My favorite method of traveling through Europe is by train, and Americans are fortunate to be able to buy Eurail Passes, which offer a variety of ways to tour the continent by rail.
You can choose among the One Country Pass — allowing you to thoroughly explore, say, France, Italy, or Spain; the Select Pass, which lets you choose among two, three, or four bordering countries; or the global pass, good for exploring the whole of Europe, up to 28 countries.
And from now until December 31, you can purchase Eurail Passes at 20 percent off their usual price.
On top of that, you’ll get an extra 15 percent off if two of you travel together on all segments. (Make sure you choose you travel partner carefully, since you will just have one pass with two names on it, and both must be present for it to be valid.)
If you’re comfortable with that proviso, you can save more than a third off the normal price.
See You in Europe
My wife, Catharine, and I (who travel well together) just booked a tandem Select Pass for four contiguous countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, good for eight separate first-class days of travel over the course of two months.
We paid a grand total of under $600 — less than $37 per ride for each of us.
We’ll use our pass mainly for long-haul travel between, say, Bucharest, Romania, and Sofia, Bulgaria, and Sofia and Thessaloniki, Greece, and perhaps a discounted ferry ride from Athens to a Greek island like Crete or Rhodes (Eurail offers a separate Greek Islands pass).
For short trips within each country, it makes more sense to buy separate train or bus tickets and not use up our allotment of eight days on less expensive runs.
As for Turkey, I’m taking a chance that the U.S. and Turkey will have settled their visa dispute by the time we’re ready to travel — and we haven’t decided on trip dates yet. But we’ll have 11 months after the pass is issued to activate it in Europe, so we have lots of flexibility.
(The aforementioned visa dispute means that for the time being, at least, Americans have effectively been banned from traveling to Turkey unless they already possess a visa. Conflicting reports, though, indicate that some U.S. travelers have had success getting visas upon arrival in Turkey as long as they are not arriving directly from the United States. Stay tuned for updates.)
One country Eurail Passes — good for one month with three, four, five, or eight days of flexible travel — range in France or Italy, for example, from $204 to $379 with the discount.
Select passes good for two months vary by which countries and how many travel days you choose — five, six, eight, or ten — but one particularly attractive deal is a three-country Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg counts as just one country), France, and Germany pass, with prices ranging from $402 to $584 with the discount.
Global passes covering 27 countries currently range from $479 for five days of travel within a month to $1675 for three months of continuous travel. The latter is still a great deal decades after Catharine and I traveled by train around Western Europe by Eurail Pass for just $300 each — but then that was back in the days when Europe on $5 a day was an attainable goal, and then-Soviet bloc countries like Romania and Bulgaria weren’t included.
Keep in mind that many European high-speed and night trains require reservations with varying fees, even with passes, so you may want to plan at least some of your travel ahead of your departure.
There are so many options available that you’ll need to go to the Eurail site and enter your specific preferences. But to get the 20 percent discount, you’ll need to act by December 31.
You can read more about the ins and outs of buying Eurail Passes by going here.