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
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
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.