Eurail passes: Great deal or big scam?
Most travelers are familiar with the slew of European rail passes offered through Eurail or through your local STA agent. Travelers can purchase country specific passes, lump a few countries together on one pass, or even purchase a “global pass”.
Country specific passes are available for 17 European countries, allowing travelers to really get around and see a lot of one area. Eurail also offers select passes that lump together 2 to 5 adjacent countries on one pass. All of this is capped off with a Global Pass that combines travel in up to 21 countries on one pass. Country passes start at as little as US$45 and regional passes at US$299. The global pass starts at US$559. Travelers can run into the occasional “booking fee” as they use these passes to get around Europe, but these prices very rarely exceed 15 euros each. Considering transportation is a traveler’s main expenditure, these prices can sound quite appealing.
Sounds pretty sweet, however there is a catch. All of this travel must be done within a certain time limit, and on a limited number of days. With these passes, one essentially purchases a specific number of days in which to travel within a 2 month time period. Meaning, you only have 5 days within a 2-month time period to travel across 3 countries.
One could argue that this will rush your travels, as you try to capitalize on distance on such a short amount of travel days. In this way one travels at a sprint as they try to gallop across their specific grouping of countries, and it can put a damper on the spontaneity of travel. Train travel is the preferred means for travelers in Europe, as it allows one to take in the beautiful scenic countryside. It is also a classic backpacker staple that is not to be missed.
For some travelers these passes might seem like an easy escape from the hassles that come with maneuvering around a foreign country. However other travelers, myself included, enjoy the fresh experience of trying to make your way through new and complicated means of transportation.
I recommend these passes to the 25 and under traveler who is planning to stick to travel within Western Europe where train prices are significantly higher. These passes are generally aimed at the student crowd, and the 25 and under traveler gets a serious price break. Indeed, the prices quoted above are the bottom most student pricing. Costs double or triple from there for certain passes and combinations.
Additionally, train travel in Western Europe is continually increasing in price, as it is easily the preferred means of transportation. For travelers wishing to see, say, France, Italy, and Germany, these passes really are a great deal, considering one can’t even get from Paris to Nice on a second class ticket for less than US$100. Imagine trying to travel the length of Italy and France, and swing back around through Germany, and you’ve easily bought a Select Pass three times over already.
However, in Central or Eastern Europe these passes seem like a scam to those travelers who have done some research into the price of local transportation. Why pay US$299 for the Austria – Czech Republic – Hungary pass, when you can get across all three countries for around US$30 round-trip by taking advantage of the regional bus transportation?.
On one hand I feel these passes can help the right traveler, namely the 25 and under Western Europe traveler who may only be able to hit the road for a few short weeks. Otherwise, I feel they are not to be relied upon. They are only more economical in a limited area, and there are far greater experiences to be had by figuring the workings of local transportation and freeing yourself of limits and schedules.