So you just decided to invest in an Interrail or Eurail pass. Consequently, a few hundred dollars vanished from your bank account with a single click.
Are you excited?
Are you second-guessing your decision?
At the start of July 2016, I was standing in your shoes. I had just bought my Interrail pass (5 travel days within 15 days to be specific). Before I set out on my trip, I constantly wondered: would the pass be worth it?
Regardless of which pass you choose, an Interrail/Eurail pass is quite a splurge. In fact, if you’re on a really tight budget, it’s not actually the most affordable way of getting around Europe. However, the flexibility the pass offers is unparalleled by any other mode of transportation.
Anyway, let’s get back to the questions I bombarded you with at the start of the post. If you’re second-guessing your decision: stop. You’re about to embark on one epic adventure! With that pass, you’re going to see more spectacular European landscapes than you thought you ever would! You’re going to stumble upon magical destinations that you never knew existed. Hundreds of places will be a spontaneous decision and journey away! If that doesn’t make you excited, I’m pretty sure this post will, because I am going to tell you how you can make sure that you get your money’s worth out of of your Interrail/Eurail pass!*
Oh, and if you want to know what I thought about my Interrail splurge and adventure: Yes, it was worth it, and I would buy the pass again.
*This post will focus on using Interrail’s/Eurail’s most popular and cheapest global passes. Nevertheless, even if you choose to buy a pricier pass with more travel days or a one-country pass, you will find some useful tips below.
If you’re not quite sure what Interrail/Eurail passes are and how they work, click here to find out more.
The following 11 tips outline a foolproof way of getting the most out of your Interrail/Eurail pass.
1. Download Interrail/Eurail’s FREE Rail Planner App
Downloading Interrail/Eurail’s Rail Planner app is the very first thing you should do. This app enables you to easily look up train schedules and routes across Europe without any wifi or data. You’ll also be able to see which train journeys require reservations. Additionally, this app tells you about benefits and discounts you have access to with an Interrail/Eurail pass. I recommend downloading this app onto a device you feel comfortable using in public, since you will end up using it A LOT.
Rail Planner app Loading Screen.
2. Know Your Pass and Know How to Use It
This second piece of advice may sound like a no-brainer. Of course you’re going to know your pass. You are the one who intentionally selected it from the list of pass options on the Interrail or Eurail site. However, on top of knowing your number of “travel days” vs. the number of days your pass is valid for, it’s also important to keep the following details and pass practices in mind:
- Record your journeys in the Travel Diary Interrail/Eurail sends you. Always make sure to fill out the necessary train trip info before boarding a train. According to Interrail/Eurail, if you present a train employee incomplete information, you could get a fine. Why? Well, not filling out your Travel Diary for a train trip may look like you’re trying to squeeze in a “free” trip that won’t count towards a travel day…
- Travel days are 24 hours long. They begin at midnight and end at midnight. They do not begin when you decide to hop on your first train of the day and expire 24 hours later. With many different transportation services operating on different principles (mostly when it comes to European public transportation), I thought this would be important to clarify.
- Planning on taking a night train? Be aware of the 7:00 pm rule. Basically, if you take a night train that leaves a station after 7:00 pm and arrives at its final destination after 4:00 am, then you only have to use 1 of your travel days instead of 2. Keep in mind that the night train also has to be a direct train.
- If you’re using the Interrail global pass, you will have a limited number of journeys in your country of residence. It’s usually one outbound and one inbound journey.
- There is a very high chance that you will have to make train reservations in advance (if you want to make them through Interrail or Eurail’s reservation service). Unless you have a Premium Pass, you will have to pay extra for these reservations.
- To check if a train journey requires a reservation, download Interrail/Eurail’s Rail Planner app and search the journey. If an “R” with “Reservation Compulsory” shows up underneath the train, you will have to make a reservation.
- You can make reservations closer to your desired date of departure too. For trains in Italy, trains in France (domestic TGV and Thalys), and Eurostar trains, you can make reservations through the Rail Planner app. You can make other train reservations on the phone, occasionally online through a national railway company’s website, or at the station. If you have to make reservations on the phone or at that station, you can expect some queues.
That paper booklet at the front is your pass and travel diary. Keep it safe!
3. Devote Some Time to Planning a Potential Itinerary
This third tip also sounds easy enough to accomplish: you open up the Rail Planner app, search the trips you want to take, and then you make sure that it can all work out according to your number of travel days. Formulating a possible itinerary is straightforward (hopefully), but extremely important if you want to make the most out of your Interrail/Eurail pass. If you’re dreaming of hitting up some famous cities that are countries apart, testing out your potential itinerary could help you figure out that you may need more than one travel day to reach your destination.
Let’s work with this example (because quite often, examples make things more clear):
I’m somewhere in the Netherlands, and I want to go to Rome. Depending on the train I take, it could take over 22 hours to reach Rome Termini from Amsterdam Centraal.
In a situation like this, super analytical me would ask myself: do I want to spend 2 travel days on this journey when I still have a handful other places I want to visit? How many reservation fees will I have to pay? Is there another, and maybe faster way of getting from Point A to Point B? Do I want to end up possibly spending nearly 70% of my time in Europe on trains rather than out and about?
When you’re bound by an abundance of rules and regulations, there’s quite a bit to consider…
…so a potential itinerary can also help you figure out whether or not your train trip can work out according to your standards and expectations. Of course, you don’t have to stick to your itinerary, but it can give you a bit of insight about how you will be able to use your pass and the layout of European train routes.
All in all, planning a potential itinerary can help you figure out if it’s even possible to get to your dream destination by train (FYI There are no trains to Dubrovnik).
So many destinations to choose from!#Traveltip for interrail/eurail pass holders: DO plan a potential itinerary #europebytrain Click To Tweet
4. Look Into Transfer Times Between Trains
When travelling by train in Europe, you will have to change trains more often than not in order to reach your destination. Fortunately, every journey looked up using the Rail Planner app will tell you how many times you will need to change trains and how much time you have to swap trains.
If you’re on a schedule, always double check that you have enough time to switch trains. Sometimes, the amount of time you have may be less than 10 minutes (I’m looking at you, Sweden!). Keep in mind that trains can run late, and the next train you need to catch may be standing at a platform on the opposite side of the station. If a situation like this concerns you, take a look at the some of the train journeys earlier or later that day – the schedules may not be so tight. Alternatively, search each leg of the journey separately.
That being said, it’s also a good idea to check out transfer times if you want to maximize the amount of time you have at your various destinations. With some Rail Planner app research, you may be able to avoid spending over an hour waiting for a connecting train at an isolated station in the middle of nowhere.
15 minutes to swap trains in Zurich in order to catch a train to Salzburg. Maybe I’d like a bit more time to change trains in Switzerland’s largest city?
5. Use your “Travel Days” for Your Longest Trips
If you purchase one of Interrail/Eurail’s cheaper global passes, your travel days are few and precious – especially when they’re compared to the number of days your pass is valid for. 5 travel days within a 15-day period? Only allowed to travel on 7 days in a month? If you’re lucky enough to spending a month in Europe, you’ll probably be visiting more than 7 places. Therefore, save your travel days for your longest train trips. You’ll be getting more value out of your pass. (This is also when having a rough itinerary in your head is helpful since you’ll have an idea of which trips will be the longest).
Generally speaking, if you are opting to buy a couple of train tickets on top of your pass, a 5-hour train trip is usually going to be more expensive than a 45 minute one.
6. Plan Stopovers on “Travel Days”
This tip is ideal for journeys that do not require a reservation. And there are plenty!
Got a 5-hour train trip on your agenda today? Chances are that you’ll be covering a lot of kilometres and passing through some exceptionally beautiful destinations. Check out where your train stops using the Rail Planner app. If you don’t immediately recognize some of those towns or cities, look them up. Do any of these places intrigue you? Hop off the train for a couple of hours, explore the location, and catch a train to your destination a few hours later. Instead of using your travel day just to get from City A to City B, you’ll also get a taste of City C and maybe even City D.
I followed this piece of advice on my Interrail trip last year. On my way from Lucerne to Salzburg, I hopped off the train in Innsbruck and explored the stunning Alpine city for a couple of hours. Look at the photos below! Wasn’t it worth it?
Herzog-Friedrich-Straße in Innsbruck.
View across the Inn River.
7. Consider Buying Train Tickets for Shorter Train Trips
With a small number of travel days compared to the duration of your trip, you may need to take a few additional journeys if you have ambitious travel plans. As mentioned earlier, train tickets for shorter distances are often cheaper than ones for longer distances. If you have to add on an extra day of travel, spend some extra money on the 1-hour journey instead of the 6-hour one.
Nevertheless, if you plan on using one of your travel days for a super short journey, and the Rail Planner app tells you that you also need to make a reservation (extra $$$), look up the cost of the ticket on the relevant railway company’s site. If it’s cheap, buy it and save the travel day for another day…especially if you haven’t set your itinerary in stone.
I can tell you from experience that I wish I had done this. As I got onto the first and only train of Travel Day 1 (a 30-minute journey mind you), I was convinced that I had figured it all out. I wouldn’t be in need of any extra travel days. I was so wrong, because a few days later, a trip to Hallstatt jumped into the picture. Not only had I paid an additional €9 Booking + Reservation fee on a ticket worth €9, but now, I was spending an additional €50 to go to Hallstatt. I could have saved €59…
Well, you live, you learn.
That 30-minute train at Milano Centrale.
8. Don’t Forget About Other Modes of Transportation
If you can’t fit all your desired trips into your travel days and independently purchased train tickets aren’t an option, consider looking into other forms of transportation. Europe has a well-developed bus network, and there are also hundreds of daily budget airline flights. In fact, if you happen to find a good deal on a flight, you will also get to your destination faster and have more time to explore it. Sometimes, due to pricey reservation fees, it may even be worth it to substitute a flight for a train trip and save a travel day for another place and time.
Example: my flight from Warsaw to Milan was less then €40. In order to get back to Warsaw from Vienna later on, the night train reservation and booking fee paid on top of the pass was €39 Euros.
If looking into other modes of transportation sounds intriguing, here are some European budget airlines worth checking out:
Bus Companies worth looking into:
9. Remember to check “Pass Benefits” for the Countries You’re Travelling In
The Rail Planner app has a nifty little section called “Pass Benefits.” I guess this part of the app is Interrail/Eurail’s way of acknowledging that their train passes aren’t the cheapest. It seems like you can reap some rewards for using their service.
In this section of the app, you can take a look at what benefits and discounts you are entitled to as a pass holder. Benefits and discounts depend on the country you’re in. They can include discounts at hotels, hostels, on ferries, public transportation, and museum entrance fees. Of course, you can also look up Pass Benefits online.
During my Interrail adventure, I managed to get 50% off a gondola ride at Mt. Pilatus.
10. Only Make Reservations When Necessary
You may already be well aware that on top of what you paid for your pass, you may have to pay a little more in the form of reservation fees (+ booking fees if you make your reservations through Interrail/Eurail’s reservation service). Reservation fees usually apply to high-speed and night trains. If you want to save your money, keep in mind that regional trains don’t usually have reservation fees. These trains typically follow the same routes as high-speed trains, but take a little longer to reach their destinations. And hey, a slower route can end up being a more scenic one!
11. If You Can, Book in Advance
Flights, buses, hostels, hotels – when it comes to travelling, almost everything is cheaper when booked in advance. Using your Interrail/Eurail pass is no exception. Some trains that require a reservation have a specific number of seats set aside for Interrail/Eurail pass holders. If you wait too long, you may not get a spot. By that point, train, flight, and bus ticket prices may be significantly higher too. Whenever you can, make bookings in advance.
Trains reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance through Interrail/Eurail.Follow these 11 steps to get your money's worth out of your global #interrail or #eurail pass! Click To Tweet
In all honesty, I can’t believe that a year has already passed since my Interrail adventure. I can still picture the train zipping around the Alps and beside mountain lakes as if it all happened yesterday. Since my Interrail trip was also my first solo trip, I wanted to mark the 1-year anniversary in some way. (Yes, I will celebrate anything and everything). So what better way to celebrate the passage of 365 days than with a blog post!
Maybe embarking on another Interrail adventure would be better? But that would only be self-serving, and I already have another trip a few weeks away…
Did you find these tips helpful? As a budget-oriented traveller, I want to make sure that you get your value out of the travel services and bookings you make. To help you figure out if an Interrail or Eurail pass is right for you, I’ve made this 8-step printable guide and worksheet. You can request to download it below!
Worksheet Tip: Open up links to Interrail or Eurail site pages before printing.
Have you ever used an Interrail or Eurail pass? Thinking about buying one? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!