An alternative route: Riding the trains with European rail passes

Is it just that we are unfamiliar with all that high-quality rail service offers, so we fail to consider an alternative to the automobile when traveling through Europe.

A German ICE prepares to depart Leipzig (wikipedia)

EUROPE, April 22, 2017 — Traveling by train through Europe is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to see the continent.Many American travelers frequently overlook the benefits of rail travel in Europe because we have become so dependent upon cars that we forget to seek an alternative mode.

Or maybe it is just that we are unfamiliar with all that high-quality rail service offers, so we fail to consider an alternative to the automobile.

When you find yourself in Europe, instead of renting a car, grab a rail pass and all the hidden bonuses many travelers fail to consider; Your costs are set, and there are no high-cost fuel expenses as you travel from one city center to the next. here are no parking costs, no reading maps and the ability to stretch your legs with onboard restrooms conveniently close at hand, food services and the choice to work, take a nap or just relax as the gorgeous countryside slides by.

The Bernina Express: Switzerland’s best train journey
features glaciers, palm trees, and Italy

There are no parking costs, no reading maps and there is always the ability to stretch your legs with onboard restrooms conveniently close at hand, as well as regional food services and the choice to work, take a nap or just relax as the gorgeous countryside slides by.

High speed trains are not only fast, they are efficient (wikipedia)

Rail Europe is a traveler’s one stop shop for all things related to traveling by train, and, with a little-advanced understanding of how rail passes work, you will find yourself ahead of the game when trying to manage the seemingly overwhelming number of ticket options that are available. But really there are only two basic types of pass. The first is a consecutive day ticket and the second is called a ”

The first is a consecutive day ticket and the second is called a “flexipass.”

British Sprinter speeds through the countryside (wikipedia)

The consecutive pass originated back in the days of “if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium” travel to Europe. At that time, a trip to Europe was considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so travelers would wear themselves out trying to see everything in a single visit.

Night trains depart to new worlds (wikipedia)

A consecutive day rail pass was good for a given number of days such as 8, 12, two weeks or even as much as one or two months. Once validated, however, if they did not use the pass every day, travelers felt as if they were losing money because they were not getting the full value of their rail ticket.

Romancing the rails with the Great Little Trains of Wales

Thus evolved the “flexipass” which allows travelers to choose how many days they would like to ride the trains and to designate how long they plan to be in Europe. For example, a couple might opt to use four days of train travel within a two week period, thereby allowing them to ride the rails on any four days they chose until the validation period runs out.

Trains operate in any type of weather (wikipedia)

Those two basic concepts have led to an infinite number of off-shoots and that is where passes can begin to get confusing.

As time went on, and travelers became savvier, the demand for a limited number of countries on a pass arose. Many visitors opted for a single country pass since they were only planning to tour in Germany, France or Italy, for example.

Eurostar trains connect the UK with Europe (wikipedia)

In an effort to make rail passes more flexible and adaptable for train riders, Rail Europe developed several plans that give a traveler virtually unlimited options while, at the same time, reducing fares.

Tilting trains have become popular in Europe (wikipedia)

National passes that are good for only a single country have become very popular and, since all the travel is in a single country, the price is lower.

Later, Rail Europe developed combination passes which include two, three, four or five countries depending upon the length of time a traveler plans to be in Europe.

A TGV races along the French Riviera (wikipedia)

The benefits of these passes are the bonuses which are often one of the most overlooked features of traveling by train. With a Swiss Travel Pass, for example, pass holders can use virtually every form of transportation in the country just by showing their rail pass.

There are discounts on some private railways

There are supplements for some of the most popular mountaintop excursions, but these are almost always discounted at 25 to 50%.

Better yet, for visitors to Switzerland, a rail pass allows free admission to nearly 500 museums throughout the country.

Steam train crosses Glenfinnian Viaduct in Scotland (wikipedia)

Certain countries are grouped together as a single destination such the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

To simplify things even more, rail passes have evolved so that visitors can select several countries that border each other. Riders can choose which countries they desire based upon their individual travel program.

A Saverpass is a product which can be used by 2 to 5 people traveling together and comes with a nice discount.

Railway stations can be your best friend even if you don’t ride the trains (wikipedia)

There are also Youthpasses providing special rates for travelers under 26, while children and youths who are under 16 and traveling with an adult or guardian often can ride for free.

Keep in mind that railway stations can be like your personal tourist office away from home where you can get information, schedules, food, restrooms, lockers, gifts, medicine and, in some places, book a hotel.

Rail pass prices go from calendar-year to calendar-year so there is no need to worry about changes in any given year.

Bernina Express crosses the Landwasser Viaduct in Switzerland (wikipedia)

Traveling by train through Europe is easy, fast, convenient, efficient and relaxing. A little reading on how rail passes can be your biggest ally will make you a true believer.

All it takes is a little basic training.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world.

Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

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