, efficient, and reasonably priced, linking thousands of miles (or kilometers, the EU's metric measurement of choice) of track that weave its way overland like interconnected zippers. The only place where the rail service leaves a lot to be desired—both in punctuality and price—is the United Kingdom. But on the continental mainland, train travel is superb.

For decades, student travelers grabbed a Eurail ticket in the U.S., stowed it in their packs, and showed it to conductors as they boarded trains all over Europe. And while the conventional wisdom still largely holds true, the fallacy is that it's just for students. While students do get the best deal on pricing, Americans of all ages can enjoy the relative ease of Eurail tickets. Passes are available for purchase to those older than 26 but restrict the purchase to first-class travel (which few older folks object to). Simple, effective, flexible, and easy to use, the Eurail pass lets you book yourself onto a sleeper train in Turin and wake up bright and breezy the next morning in Budapest via Venice. Even better, the Eurail system lets you alter your plans and head to Salzburg or Seville, say, at the drop of a hat.

Eurail's system is fairly straightforward, but the array of possible passes (Selectpass, Flexi) can make things dizzying. The first thing to decide is how luxe you want (or need) to go. First-class passes are more expensive, but offer more luggage space, roomier accommodations, and fewer travelers. As mentioned, the over-26 Eurail-er only has this option to choose from.

Eurail divvies up its passes first by country. The Eurailpass (Eurail's top-of-the-line offering) provides train travel in all 17 of its participating European nations, but the Selectpass, for example, is available in three, four, or five bordering countries. Passengers can also pick up a Regional Pass that allows unlimited train travel within a given region, such as France and Italy, or Spain and Portugal—perfect for sojourns deep into the hinterland of your choice.

Next you must pick how many days you want to travel, and whether to do so consecutively or at your leisure. If you want to immerse yourself in the Catalonian culture of Barcelona, or sample the fine wines of Burgundy, pick a pass that allows you to travel a fixed number of days within two months. This way, you can unpack and indulge the senses in your newfound surroundings. But if gobbling up Europe at breakneck speed is your fancy (it's terribly fun, in a masochistic sort of way), choose consecutive travel days. This way, the 15-minute jaunt from Nice to Monaco won't cost you an entire day's travel.

Eurail prices range from $588 to $1,654 for the unlimited-travel, first-class Eurailpass and $382 to $1,075 for the second-class, unlimited-travel youth Eurailpass. The Selectpass, Flexi, and Regional passes prices have varying prices, with discounts for passes sold to groups traveling together. Visit www.eurail.com. But remember! Purchase your Eurail pass in the States before going to Europe. Otherwise, the markup is significantly higher, and it's nigh impossible to find a legitimate vendor.


Published: 13 May 2005 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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