My first Eurail train trip

As an interlude post I figured I will shortly describe the practical side of using the Eurail (or Interail for that matter) pass.

In my previous post I told the tale till where I got on the train. Now that part is hardly something that confuses anyone. What is somewhat confusing is how the rail pass works. See the websites describe how you need to get it validated and what you should fill in on your travel diary. It does not describe things like where you should sit. For a South African rather new to public transport, these are the basics you need to cover! So for anyone looking for information on the practical side of how this works – let me try to elaborate:

  • You get your pass activated before you get on the first train. Now I bought mine pre-activated, but I got it stamped anyway (just to be extra sure).
  • You look for the train on the station boards to get the right time of departure and which station. Now in my opinion this is straight forward in Italy, Sweden and Germany (at least what I have seen up till now). It was not so straight forward in Portugal – but maybe I just didn’t get the system.
  • You can check the Rail Planner app to see if reservations are required. If not explicitly required, you could get away without it. In Germany you can apparently not reserve a seat on a regional train. For the record, I asked a DB official (at the ticket office) who told me that it is not required to reserve the IC or ICE trains in Germany, even though the app said “reservation recommended”. Now I’ve never been one to spend money if it isn’t necessary – and worst that could happen is that you don’t have a seat (so you have to stand for the trip). So if you want my opinion: get a train that starts at or soon before your point of departure, and get on that train as soon as possible.
  • If you do have to reserve, like I first had to for my train between Cologne and Brussels, you can do it on the train company website. Tha Rail Planner app does offer a reservation service, but it is worth to first see if you can do it directly with the company. Why? Well for this trip through the app it was €20; the same reservation on the DB website was €4.50 (you simply look for the journey and select the “seat only” option next to the booking button).
  • As for knowing if a seat is reserved – well I can only comment on what I have seen on the five German trains I was on. Above the seats there are these digital displays that shows a name or “reserved” or something (if there is some text, take it as reserved). If the screen is blank – grab the seat!

*I will try to update this post with information from different countries as I go along.

For now, safe travels


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