I know – I’ll just walk everywhere!

Japan's bullet train - siiikkkkk

Japan's bullet train - siiikkkkk

Random Observation/Comment #133: I avoid writing straightforward blog entries because I’m afraid the flair and side comments that feed my personal enjoyment would somehow be suppressed by length limits and those generic rules, like staying on topic or maintaining coherence.  At the end of the day, I am trying to write a travel blog, so I guess I could try to say more and write a little less (or at least follow less rants).  I could hear my parents cheering now.  I don’t think they understand half of what I’m saying, anyway.  (If at any point I get bored, I’m going to spew randomness).

In Europe, the main choices of transportation for a visitor from outside of Europe would either be cheap flights, car rides, or trains.  Car rides are actually quite cheap, but a little more unpredictable and sketchy for large groups.  As a single traveler, it might save money to use a Germany carpooling website to help with a few trips, but I wouldn’t make a habit out of it.  If you have a license, renting a car would be great since Germany has a large selection of roads that stretch through beautiful scenery and major tourist attractions.  I think my brother would absolutely love this opportunity, especially red-lining his four “classic” cars on the Autobahn.

If you’re traveling in groups, flights and trains are much more feasible.  It may seem like cheap flights would save time and money, but if you work out the calculations in the time and money spent with: traveling to the airport (cheap $20 flights anywhere in Europe are usually in less major airports), checking into the airport, flying, checking out, and going back to the heart of the city you’re staying, the flight only makes sense if you’re on at least a 2.5-hour flight.  Almost any other time, I would rather choose a Eurail pass and stop by cities along the way.

If my main goal is to backpack and do this soul-searching business, I would definitely prefer a more spontaneous and junky trip.  I could sleep on the train overnight and probably find a lot of side adventures along the way (I’m hoping to repeat the Eurotrip movie in some way, shape, or form).  In general, I would suggest visiting the station a day before to ask for special tickets.  There may be slower trains that can cost much less.  In addition, some trains may require reservations, and I don’t think you would want to stand for an hour on a crowded train. When you get down to it, this train versus plane thing depends on the type of traveler and itinerary, but I personally suggest the train for those who prefer short trips across Europe.

Eurail passes will save the Europe visitors a lot of money especially if they are touring 5 countries in 15 days.  Not only will it save some headaches when trying to purchase tickets (although Europe is much easier than Asia), but a lot of money could be saved in the process.  A general rule of thumb for prices on trains in Germany, Be-ne-lux (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg), and France is approximately 30 EURs for an hour train ride.  If you divide the price of Eurail passes by the number of days you’re using them, the daily usage price is approximately $40.  Most people do not travel everyday and only spend a day in one city – you can’t see crap in a day, especially if you’re on the train for a few hours.  So for most people, the 10 days in a row Eurail pass is unrealistic.

Because I’m a study abroad student traveling mostly on weekends or Spring-break-type trips, I purchased a 10-day Select 3 country Eurail pass, which allows for a 10-day separate usage (not necessarily consecutive) within a 2-month period of starting the pass.  This means that long train rides will only count for one day.  As a general comparison of prices, a one-way ticket from Hamburg to Munich takes 6 hours and costs 127 EUR and a one-way ticket from Hamburg to Amsterdam takes 5.25 hours and costs 85 EUR.  A 10-day Eurail 3 Country Select Pass for youth (under 26 years old) costs $443.  Using that one day for a long travel with the rail pass (including the local transportation) would be well worth the price.  If I want to do a one-day trip to Berlin, which costs 55 EUR and takes 1.5 hours one-way, I would be saving at least 60% on the price of the ticket.

It would be stupid not to take advantage of the Eurail pass if you’re studying abroad, but the type of pass you choose also needs to be well planned.  The main types of passes include:

  • Eurailpass normal – 15 day, 21 day, 1 month, 2 month, or 3 month pass, which works for 17 countries – this is better for tours
  • Eurailpass flexi – 10 or 15 days within a two month period for those 17 countries – this is for the traveler that wants to cross Europe in less than 2 months
  • Eurailpass select – 3-5 adjacent countries and then choose the flexi or normal pass type – this is recommended
  • Multicountry pass – for two adjacent countries – these prices are only about ~$30 cheaper than the Select 3 Eurail pass
  • Select country pass – single country – if you plan well, then this is your best choice, but the n-day usage is only within a one month from the starting day

For example, if you are only planning on staying within Germany for a month, you would not need a 3 Country Select Pass – a German rail pass would make more sense.  In general, the Eurailpass normal should only be used for following tours around Europe, which spends only a few days in a city.

Since I will be staying in Europe for 6 months and traveling on weekends, I bought three 3 Country Select passes for 10 days.  Each 3 Country Select Pass must include 3 adjacent countries and must be decided on the day of purchase.  I bought the Germany-Benelux-Czech, Germany-Benelux-Switzerland, and Germany-Benelux-France tickets.  This means that when I activate the pass of my choice (in my case, Switzerland first for some snow covered mountain views), I will have 2 months to use this pass for 10 days.  I can start any of these passes within 6-months of purchase.

I considered buying the multicountry pass deals, but by price comparisons they are only ~$30 difference.  I would personally rather have the freedom to be spontaneous than locked down to staying within the same few countries.

On a side note, it’s interesting how the thought process completely changes when planning for vacations because my previous comment about the freedom to choose places to visit would never apply to my life in the US.  Although the transportation system is not as efficient, I could very well take a quick bus to Washington DC for a short trip.  If I’m willing to spend 3 hours round trip on a train to and from Berlin to Hamburg, I should definitely consider day trips to beaches or whatever’s in New Jersey (I love New Jersey?).  I guess traveling from Hamburg to Berlin would be the equivalent of traveling from Long Island to Manhattan. I hope the change in excitement is as noticeable.  Damn, Long Island sucks when your brother sold the car you were driving…

~See Lemons on the Train