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Eurail 101

Every summer we've gone to Europe, we have traveled 99% by rental car. This winter, we decided to travel by train instead for a couple of different reasons:

  • Weather - being from Southern California, the thought of possibly having to drive in snow did not sound appealing to us.
  • Itinerary - we planned on visiting a few different countries and it's not really possible to rent a car in one country and then drop it off in another. We would have had to rent a separately car in each country, which is time-consuming and also impractical.

We decided to get the Eurail '10-days within 2 months' Global pass, which allowed us to take as many trips as we wanted on any 10 days to the countries we planned on visiting (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy). 

I have to admit, we were a bit intimidated by the train system (mostly because we never use public transportation at home. It's pretty much non-existent, so we are not used to it at all). Once we got the hang of it, we definitely felt more comfortable. Here are some tips from newbies like us (some of this stuff may seem obvious, but I assure you we were not the only ones making these mistakes on the first couple of trips):

1. Download the Rail Planner App-- this app was key for us finding the best train times to travel (you can also see how many stops a train makes, if there is food on-board, and if reservations are required- more on this later).

2. When you arrive at the train station for the first trip, validate (stamp) your pass at the ticket window (just go to a ticket window and tell them you are using your pass for the first time and you need to activate it). Look for your train time and destination on the board to figure out what platform your train boards at. Sometimes the "destination" shown on the board is the final stop for the train, which may not necessarily be your destination. It helps to also look for the train number just to be sure you don't get on the wrong train. Many times, the gate isn't posted until 5-10 minutes before the train leaves. Be alert, attentive, and ready to go!

3. Reservations- you can make seat reservations on During busy seasons or if you want to sit together with a group, I would highly suggest making reservations online before your trip. Doing a search on the RailPlanner App will tell you if your train requires a reservation (like most trains in Italy, overnight trains, and high speed trains).

If you do not need a reservation and decide not to buy one (many trains don't require them), find a car that matches your class number. This seems obvious but-- if you have a first class pass, you can sit in any unreserved seat in any first class car (marked outside the car with a big number 1). The same goes for second class. But how do you know if a seat is reserved or unreserved? There is a tiny sign above each seat (or outside of each cabin) that tells you if the seat is reserved and during which parts of the journey it is reserved for. If there is nothing on the sign, the seat is unreserved/available.

On our first trip from Munich to Nürnberg, we did not know about seat reservations. We sat in somebody else's seat until, of course, they told us it was their seat. We moved to another seat...again, somebody else's seat. It was really frustrating, but we were not the only ones on-board making this mistake! Then we finally saw the little signs above each seat and outside of the cabins. We were traveling from Munich to Nürnberg and found four seats that were unreserved (see below how it's blank) and one that was only reserved from Nürnberg to Hamburg (we were exiting at Nürnberg, so the seat was available for our leg of the journey). 

 4. Before you get on-board (or as soon as you sit down), make sure you fill-in your pass with your trip information and the date. This is very important to avoid being yelled at by the ticket person LOL. 

5. Make sure you have your passport at all times. Sometimes the ticket person wanted to see our passports and sometimes they didn't. It's better to be safe than sorry (or scolded).

We actually did not get yelled at during this trip-- but I have been scolded on trains either for sitting in someone else's seat, not validating my ticket, or being on the wrong train. It's embarrassing, especially if you aren't exactly sure what the ticket-taker is saying because you don't speak the language. Follow these tips and you'll avoid embarrassment and feel like an expert train traveler like these cool kids!


1 Response


February 04, 2020

So inspired to do this! What has been the best way for you to coordinate lodging, in a safe, affordable manner?

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