A Quick Run Through European Rail Passes.

Where I’m not averse to rental cars, I like to use public transportation when traveling in Europe. There are two big reasons for this. One, things in Europe are closer together than they are in America. You can get from place to place in a practical manner. Two, the train system goes almost everywhere. If you add a bus and a plane, here and there, you can get around pretty easy.

Types of Tail Passes.

You can buy your train tickets each time you want to travel or you can invest in a rail pass. Rail passes save you considerable money and effort, but they need to be purchased before you leave the USA to travel. This will require a little planning.

As far as type, there are a lot of them. There are single country passes, multiple country passes, and (basically) all of Europe passes. They also encompass all different number of day options. There are many forms, from two to three day continuous use tickets, to fifteen days or more scattered over a couple months. Once again choosing the right one will require a little preplanning.

All of that being said, there are really two different vendors to choose from for US based tourists. They are EURail, and Raile Europe. They both have pluses and minuses. They both can also help with planning and rail reservations.

I suggest you look at both. I have used both. As a rule, I use EURail. I like the service they provide, and have had good luck using them. Also, they have a great timetable app.

What You Get in Your Pass Package.

Your (multiple country) rail pass will come with three main items.

My current rail pass that I’m using to travel around Europe. It’s an EURail pass for 2019.

First, the ticket. It’s two piece and will need to be filled out as you go.

Second, you get a rail guide. The guide explains how to read the rail pass, and what different terms means. Importantly, it also tells you what rail companies in each country are included in your pass. Not all rail companies in an included country are always included. It will depend on the country you’re traveling in.

Third, you get a rail system map of Europe. It gives you basic touring information. At this point in technology, it’s really just an addition to the timetable app.

Rail passes used to come with a timetable booklet that allowed you to figure out if you could get from one destination to another. To be honest, the app is incredibly easier to use, and just better. It also updates with changes, where the printed book did not.

How to Use It.

The ticket will Need to be validated before you can take your first trip. You can have it validated when it is sent to you or you can just get it validation stamped at the train station you happen to be at, when you’re ready. The ticket needs to be validated for use within a certain amount of time after purchase. I believe it’s six months. You should check before you purchase your pass.

Now that you’re ready to go, the ticket has boxes for the first use day and for the last use day. Fill these out as appropriate. There are also boxes for each travel day (if it’s a five day ticket, then there will be five day of use boxes).

Attached to the ticket is trip worksheet to show each individual trip you take during a travel day. It’s important to remember that a day is 24 hours. Once you start a day, you can travel as many times as you want during that day. You just need to annotate each trip BEFORE you get on the train. The ticket voucher needs to be filled out to be valid.

A Thought About Reservations.

The major routes (busiest) and high speed rail systems (fastest lines) among others require an addition reservation from the train station before you travel. This is basically done to make sure they don’t oversell seats on the heavy routes.

Reservations require an addition charge on top of the rail pass. They should also be handled in advance of when you want to travel. Once all seats/sleeper sections are reserved, that’s it. Reservations on popular routes do and will run out. If you wait until when you want to travel to get your reservation, you may not be traveling that day. This has happened to me in more than one occasion. (When reservation start to go, they cascade from one time to the next, and soon there are none for a whole day. When you’re standing at the station with your bag and this happens, it sucks.)

The app will allow you to only see options that don’t require a reservation. This can be very helpful, if you’re a spontaneous person. Keep in mind that these options usually take longer to get where you want to go.

I hope that this may have helped to answer any questions kicking around. If you have a specific question, drop it in the comments and I’ll take a run at it. Some time on the internet will also help. The EURail.com website is super easy to navigate and understand.

Now, get out there and explore! Oh, and try and enjoy yourself while you do it. That really is the point of it all.

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Driving? Is it really necessary?

I’ve been driving in the Middle East for about a week now, and I can testify that it is not what I remember the driving in Europe to be like in the late 80s. In a word, its awful.

I would say that it’s been almost 30 years since I have driven in a country other than the USA. I have driven in Canada several times, but growing up in a border town, I don’t view that to be a different experience from American driving. Sorry Canada.

I do remember it taking a while to find a comfort level with driving when I started driving around Germany. Getting used to the traffic on the Autobahn as a teenager took a few days. Everything in Germany either moved fast or slow. But, as all things do, soon enough it was old hat. I was driving everyday just said it was home. 

That being said, I’m pretty sure the same thing will come of the hellish traffic over here in the Middle East. They say, if you can drive in NYC or L.A. you can drive anywhere. I’d say that’s about half right. Having driven in both cities, I would put the difficulty factor at about 2x NYC. Its either okay or its REALLY not okay. 

Which I guess, brings me to my question of the day. Do you feel that you need to drive when you’re traveling or do you use local means of transport? How do you get around?

Personally, I normally use local transport to get from A to B. I have found that it is usually not difficult to get where you’re going without driving. 

In Europe its particularly easy to get around without a car. Trains and taxis will get you almost anywhere you want. Those to are supported by the occasional bus trip to get to the very few places the trains don’t go. Its really super easy. 

In Central American I have used a car service to get off the beaten track. Trust me, there’s not much beaten track in Central America. In South American, planes, trains, and taxi cabs got me anywhere I wanted to go. That included all the way up to Macchu Picchu. Getting to the mountain city was as simple as a train ride and a short bus ride. It was a harrowing bus ride on a switchback dirt road straight up the side of a mountain, but it was short. 

I did resort to renting a bicycle in Ireland so I could get around the site on the southern side of Galway Bay, but that’s probably as extreme as my travel needs have been. The train and the bus got my across Ireland in fine fashion, and the bike ride through the countryside was actually very nice. 

My current need to drive is promoted by my work. Having a vehicle is necessary. That being said, there does seem to be a reasonable bus system in place, and countless taxis cruising the streets. Movement options are available in the area. The closer I get to a city, the more numerous the transport options become. There doesn’t seem to be a commuter train system in the Middle East, or at least not in the area that I am in. Still, if one wanted to venture out into the dunes, I’m sure local guide services are available for day trip options. I haven’t been in the area long enough to seek those out, but I may later on. I spent enough time in traffic now.

So do you feel the need to drive when you’re traveling? Most American naturally answer yes. Its just part of our culture. But, when abroad to you search out easier or alternate means to get around? I definitely do. Local transport options can be useful, and can save you money. European rental prices are a lot if you don’t use the vehicle every day. And many cities require that you pay to park as well. 

Whichever way you choose to get around, it should be enjoyable and as easy as possible. I’m hoping that I get used to the awful traffic soon, and things become a little more enjoyable. And wherever you travel, be safe when doing so. It can be a mad, mad world at times.

Enjoy, and get out there!


Sunrise over the Persian Gulf. Taken today.