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


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


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:


Jayne Clark is a travel reporter who has covered the travel beat at

multiple newspapers, including USA Today.