How Eurail Passes Work

European Train
European Spring by Train. Courtesy Rail Europe

Eurail passes are created by a European train carrier-owned consortium called Eurail. Eurail passes can cover train travel in up to 28 European countries and are bought for a specific length of time, like one month, and a specific number of Eurail travel days therein, like three days in one month.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about how Eurail works and why you should use them.

Why Should You Buy a Eurail Pass? 

Eurail passes are useful if you're going to be traveling across more than one or two European countries, or planning to travel on trains for more than a couple of single trips, because Eurail passes may save money over single Europe train tickets. Eurail passes are convenient, too -- you can buy one before you leave the U.S. and, once you're on the road, hop on a train anytime and anywhere in Europe that's covered by your pass.

Where Can You Buy Eurail Passes?

Make sure to order your Eurail passes from the United States before you leave for Europe. You can't buy the same Eurail passes in Europe that you can in the U.S., so booking in advance makes the most sense. Simply head to the Eurail website to buy. 

What Kind of Eurail Pass Should You Buy? 

Decide how many European countries you're visiting before you buy a pass, and that will help you narrow down which option is right for you.

What do Travel Days on Eurail Passes Mean?

A day on a pass is usually one 24 hour period.

Travel commencing within that 24 hour period uses up one day on your pass, although some night train routes exist (below). Eurail passes come with the option to choose a number of travel days. Three days on a pass means three twenty four hour travel periods (usually) commencing at midnight, not three train trips, so be sure to read the fine print when buying your ticket.

How Can You Receive Your Pass? 

After you buy your Eurail pass online, it'll be delivered to you by UPS, FedEx, or similar, and you'll be able to track its progress to your house. Take good care of your pass and treat it how you would your passport -- you don't want to forget it or lose it. 

How to Validate Your Eurail Pass

Before you start using your pass, it must be validated.

Validating Eurail passes means marking the date on which train travel begins on your pass. Eurail passes are purchased for specific time periods, like one month. That means that if you buy a one month pass, it's "good," or valid, for one month from the date you first use it. A train station attendant will validate it at first use in Europe.

What's the Deal With European Night Trains and Eurail Travel Days?

If you board a train before 7:00 p.m. that does not stop until after midnight, you're still on one travel day.

If you board a train before 7:00 p.m. for a train trip that may cause you to travel all night, but change trains before midnight even though you will still be traveling after midnight, you will use two of the days on your Eurail pass. Specific "overnight" train routes do exist, though.

How to Get a Discount on Eurail Passes

If you're aged between 12 and 25, you're in luck, because that means you qualify for a discount on your Eurail pass! These are referred to as student discounts, but you don't need to be a student in order to qualify -- you just need to be younger than 26. These discounts work out to savings of several hundred dollars, depending on the pass you choose, so it's definitely worth cashing in on your young age! 

How to Make a Reservation on Trains in Europe

If you've never been on a train in Europe before, don't fret -- making reservations and buying tickets are generally straightforward and stress-free.

If you're traveling outside of the heat of summer, you'll rarely need to buy tickets in advance, so can just turn up at the train station a few hours before the departure time and ask for a seat on the train. 

If you'll be opting for a night train, you'll want to make a reservation in advance, as getting a flat bed to sleep on rather than sitting upright for the duration of the journey makes all the difference. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. In that case, you can make your reservation online with your Eurail pass, or buy a ticket from the train station several days in advance. Reservations will usually cost $3. 

Will my Eurail Pass Cover a Eurostar Ticket?

No. To take the Eurostar train under the English channel from London to Paris or Brussels, you'll have to get a Eurostar ticket. You may get a voucher deal for a Eurostar ticket with your Eurail pass, though (and there are other, cheaper ways to cross the English channel, too, especially with so many budget airlines operating across Europe)

Is Train Travel in Europe Safe?

Use the same common sense on a European train that you do while traveling anywhere, which is to say the same safety precautions you take at home, and you won't run into problems.

​Remember to never, ever leave your backpack on the train while you're out of the car, especially if a stranger is gesturing for or asks you to come outside -- it's probably a scam. And try to keep your backpack within sight at all times while you're on the train. Thefts are rare, but it's better to be safe than sorry. 

More Backpacking Europe Tips

If you're packing a pass and a few hostel suggestions, you're halfway to a great backpacking trip in Europe. Read Backpacking Europe 101 next, and figure out just a few things before you go, like how to prepare for air travel, how to stash travel cash, how to pack a backpack lightly, and find answers to the top 10 frequently asked hostel questions.

Enjoy the journey!

 

This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff