True Eurail and InterRail Pass Itinerary Planning Tips

Eurail and InterRail Pass Itinerary Planning Tips

Planning your Eurail or InterRail holiday
That romantic notion of using an InterRail OR Eurail pass spontaneously and deciding where you want to go next, only once you have arrived somewhere, isn’t over.

Despite the need to reserve seats or beds on some European trains, you can more often than not make these reservations last minute at the station, or take alternative trains.

However, if you think like we do and are one of life's planners, so want to know;

(i)  where you will be spending the night before you arrive somewhere
(ii) and how you are going to get there,

read on... and yes there is a lot of text, but trust us it's worth grabbing a cup of coffee and spending 10 mins or so in ShowMeTheJourney's world of 
info.

Or if you're looking for specific nuggets click on these short cuts.

Booking Your Accommodation

Making Seat Reservations

Minimise Your Number of Reservations

Timing Your Journeys

Connections Between Trains

Avoiding The Final Train Of The Day

Consider Flying Between Some Destinations

Taking The Overnight Trains...


1: Worth considering when booking your accommodation

Our saving money with a rail pass tips cover some of the reasons why booking accommodation in ADVANCE is recommended, but there are two additional criteria we recommend keeping front of mind when arranging your overnight stops:

(i)  Book accommodation so that you can cancel without paying any charges - perhaps so obvious that we weren’t sure if it merited tip status? Which is a good start!

However, once that rail pass is in your hand, it’s almost impossible to resist making some late changes to what were the best laid plans.

Something will catch your eye online last minute and impact on the wish-list, or you’ll meet someone on your travels who tells you about something or somewhere, which you’ll then want to see for yourself.

(ii) Checking your journey details BEFORE you decide where you’re going to spend the night can also be a big stress-saver!

Here are three reasons why this can be a good idea.
 

(a) When you need or want to travel on trains which require a reservation, try to book them online before you book your accommodation.

Do it the other way round and there’s a chance that rail pass reservations won’t then be available, on trains you’ll then need to take, to where you will be spending the night.

This piece of advice particularly applies if you will be travelling long distance in France.

(b) Look up your longer journeys as if you were booking a ticket – you’ll then know if it’s possible to even reach where you were planning to stay the night.

Doing this to confirm that the train(s) will actually be running on the days on which you will be travelling can be a big stress-saver

Apps and other online train journey resources based on timetables, can show only what trains  are supposed to be running and when they SHOULD be departing.

(c) Checking your journey in advance on a ticket booking site, can be a particularly good idea if you’re planning a long distance journey that involves a change of train.

Some of these journeys can be much easier in one direction compared to the other - and/or much easier on certain days of the week.

Knowing this before you before you book your accommodation  is obviously a big plus – much of my most recent rail pass itinerary had to be organised around the fact that one particular journey was only possible when heading north on a Saturday!

Back to the tips list.
 
2: Booking reservations:
 

If you’re happy to pay the reservation fees on the trains which require them, then booking at least some of them before you set off on your trip can be a time and stress-saver.

Reservations rarely sell out days or more in advance, but it isn't unknown, particularly on:


(i) French TGV trains on summer weekends

(ii) Spanish train routes on which the service isn’t particularly frequent
(iii) 
Trains to and from Sweden in the summer
(iv) Overnight trains to and from Italy, particularly in the summer
(v) Eurostar and Thalys trains, particularly on Fridays and Sundays
(vi) 
Trains between Rome and destinations south of Napoli, particularly in the summer.
 

Take a look HERE for details of which reservations you can book in advance - without paying booking fees.
 

Alternatively the InterRail reservation service and Eurail reservation service can be extremely useful, particularly if you want to reserve Spanish trains or night trains in Eastern Europe.

In summary you can book rail pass reservations online, without booking fees, for some journeys - including 

(i) In Germany and from Germany on DB (not Thalys trains and don’t book the Germany – Italy EC trains)

(ii) In France on Oui-Sncf 

(iii) International journeys by Thalys and Eurostar trains on B-Europe

(iv) In Sweden on Snaabtag trains - including international journeys by these trains on SJ

If you plan a rail pass itinerary in advance, you can ALSO compare the cost of daily use of a pass + reservation fees against the cost of discounted tickets.


It can be cheaper to buy a rail pass with a set number of travel days and then purchase the cheapest tickets you can find for the expensive trains, on your other travel days.

Back to the tips list.
 

3: Minimise your number of reservations:

Despite that advice above,  try not to overload your itinerary with reservations before you set off on your trip - being tied to every train you will be taking negates much of the pleasure of travelling with a rail pass.

After all having to take specific trains is a negative of those most heavily discounted train tickets - so try to avoid too many similar scenarios.

Reservations will also be train specific, therefore constantly fretting about being on time to catch those trains can be as stressful as work deadlines – and you’re on a holiday!

 

(i) In Denmark, Germany and Great Britain, reservations are optional, though recommended if you’ll be travelling long distance, but you can book them last minute at the station.



(ii) In Croatia, Hungary, Italy*, Poland and Slovenia – you’ll have to reserve before taking an express train, but you can also book them last minute.

*In Italy rail pass reservations for journeys within Italy can be booked from the Trenitalia ticket machines, so there’s no need to book in advance if you will be taking DAY trains.

At the height of the summer a few trains can sell out days in advance, but it’s highly likely that alternative trains will still be available.

Back to the tips list.
 

4: Consider the time of day  at which you will be travelling:

This particularly applies if you are trying to avoid OPTIONAL reservation fees:

(i) Avoid travelling long distance on Fridays and Sundays after midday

(ii) Avoid travelling at business hours 07:00 – 09:00 and 16:00 – 18:00 on Monday to Friday

(iii) In Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Switzerland, The Netherlands - if you avoid heading INTO cities in rush hours, you can find seats on virtually any train – this also applies in France if you take the TER
trains.

Back to the tips list.
 

5: Take care when planning connections between trains:


 

This piece of advice for making end-to-end journeys involving changes of train doesn’t solely apply to rail pass users, but the freedom ingrained with using a rail pass, can lead to an assumption that missing connections due to train delays won’t be a problem – after all if you have a pass you can just take the next train.
 

However, here’s why ALWAYS making such an assumption is best avoided;

(i) The subsequent train on to your final destination may not be departing for another two hours or more, or at all (see below).

(ii) If you are connecting into a train on which you have paid a reservation fee, you can’t just hop on to the next departure by the same type of train.

You probably won’t have to pay again for the new reservation, but you will need to stop by the travel desk to have it re-issued.

(iii) The advertised connections between trains, which can be found on journey planners, are usually NOT guaranteed.

In our experience you can expect at least 10% of the long distance European trains you will be taking to arrive more than 15 mins late and 3% to be more than 30 mins late.

EC, ICE, TGV, Frecce, Snabbtag trains and the Intercity trains in France, Germany, Italy and The UK seem to be particularly susceptible to lateness  - the further a train travels, the greater the opportunity for delays to occur.


We have been on trains that have arrived more than an hour late due to lightning strikes, broken down engines, last minute diversions etc.

(iv) Works on the line can also slow down trains on Sundays, to the extent that the usual timetable is abandoned, so if possible avoid making your longest journeys on Sundays.

(v) If you will be making connections at large stations between long distance trains on your itinerary anywhere but Belgium, Switzerland or the Netherlands, our golden rule is to allow at least 30 mins to make the transfer.

That 30 minutes is split between allowing the train to arrive 15-20 mins late and the time required to transfer to your next
train.

Back to the tips list.

6: Try to avoid connecting into the last train of the day:

(i) If your journey involves a change of train, setting off from your starting point as early as possible rather than later, can often be the less-stressful option.

Outside of Switzerland and The Netherlands, any multi-train journey has a slight in-built risk of a missed connection due to train delays – there’s probably a mathematical formula.

If this scenario plays out when you’re relying on making the final possible connection of the day, you will be stuck for the night.

(ii) Don’t assume that because you will be connecting into the final train of the day, on to your destination, that it will wait for a delayed train to arrive – it probably won’t!

 

(iii) Depending on the length of journey, those final trains of the day can leave surprisingly early in the evening.

(iv) Also be wary of journey planning apps etc, they nearly always assume that making the connection won’t be a problem.

(v) If you have no choice except to connect into the only or final train of the day, taking the PRECEDING train from your starting point to what a route planner suggests, is highly
recommended.

Back to the tips list.
 

7: Flying between some destinations can be a good idea:
 

If your decision to opt for a rail pass adventure is partially based on justifiable ecological reasons, then these nuggets of advice will seem bizarre, but even we have to admit that combining train WITH plane can be a good idea for SOME pan-European itineraries.

(i) 
Even if you’re a huge rail travel fan, heading back home, or to the starting point of your itinerary by train, can be a drag at the end of a long trip.

(ii) If you want to take in locations at the edge of Europe then flying to and/or from them can make sense and save you scratching some locations from your 'must see' list.

Heading to the likes of Athens, Bergen, Edinburgh, Seville or The Algarve by train is a great idea, but if you stick to the trains, you’ll probably find yourself repeating long train journeys back in the opposite direction.

(iii) You won’t enhance your itinerary if you spend a day travelling to somewhere that isn’t on your wish list, just because it’s on the way to a place that is.
 

(iv) Obviously a DIRECT daytime train is always a better option than a flight (ahem), no matter how long the train journey is.

But when multiple changes of train/station are unavoidable it’s also undeniable that a flight can be a less stressful option.

(v) If you have a rail pass restricted to a set number of travel days, then taking the plane and not the train for some journeys can also be a money saver.

 

London and Paris can be a comparatively expensive destinations for rail pass users, once you have factored in the daily cost of using the pass + the reservation fee required on Eurostar or Lyria trains etc.

So an option can be to take a cheap flight on a day BETWEEN  the days on which you will be using such a rail pass.

Back to the tips list.
 

8: Don't take too many overnight train journeys:


Saving money:
 

(i) Overnight trains are often not a money saving option for rail pass users, when COMPARED to the costs of hostels or a reasonably priced hotels - UNLESS you forsake the comparative comforts of a berth in a couchette or a bed in a sleeping cabin, and only travel in a seat.

That’s because rail passes don’t cover the reservation fees for the couchettes or sleeping cabins on overnight trains – they only cover the costs of making the journey.

(ii) On most routes, including those taken by OBB Nightjets, the costs of travelling in the couchette or sleeping cabin comprises most of the ticket price that non rail pass users pay.



Therefore on many overnight train routes, the reservation fee for a couchette can be more than twice the cost of a journey - and will therefore be as expensive as a typical bed in a hostel.

(iii) The rail pass reservation fees for a bed in a sleeping cabin can equate to an average hotel -  if you want a sleeping cabin to yourself, expect the reservation fee to be more than €100!

Opting for the seats:

 

You will need to pay a reservation fee, normally around €5, for a seat on most overnight trains

Although, unless you regularly drift off to sleep on daytime trains, paying the much cheaper reservation fees for these seats on multiple journeys can be a false economy.

If you’re lucky the seats on the overnight train will be in compartments and you can pull the seats flat to make a bed.
But there will be 6 seats in the compartment and only 3 people can fit on the bed, so on busy trains this won’t be an option.


That advantage of having a whole day to explore your destination when you arrive, will be negated if you have a sleepless night.

Sleeping Well:

Pay particular attention to the departure and arrival times of night trains.

It’s not unusual for night trains to arrive in a city before 07:30 am, perfect if you were heading to a 9am business meeting, but perhaps not so ideal if a day’s sightseeing is on the agenda.

 

So even if you are opting for a couchette or sleeping cabins, too many night trains on one itinerary can be exhausting if you’re not an early riser.

Also if you haven’t travelled with an eye mask, ear plugs or an extra pillow, you will be fortunate indeed to get more than five or six hours sleep per journey.


Back to the tips list.

Maximise the Pleasure Of Using A Eurail Pass or InterRail Pass and Minimize The Stress:


Which DAYTIME train services require reservations for rail pass users AND which don't:


How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in most European countries including on which trains you do and don't have to reserve:


Our money saving tips for Eurail and InterRail Pass Itineraries:


Other reasons why using Eurail and InterRail passes is a great idea: