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Eurail or Interrail: What’s the best train pass for your trip?

Today’s post is from our friend Craig who lived in Dublin for a year and a half. Here is his advice on selecting the right train pass for your trip! You can read more of his adventures and tips on his blog, Backpacking & Budget Traveling tips.

This is a question that comes around every so often, so here is a very brief answer:

If you’ve been living in Europe for at least 6 months, then you qualify for Interrail – everyone else gets a Eurail pass.

Now you know the main difference. Of course, there are other details, such as which European countries participate in Interrail or which Eurail pass you should buy.. and here are a few of them.

One common element is how you will usually pay an additional seat reservation fee for specific routes, night trains or express trains – if there’s a seat available for pass holders. Yes, with the popularity of train travel and more backpackers visiting Europe, a lot of trains will have a quota to limit the amount of backpackers so they can make more room for passengers who paid for a full-price ticket. You can argue all you want or feel disappointed by this fact, but it does seem fair; think of the people commuting to work and how they do not want to climb over a row of backpacks to sit down.

You need to know that the names merely define the kind of pass you have because there aren’t specific trains that are run by a company named Eurail or Interrail; it’s just a way to help regional or national train systems with their day-to-day operations. You can purchase a pass specifically for one country, a cluster of countries or the full list of countries, depending on how much you want to pay or the length of your trip. This can confuse some newer travelers (and experienced ones, too) when you discuss a 15-day pass or 5 days within 10 days; they are interdependent but gives you some flexibility.

The basic “formula”: Countries + Stops + Length of Trip = Pass To Get

For example, let’s say you are flying to Madrid and taking the train through southern France and Italy before flying home. Three countries. That’s simple.

But how long is your trip or where are you going? If you are going to a handful of locations after Madrid – Barcelona, Nice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Rome – then this determines what pass to get. You could buy tickets for one day per stop (5 days) or you may wish to stay flexible for overnight trips along the way. In this example, you could purchase a pass like the Eurail Select Pass for 3 Countries, which includes 5 days of unlimited train travel to use within 2 months, even if the length of your trip is shorter than that.

Another commonality with Interrail and Eurail passes is the 7 PM rule: if the trip starts with a direct overnight train departing after 19:00 (7 PM) and arriving after 04:00 (4 AM), the next day’s date must be entered; in other words, you get a “free” day of travel if you need to take a short trip the following day. However, if the train arrives before midnight or you plan to change trains during the night, then this will count as two days of travel.

Interrail Details:

Over 25 countries participate in the Interrail program and you need to normally reside in one of these countries (with legitimate proof) for at least six months to qualify. Anyone who has been staying in Europe and is not usually a resident, such as someone on a year-long holiday visa, will be treated as “permanently living in Europe” for ticket eligibility, according to the fine print.

And even more good news! Residents of countries not involved with the Interrail scheme can also qualify; this includes Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Gibraltar, Iceland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Russia, San Marino, Ukraine and Vatican City. Residents of the UK also qualify, even if the United Kingdom does not participate (except for the small portion to/from the main continent).

Just remember that you cannot use the Interrail within your own country, whether that’s to encourage people to directly pay for their national train service or to prevent commuters from using it to get to work.

Eurail Details:

Eurail passes are for everyone else, including residents who have been living in Europe for less than six months. After calculating the difference between the 15, 21 and one month prices, it seems that you will pay a premium of at least 15% compared to what Interrail pass holders will pay.

But don’t feel bad about this! Remember that prices will always be affected by the exchange rate of your currency, so this percentage can change next month. In addition, you can still save a significant amount of money through western and central Europe because some of the point-to-point fares can be expensive, especially for the faster trains. For example, a ticket for the 5 PM train from Nice to Paris could cost as little as €45 (normally between €60 to €75), but a rail pass reservation fee is only €8.

Even better when they have some significant discounts or special offers, such as the one right now for backpackers under 26 years old – 2 free days added to your 15-day pass. That means an extra two days of day trips, night trains or more time to explore the countryside.

So now you only need to decide which pass to get. Good luck!

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