Although I had travelled by train in Europe before, it wasn't until my most recent trip that I'd actually used a Eurail Pass. On other occasions, I'd only taken a couple of rail journeys so it was cheaper to buy the point-to-point tickets I required rather than a Eurail Pass, but this time, as I was taking numerous train trips, a Eurail Pass was the way to go.
I purchased a Eurail Select 4 Country Pass (Saver Fare*) for 8 days travel within a 2 month period. The Pass covered me for first class travel within France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. (*The Saver Fare is only applicable when between two and five adults who purchase their passes at the same time travel together on all sectors.)
One thing to keep in mind is that purchasing a Eurail Pass doesn't guarantee you a seat on all trains. Some trains, particularly the high-speed trains like ICE and TGV, require you to purchase a seat reservation in addition to your ticket/pass. You can do this in Australia before you travel or once you arrive in Europe, however a limited number of seat reservations are allocated on each train so it is wise to book early.
Seat reservation fees generally range from about $15 to $25 per person per sector but the Thalys, for example, is much more expensive.
On more than one of our train trips we saw people 'kicked out' of their seats by passengers who had actually purchased a seat reservation for that particular trip. Because you can travel on lots of trains without a seat reservation, many passengers (usually locals), take the chance and sit wherever they like on the train until someone with a seat reservation comes along and asks them to move.
When this happens and the train is full, it is not uncommon to see passengers standing in the aisles for the whole trip. On our trip from Bolzano to Munich (four hours), people without seat reservations had to stand the whole way.
Using your Eurail Pass is quite straight forward but it can be a bit daunting the first time so I thought I'd share these 'how tos' with you. Before your first trip you'll need to have the first date of travel validated on your Eurail Pass at a ticket office at the railway station. My tip is to arrive at the station in plenty of time (particularly if it's a large station) in order to have your Pass validated by a railway official.
The Eurail Pass needs to be validated within six months of the issue date of the Pass. My Pass was validated at Gare de Lyon in Paris (see image above).
On the day of each rail journey, you should fill in the date of travel on the actual Pass and fill in the train details on the fold down Pass cover (as shown on the image above). This is very important - if the conductor checks your Pass and you haven't filled in the correct details, your Pass can be cancelled.
In addition to showing our Eurail Pass to the conductor, we also showed our seat reservation tickets as confirmation that we had purchased the right to sit where we were. As I was travelling for the whole journey with my husband (and we qualified for the Saver Pass), one Eurail Pass was issued for the two of us.
As I had purchased not only my Eurail Pass but also all our seat reservations before I left Australia, I found this to be a very convenient way to travel. I wasn't constantly forking out money for train tickets whilst in Europe and I had the added comfort of knowing that our seats on each train were reserved.
I will definitely compare point-to-point ticket fares with a Eurail Pass for future rail travel in Europe and would gladly pay a bit more to travel 1st class as opposed to 2nd class.
To see which countries are covered by a Eurail Pass and the train routes within Europe, have a look at this map.
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TIPS FOR TRAVELLING IN EUROPE BY TRAIN, CICK ON THE BANNER BELOW TO PURCHASE MY EBOOK
Do you have any tips on how to use a Eurail Pass that I've missed? If so, please share them in the comments below.