What Traveling Through Europe with Eurail is Really Like.
Photos by Bethany Salvon
It’s time to come clean and finally admit what I’ve known for a few years but never told a soul, not even Beth: I don’t have the guts to hop a boxcar and ride off into the distance with no direction home.
See, ever since I read Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums 15 years ago, I have wanted to travel across America singing big hobo lullabies to the rhythm of the rails. However, I guess my heart was just never fully into it, because I never went for it, mainly due to a fear of the unknown, and I didn’t like the idea of taking a beating from train yard security. So as the rain beats against the cracked basement window of our office today, I’m raising my afternoon Red Stripe to the modern day riders who crisscross America in the shadows, and letting go of my fantasy.
And while there may be no City of New Orleans in my future—unless, of course, I pay for a seat like all the other well-respected citizens—I’m alright with that because at the end of the day I just really like dig trains and always have. Growing up, I didn’t have many opportunities to ride the rails, outside of the mall train at Christmas and the Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster, but I still wore my Osh-Kosh overalls proudly. Over the last few years, however, I’ve gotten the chance to do quite a bit of train travel on other continents, with last fall being the highlight of my train riding career.
Not only did we ride the surprisingly clean lines of the Moroccan railway and on vintage Soviet splendors in Serbia, but we also had two Eurail Global Passes, which made hopping from one European city or country to the next super easy. While Morocco and Serbia were grand, it was really the days we spent traveling through Europe that affirmed what I discovered long ago on that miniature train circling Santa Claus at Westmoreland Mall: I love train travel.
The year before last, we had also traveled in Europe, with the majority of our rail travel in Italy; though, it was without a Eurail–Italy Rail Pass and, honestly, it was kind of a pain. Long distance point to point tickets, at least in Italy, can be costly, unless they are bought online in advance. When this story was originally published, Trenitalia didn’t play well with American credit cards, meaning you to have to buy the tickets from an agent at the station, most likely losing out the good deal you saw online. Things have changed, though, and you can now buy Italian train tickets online with your credit card or via PayPal, which is the smoother of the two.
More likely than not, traveling with Eurail passes or a one country pass like the Eurail–Spain Rail Pass will still require you to deal with a station agent, since most countries now require a seat reservation for their high speed trains; however, each country sets its own price, so you won’t have to deal with the fluctuating train ticket costs, which can help you budget easier before and during your trip. For example, in Spain, a first class seat reservation was 20 euro; however, it was equivalent to flying first class—full dinner, complimentary drinks, in-train movies and personalized service. France, on the other hand, charges just 3 euros for its seat reservation, but it’s a more typical European train first class, offering only larger more comfortable seats with individual power outlets. The only time the reservation fee became a problem was when we were traveling a long distance, for example, Seville to Barcelona, and it’s considered two separate legs, requiring two seat reservations. Despite the seat reservations, Beth and I both felt that using the Eurail pass still gave us a lot of flexibility; enabling us to pick the train schedules we wanted without having to worry about finding the cheapest fare.
During our trip we rode on more than a half-dozen trains through five countries, and it was a truly phenomenal experience. In a time when airports require you to arrive a couple of hours for your flight, it’s refreshing to be able to stroll into the train station and hop onto your train without the time consuming security measures that now plague air travel. Further, I found riding the rails a more organic way to connect with the cities and countries we were traveling through. Unlike flying and even driving today, where superhighways bypass towns and country passes, the train takes you into the thick of it, passing over the eclectic western European frontier rocking gently, as if giving a nod to all those passengers—paid or stowaway, who still believe in the power of the steel rail.
Got a Eurail Travel Tip? Tell us about it in the comments!
*Our Eurail passes were complimentary; however, our thoughts, opinions and admissions are entirely our own.
**Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Beers and Beans Travel Website, Nariko’ s Nest Weddings & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you do want to use one of them please contact me first because I do love to share and I would be flattered. Thanks!