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That Ole Eurail Pass She Ain’t What She Used to Be

Despite ongoing clear evidence to the contrary, college age kids continue to flock to Western Europe lured by the idea of a carefree summer backpacking around famous places, all spontaneous and free. Perhaps the parents who often seem to be footing the bill have something to do with that romantic notion, with fond memories of their own travels long ago giving their tales a nostalgic glow.

Well kids, times have changed. Charlie Leocha, my colleague over at Tripso, sent his niece over to Europe this past summer and was shocked at how regimented and just plain crowded the continent has become. Travel to Europe by Americans dropped some 15 percent this summer, but as he noted, other countries have been more than happy to pick up the slack.

This means the idea of spontaneous travel has gone out the window. You now have to book most of your hostel beds in advance. Hostels! You also have to book most of your transportation in advance, so forget that idea of just wandering where the road takes you (as you can still do in most of The World’s Cheapest Destinations—though maybe less comfortably.)

Charlie had his niece and her friend get two-week Eurail passes and “They had problems at every stage of their rail journey.” You still have to make reservations, you still have to pay a fee every time, and you still have to stand in line. Conflicting advice is the norm in some spots and old assumptions are usually wrong. Here are his new rules of European rail travel.

Some countries are exceptions, like Switzerland and much of England. I’ve found in my research that France and Spain can be a breeze if you plan way ahead and aren’t there during the summer. Eastern Europe’s trains aren’t as crowded and can be both pleasant and cheap. But in many cases, especially in the summer, you’re better off catching a cheap flight or a bus instead.

tim

Tuesday 28th of October 2008

Christina--thanks for sharing your experience here. I think you discovered one way to make this more pleasant. Going outside of high season probably changes everything too. For 7 months of the year it's probably much easier. But then the mobs arrive...

Christina

Monday 27th of October 2008

My sister and I did the railpass thing this summer, and didn't run into any problems, but we did have to do the whole reservation/fee/stand in line thing. That wasn't really a problem, because we wouldn't do that until we knew where we wanted to go next and when, and usually we just showed up to the train station an hour early and got it then. It probably helped that we were traveling slightly off the beaten-into-the-dirt travel path of Americans, and traipsing around Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary. Same thing for the hostels: once we figured out where we were going, we were able to book beds right up to the day of travel. We were always able to get where we wanted to go and find a place to sleep, so I'd say that wanderer existence is still available in Europe, just look a bit to the east!

Jessica, Italy Logue

Monday 15th of September 2008

It's been awhile since I tried to just hop on a train without advance planning in the summer (been awhile since I traveled to Europe in the summer), but in spring & fall it's still easy to buy a ticket or reservation 5 minutes (or less!) before a train leaves the station.

brian

Monday 15th of September 2008

that's a sad thought. "carefree" travel is what eurail travling is all about. i must have been lucky to experience it when it was how it was supposed to be. but i also think its a matter of economics. asian travel is way cheaper - indochina, the indian subcontinent, nepal... great piece on eurail though.

NewWrldYankee

Sunday 14th of September 2008

This is food for thought, as I was thinking about doing my next major Euro trip this summer. I just blogged about the cost of traveling in Europe and how americans aren't coming to Europe as often anymore. It seems that they prefer cheaper destinations, like China and India. Which is sad for me, because I am always trying to beguile my friends into visiting me in Hungary.