Is It Worth Your While To Backpack On A Eurail Pass?

Backpacking europe

Is there a more romantic way to see that world than by riding the rails? Ok, maybe steamboat, but the rails, through europe, whizzing past the Alps and the Med and being served wine and talking about the opera to Prussian countesses and being recruited by charming spies, European train travel is the lingering hangover from an epoque where travelling was reserved only for the aristocratic, or most intrepid amongst us. But is a Eurail pass a worthwhile way to travel the continent?

We love train travel. Fast, comfortable, convenient, trains go between all cities, towns and most villages, dump you in the middle of the action, rather on the outskirts and allows you more walking space while you’re on the move. Problem is, individual rail tickets can add up very quickly, particularly if you’re on the move often, and that’s where the Eurail Pass comes into play.

A Eurail Pass allows you train travel in Europe, across two to 28 countries, over consecutive days, or separate days, for a time period of up to three months. The Eurail pass is valid across all European countries, minus the UK, but plus Turkey (kind of), and allows the passenger to, usually, just turn up to a train station and take a ride to wherever they want, whenever they want, so long as it’s within the terms of the pass purchased. The Eurail Pass appears to be perfect for our itinerary-light, keep-your-options-open approach to European backpacking, but it only sometimes is, and really probably isn’t. Ok, this is confusing, please read on.

Different Eurail Passes

As you’ve probably gathered by now, there are a few different types of Eurail passes available to you, if you’re a backpacker from outside the EU. If you’re from the EU then you’re going to go for an Interrail pass, which is the same-same, but also different.

For glorious, travel anywhere, freedom to do as you please, you want the Global Pass, and if you know which three, four or five countries you want to travel to, and they border one another, then you want the cheaper Select Pass.

With the Global Pass you can choose either continuous travel, every damn day if you like, for between 15 days to three months. Prices for these passes range from about €450 for a fifteen day pass, to €1300 for the full three months. If you envisage yourself being on the go the whole time, then this could be the pass for you.

The Global Pass also comes in a flexi travel option, which means you can choose either five or seven days in one month, or 10 or 15 days in two months. These options acknowledge that you might not want to be on a train every day and will set you back between between around €350 and €700.

The Select Pass are for a two-month period and allow you between five and 15 days’ travel. With the Select Pass you’ve got to know where you want to go, choose three-to-five countries, and make sure that each one borders at least one other. You could, for example, choose Spain, France, Germany and Poland, on the old sangria, wine, beer and vodka route. Prices range from €100 to €300 and more, but there are lots of variables at play here. Check out the Eurail website and play around with some options so you know what you’re up against.

Selecting a Eurail pass

These passes only become interesting if they save you money. If you’ve got a pretty solid idea of where you want to be and when, you can look at booking individual tickets online, and in advance when they’re cheaper, as well as including searches of other modes of transport (GoEuro is a great platform to compare rail, air and bus prices across countries and destinations), and then compare what you find to the price of a pass. The Global Passes seem like a good deal, but will you need to travel to that many countries while you’re in Europe? And how many days will you want to travel on the train? If you’ve got a thing for train travel, and/or plan on seeing a bunch of places across the entire continent, the a Eurail pass is the go. If not, weigh up your options.

Our approach to backpacking Europe is to always leave your itinerary as loose as possible, because how do you know everywhere you want to go before you even arrive? And to utilise all the modes of transport available so you get the full experience. Pre-planning large swathes of your trip may save you money, but limits spontaneity. Perhaps using flights to jump across large distances is better than spending too much time on the train, and driving a car will get you into spots that aren’t serviced by the train.

Things to know about the Eurail Pass

If you’ve done the math and it seems like good value for money, there are a few things to take into account.

  • Overnight services, fast trains and busy routes may require reservations and reservation fees, which can be as little as €5 and as much as €200. On busier routes, during peak times, there will be a limit on how many seats are allocated to passes, and so your expensive Eurail Global Pass might not even work. You can plan around the reservation system, so don’t get caught out.
  • There are discounts for being young, so if that’s you (under 28), maybe a cheaper ticket will sweeten the deal.
  • You can only buy the Eurail Pass if you are not a European resident and it can only be sent to an address outside the EU.
  • You have to validate your pass within six months of receiving it. Don’t validate your pass until you’re ready to start travelling, because once you do the allocated time will start ticking.

Stokie says:

“I had a Eurail Pass once and used it to travel from Turkey to Bulgaria, around Bulgaria and onto Romania, out to Transylvania and onto to Budapest, Venice, the south of France and home to Barcelona. Out east there were no extra fees and you could just jump on and ride wherever, but in Italy and France we had to fork out some small surcharges. Maybe we could have found cheaper deals on buses or in cars, but having the pass took all that planning out of the trip and we’d just go to the train station when it was time to roll. Best experience was having a four-hour conversation from Budapest to Venice with a Hungarian grandma whose English was as good as our Hungarian (zero), but who had packed a six-pack of extra large, extra strong beers. Hála nagymama!” – Jo, 26, Sales

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