When it comes to getting around Europe easily and affordably as a family, we love to travel with Eurail passes. Though they do look expensive and complicated at first glance, once you figure how to get the best use out of it, they are well worth the money. You can get across most countries in a day or less, sometimes even passing through multiple countries in a day. Our family traveled with the Global Pass. It allowed us 15 days of travel across 2 months. A “day of travel” consists of unlimited train rides within a 24-hour period. Within the 2 months, we visited 11 countries and traveled 108 hours on 15 trains.
Before You Travel…
Find the right pass. Consider purchasing a Family pass where you get an automatic 15% discount on each pass. Unless you’re planning to split up and have both adults traveling somewhere different at the same time, this works perfectly for families. When you travel on a Family Global Pass, your option for seating is First or Second Class. My kids especially loved the trains that offered First Class cars. They have more space to spread out and move around within the cars. When you start to added up the prices for point-to-point train tickets for where we wanted to travel, it was clear that the Global Pass is the winner (and you have the 15% off each ticket). Did you know that currently all children aged 4-11 actually get a FREE child’s pass when traveling with a paying adult with up to 2 children can travel with each adult? With this current promotion, now is definitely time to travel with your family by train.Download the Eurail app. Eurail provide a free iOS and Android app which will give you information on train times and routes. Most importantly, it works offline. We found this to be the MOST IMPORTANT tool in planning our journeys. We also made lots of friends with other passengers who were wondering what was the next stop. 😉
Check for reservations. Even though you have a Eurail pass, some trains require a reservation. High-speed and night trains will likely charge an extra fee. This fee is usually a “compulsory reservation fee,” where you have to pay a set amount (we’ve paid as low as €2 to €15 per ticket holder) to travel that particular route. Note that the Eurail app will tell you whether any of the trains you need to take require a reservation. Also, during high season, we HIGHLY recommend making a reservation in advance on popular routes. This guarantees that you have a seat and are not standing the whole way in First Class. We opted for the 2nd class couchettes (small rooms with bunk beds) for our night trains through Budapest to Bucharest and Thessaloniki to Belgrade. In the end, the kids enjoyed the “slumber party,” and we paid at least what we would have for a hotel room.
While You Travel…
Have your ticket information filled out before you get on the train. We have to be honest that we may have found our seat and then pulled out the tickets and a pen to fill in the form. 😉 The actual information the ticket inspectors are looking for is simply a date in the box at the top, and they will then stamp or sign underneath the current date. Make sure this is done before the ticket inspector comes around, so that you do not get accused of trying to cheat the system and issued a fine for not holding a “valid ticket.” Then, there is a section at the bottom that Eurail prefers you to fill in to collect important information at the end of your journey. This portion of the ticket is simply sent back to Eurail via snail mail upon the completion of your final train trip for the purpose of gathering statistics on how the pass is used. In return, they send you back a small gift. 🙂
Carry a bag with food & drink. Trains varied. We went from First Class with on-board playrooms and cafes, to 6-hour trains without food facilities and dingy toilets. Stop at the market during your travels and pick up some fruits, nuts, favorite snack and candies along with water and juices with plastic cups. This way you don’t have to be thirsty and hungry while traveling, and you save some money by not buying on the dining cart.Make yourself at home. There plenty of racks and space for large items like luggage and strollers. There are also overhead shelves for smaller items like backpacks. We did not seem to have problems with luggage space or with getting on and off the train. Unlike flights, there’s no restrictions on using laptops, phones and other electronics on trains. Some trains even included power outlets, which kept us going on the long-haul journeys.
Enjoy the view. The views from the train were phenomenal and we saw so much more of Europe – quaint towns, beautiful landscapes, rolling hills and majestic mountains. Sit back and enjoy the view. Read a book. Look at the window. Listen to some music. Or, just close your eyes. 🙂 And, plan to explore new places and adventures like a farm stay in the Balkans.
A couple excellent train travel resources:
- Eurail – This is the official website for buying Eurail passes. It also offers plenty of helpful information for figuring out how to use your passes, help you find discounts that go with your pass, look up rail maps, etc.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website offers very detailed instructions and helpful information about traveling by rail in any European country, shows how to interpret and understand rail schedules and rail tickets, gives really practical tips for travelers and more.
See all posts on Family Travel here. Remember that you MUST buy your Eurail pass before leaving your home country. You cannot get it once you have already arrived in Europe!
Disclosure: The above was sponsored by Eurail, rail specialists in experiencing the most of Europe – at your own pace, but all trip plans and opinions are our own. If you have questions about Europe train travel or passes, ask on facebook.com/eurail. We also recommend you follow them twitter.com/eurail for regular promotions and deals.