When I first got my Eurail.com pass I skimmed through the information quickly, it was all pretty clear to me except something obvious: booking a ticket. Flying overseas to Europe there was no way for me to book a ticket in advance, which kind of made me nervous as I read the warnings in the information packet that only a certain number of Eurail spaces are given on each train.
In the end, my worries were all for not, as the process is simple and not nearly as terrifying as one might imagine.
If you’re a constant planner, like I am, and you want to plan your entire trip down to the day you leave and the time you make your journey it’s simple. At any train station in Europe you can go to the booking desk and just tell them you have a rail pass and give them the dates you want to travel. Since you’re making a reservation, you’ll have to pay a reservation fee which is can be as little as a couple Euros in most countries or as many as 10-15 in Spain. (Note that you have to pay this reservation fee with or without a Eurail pass)
In some cases, especially short local trains you won’t even have to even have to make a reservation. You can simply jump on the train and show the ticket agents your Eurail pass as they wander by.
The process is insanely efficient, and maybe because I had been coming from the Latin world I worried that this would be a fiasco.
Personally, I travelled in the off-season so I never encountered a problem. I would usually book my ticket out of a city on the same day I arrived in it just to give me some peace of mind, but in many cases I would just show up to the station an hour early and book right then. I think that if you’re travelling in the summer time you’re best to book as early as you can as the trains fill much quicker and the amount of Eurail users is much higher.
I do really think there is a small flaw in the system. In a couple cases, depending on the country, there is no way that people can make their bookings online before showing up in Europe. If I was travelling mid-July and I flew into Madrid and was planning on heading to Paris three days later I would be worried that there would not be enough space left for Eurail users. I’m sure they are, but I’d love for Eurail to look into a way of allowing people to make their bookings online, because to your average traveller the worry of not finding space on a particular train might be a cause for stress.
As I mentioned, however, I had no problems at all booking a day or two in advance. In some cases, it seemed like I had the trains to myself. But again, I travelled off-peak which for many people isn’t possible.
***Note: Eurail.com is one of my sponsors. They have not influenced the content of my article nor have they demanded that I right on this topic. I am a journalist, and regardless of whether or not they are a sponsor I call it as I see it. After using the Eurail, I can’t imagine travelling Europe without one. (Check out how much you can save using a Eurail Pass)