Eurail pass is affordable again

Once an economical and easy way to travel around Europe, rail passes over the years had become more of a headache-inducing puzzle. But in 2019, Europe’s rail passes underwent some sweeping changes that have made them an affordable option again, and much less confusing to shop for — and made me nostalgic for their glory days.

As of this year, “Select Passes” — where you could mix and match countries as you like to suit your itinerary — are gone. Now, for the most part, passes cover either all of Europe, or just one country. This means that the classic “Global Pass” is now not only one of the easiest options, but the smart buy for more people traveling by train in multiple European countries.

During their heyday, rail passes were a way of life for European travelers. In my backpacker days, there were just two choices of Eurail Pass: one month or two months, covering most of western Europe, with a second-class option available only to people under 26. Over the years, as Americans started visiting Europe more often and on shorter trips, customization became increasingly in demand.

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Travelers who did their homework could save plenty — but for most, there were so many options, it was hard to know where to begin. It got so confusing that the Global Pass almost became a thing of the past — worth considering only for those doing the whirlwind, months-long pan-Europe backpacker trip of yore.

Now, by eliminating the customized passes while cutting the price of the Global Pass, Eurail has gone back to basics. (Certain high-speed trains still require pass holders to pay extra and book ahead, but with fewer pass options to navigate, it’s less of a factor when shopping for a pass.)

Your main options now are either a single-country pass or the 31-country Global Pass. Fortunately, the Global Passes are now priced to make sense for shorter trips (and are available for as few as three days of travel).

Travelers can hop on and off Germany's sleek InterCity Express trains easily with either a Eurail Global Pass or a German Rail Pass.

There are still some multicountry regions where passes are available and cheaper than a Global Pass for the same number of train-travel days. For example, Eurail’s Scandinavia Pass includes Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland for little more than the price of a pass covering only one of those countries; the Benelux Pass is cheaper than a Global Pass for those traveling to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg; and the European East Pass — including Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia — is roughly the same price as a pass that just covers Austria.

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