February 20, 2014

10 budget tricks for your Eurail adventure

by kash in Travel tips

I love the luxury and unpredictability of not having a fixed itinerary. For my Eurail trip last summer, I used a pass with flexible travel days where I could pick 15 days to travel within a 2 month period.

At the same time the pass did help me save money. Travelling longer in each destination allowed me to spread the costs. Booking last-minute often yielded some great deals on accommodation.

Used the right way, an Eurail pass can save you lots of money. Here are my top 10 money saving tips and tricks for using your Eurail pass

1. Avoid reservations on popular routes

To avoid reservation costs, take regional trains wherever possible and avoid the high-speed trains. This rule has some exceptions (Check tip 5) For example you can zip from Paris to Amsterdam on the Thalys high-speed train in under 3 hours 20 minutes. However a reservation is mandatory and often hard to secure during the high season. The fee for the Paris-Amsterdam route costs 39 Euros.

Belgian frites
Grand Place, Lille
Amiens Cathedral

You can avoid the reservation charge and travel for free with your Eurail pass by taking the longer route of Paris-Amiens-Lille-Antwerp-Amsterdam. That adds another 6 hours to the journey but allows you to grab a croissant in Amiens and visit its beautiful cathedral. In Lille, the city is in close proximity to the station so you can fit in a bit of sightseeing and check out the Grande Place - Place Général de Gaulle during your stopover. In Antwerp, you could be grabbing a nice Belgian beer and enjoying frites for lunch at Café Haute Friture. Hop back on the train and you’re in Amsterdam by the evening. Three countries in one day is not bad going.

2. Use the rail pass for longer journeys

Use your travel days wisely when travelling with a pass that has flexible travel days. I usually aimed for long distance journeys in order to cover as much ground as possible to maximise the value of the pass. For shorter train journeys, like Florence to Milan or Nice to Marseille, consider saving your a travel day and buying an individual point-to-point ticket.

3. Take the night train

Take a night train for an affordable night's sleep

There is an extensive network of night trains operating that can take you between all the major European cities. This not only saves you time but also saves you money. For example, travelling on a night train, typically costs 20 Euros for a bed in a 6-person couchette, with private cabins available for higher fee, but often cheaper than what you would pay for a hotel.

4. Long train trip ahead? Stock up for the perfect picnic lunch

Have a train picnic!If you are travelling solo, on a budget, I strongly recommend creating your own picnic lunch/dinner by paying a visit to the local food market or popping into a supermarket. Meals on some of the trains can sometimes be quite pricey.                                                                                                                                   For example for my train journey from Bremen to Hannover, I got some of the local Bremen ‘Haake Beck’ beer, some tasty Rye Bread, cheese and salami I was carrying with me from breakfast at the hostel, bought some fruit and rounded it off with the best chocolate biscuit in the world – milk chocolate Leibniz biscuits and my favourite Ritter Sport ‘Knusperflakes’ (chocolate with cornflakes!). It was as a fantastic picnic and cost just 7 Euros. Sit back and enjoy your picnic as Europe’s beautiful views pass you by.

5. Perfect for long distance travel in Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Denmark

Hop on and find an unreserved seat

In terms of convenience, the Eurail pass is best for long distance train travel in these countries. With only a handful of exceptions, travel between these countries does not require a seat reservation even on high-speed inter-city trains like Germany’s ICE.  All you have to do is hop on the train, grab an unreserved seat and show your pass when the train staff walk through the train.

6. Use the locker facilities at the train station

Store your luggage for a flying visit to a city en-route

Why not maximise your travel days on your pass, by spending a few hours stopping off at an extra city. To avoid lugging your backpack or suitcase around the city check if the station has a left luggage facility.

Munich’s main station, for example, has short-term lockers available for a small fee. I made a short visit to the German city en-route to Salzburg in Austria. The extra large locker in the photo was big enough to store my 80 litre rucksack and backpack. It cost only 5 Euros for up to 24 hours.

7. Consider Couchsurfing

If you have a flexible itinerary and want to save money on accommodation, you should consider becoming part of the Couchsurfing community. It’s a great way to meet the locals and get into the DNA of a city. Read our guide to Couchsurfing

8. Make use of the deals and discounts you can enjoy with the pass

Get a 10% discount on your stay at a PLUS Hostel

There are a range of extra benefits and discounts available with the Eurail pass. For example you get a 10% discount at any of the PLUS hostels (beautiful hostels in Berlin, Florence and Prague with great facilities including, a swimming pool, restaurant and bar). There you can get money off international ferries, bus tours and museum visits.

9. Travel in winter instead of summer

Capture some stunning views while travelling in winter

Take a Eurail trip through winter and you’ll experience less crowds in the key cities, shorter queues while visiting the top visitor attractions, plus the cost of winter accommodation can be up to 40% cheaper compared to the summer.

10. Free Public Transportation in Germany and Switzerland

Travel for free on Swiss boats and buses

The pass generally doesn’t cover public transportation on buses or metros, but in Germany you can travel on the S-Bahn metro service in major cities for free with your rail pass. If your pass includes Switzerland, you are also entitled to free travel on buses and boats in additions to trains.