If you're planning a big trip around Europe, one of the first decisions you'll have to make is how you'll get around. And if you've made the excellent decision to travel the continent by train, you'll then have to figure out whether you'll be buying single train tickets as you go, or whether you'll be opting for a Eurail pass. This article focuses on the former, otherwise known as point-to-point tickets.
Read on to discover what they are, why you should choose them, and what to expect from your trip.
What Are Point to Point Europe Train Tickets?
You can buy single Europe train tickets, also called point to point tickets, for a particular destination as opposed to buying a Eurail pass, and you can even buy these tickets before you leave the United States, which makes travel planning very convenient. A ticket from Paris to Lyon, or Munich to Prague, are examples of point to point tickets -- they're single tickets from one destination to another destination, sometimes via a different destination.
What's the Difference: Point to Point Europe Train Tickets and Eurail Passes?
Eurail passes are created by a consortium of European train carriers which is called "Eurail" or "Interrail". The former is for American citizens.
A Eurail pass covers unlimited train rides over the course of a chosen number of days and generally cover two, three or more European countries. A Eurail Global Pass, for instance, covers 20 countries and a whole lot of rides which would otherwise have to be purchased as single tickets. A Eurail pass is a bit complicated, depending on what you're looking for, so read more about them before you decide whether they're something you want to opt for:
Point-to-point tickets go from point to point, like Milan to Rome, though you can often hop off and back on over the course of more than one day (rules vary). Tickets often include seat reservations, which cost a few dollars; you'll have to make reservations if using a pass and want an absolutely guaranteed seat. (Tickets on the high speed trains like the Thalys always include reservations; the fastest trains are more expensive trains, by the way.) You often can't change a discounted point to point ticket, and a Eurail pass allows you to jump on whenever (provided a seat's open) over the life of your pass.
We'll talk about overnight trains in Europe in a minute.
Can I Get Student Discounts on a Point to Point Ticket?
Discounts on single European train tickets generally exist by categories like purchase date or travel time (off-peak times, like not nine to five, are usually cheaper), but some youth discounts do exist -- sometimes, though, you must have a youth rail card for that country, which may cost extra.
You can get significant discounts on youth Eurail passes bought in the U.S., and those will cover your train ride -- you may have to pay extra for a reservation, though.
What About the Eurostar Train?
The Eurostar is the train running from London to Paris and back under the English channel. You can be in Brussels in the morning and London in the afternoon using the Eurostar. Travel on the Eurostar requires a separate ticket from any Eurail pass you may have, but some Eurail passes will give you discount fares for Eurostar tickets. As a student under 26, you can get a discounted Eurail pass *and* get a Eurostar youth flexible voucher which you can exchange anytime for a Eurostar ticket.
Do I Have to Buy Point to Point Tickets in Advance?
You can, of course, but the answer is no. That's a beauty of single Europe train tickets should you not want to spend the possibly bigger bucks on a Eurail pass, or aren't sure yet how long you'll be staying in a single country. One of the joys of travel is having the freedom to change your mind because you've met an awesome person and want to mix up your plans in order to hang out with them; or conversely, arriving in a place and hating it and immediately wanting to leave. By traveling on single train tickets, you leave much more up to chance and could have some life-changing experiences because of this.
If you do decide to go down this route, buying a ticket is as easy as entering a train station, asking for one, and buying it. The best way to do this is several days before your planned departure date, as trains do get booked up -- especially if you'll be traveling in the height of summer.
If you do turn up and find that every train has been reserved, you can either change your plans to travel to a different city or wait until a train is available. Train stations are almost always in the heart of European cities, so if you find yourself suddenly changing your plans, you can be guaranteed that there's a hostel near the train station you can stay in at the last minute.
What About Night Trains?
You can buy single tickets for overnight trains (generally run all night after 7:00 p.m., like the train from Munich to Rome), or you can make reservations on an overnight train that you'll be riding using your Eurail pass.
Overnight trains in Europe may be a way to go if you absolutely positively have to save some time, but they don't necessarily save you money if you're staying in hostels and not spending huge amounts on accommodation already.
European overnight trains are one place where it may pay to do a little advance planning and buy a ticket and reservation from the U.S. -- sitting up all night in a seat is sucks, and you may want to reserve a bunk in a couchette sleeper in advance (or better if your wallet is bulging).
Individual Country Rail Websites
European train ticket costs and rules vary hugely from country to country. You'll probably be fine with the single European train tickets you can buy on Rail Europe's website or at the Die Bahn website (covers tickets in much of Europe and is an excellent resource), and if you buy more than two, you may want to consider a Eurail pass, even for one country. If you need more info, though, check out the individual country rail websites for the full details:
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.