Traveling by train around Europe, visiting the Continent's greatest cities and most charming towns, can be the adventure of a lifetime -- and using a rail pass is one of the most affordable ways to make the adventure happen. But how can you get the most out of your rail pass? Read on for our top Europe train tips.
1. Shop around before you purchase your rail pass. Many agents offer discounts and specials on Europe rail passes, including free travel days, and if you're traveling with at least one companion you could save 10 to 15 percent.
2. Plan your itinerary carefully before you purchase your pass. Flexipass holders may save money and travel days by purchasing separate tickets for shorter trips. For example, say you've purchased a Eurail Italy Pass, valid for eight days of travel in a one-month period. At $338 for a second-class pass, your average cost per travel day is about $42. Instead of wasting a travel day for a trip from Florence to Pisa -- which costs just $10 each way -- you can buy an individual ticket for that trip and save the travel day on your rail pass for a night train or longer journey.
3. You will need to validate your rail pass at a railway ticket office before you use it for the first time. (Be sure you arrive early enough before your train's departure time to stand in line for this service.) Eurail.com also offers a free pre-activation service if you purchase your pass there.
4. Be aware that your rail pass will allow you to board any train, but it does not guarantee you a seat, couchette or sleeper berth. In addition, high-speed trains may require a supplement. If you are not sure, check with the ticket agent before you board the train.
5. Eurail Flexi Pass holders must enter that day's travel date in ink before boarding the train. For an overnight train departing after 7 p.m. and arriving at 4 a.m. or later, enter the next day's date; you will only have to use one of your travel days. However, if you change trains during your overnight journey, or if your train arrives before 4 a.m., you must use two days.
6. You might be required to give your passport and rail pass to the conductor when boarding a night train. He or she will take care of dealing with customs officials for you as you pass through each country on your route.
7. Be aware of your route before you travel. If you are traveling through a country that is not listed on your rail pass, you will have to pay the full fare for that portion of the trip. You may purchase this in advance to avoid a fine; simply tell the ticket agent your destination and he or she will issue you a ticket to cover the journey.
8. Safeguard your rail pass; it is not replaceable if stolen. However, you may be entitled to a refund if you purchase pass insurance (such as Rail Europe's Rail Protection Plan). Rail pass insurance will not replace your pass while traveling; it only entitles you to a refund for the unused portion (or the cost of a replacement, if less) after you return. If you lose your pass, contact the local police immediately. You will be required to submit a copy of the police report with your lost pass claim.
9. Be sure to read the inside of your ticket jacket for important information regarding reservations, services and bonuses. Some rail passes entitle you to free museum admission, reduced ferry fares or other perks around Europe.
10. On night trains, make reservations for sleepers or couchettes in advance. This can be done at the train station and in most travel agencies. Sleepers should be reserved as far in advance as possible, as they tend to fill up quickly. Couchettes can generally be booked a few days before travel. You may have to pay an additional fee for a couchette or a sleeper.
11. If you're planning to travel on a Friday night you might need to make a reservation, as many people will be making weekend trips and the trains fill up quickly. Get to the station early and check with the ticket agent before you board.
12. Don't leave luggage unguarded on the train or in the station. On night trains, secure baggage to the rack with a small bicycle lock if you intend to sleep.
13. Keep your valuables in a concealed money belt when sleeping on trains.
14. Many train stations have secure lockers or "left luggage" counters where you can deposit your luggage for the day for a small fee. Carry change in the currency of the country you are in, as most lockers do not accept bills.
15. Earplugs can be purchased at any pharmacy and will be invaluable in helping you get a good night's sleep on an overnight train.
16. Many big cities in Europe have more than one major train station. Double-check your itinerary to make sure you go to the right one.
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