Rick Steves' Genius Tips To Stop Overspending On Your Rail Pass

Rail travel in Europe is a thing of magic. Trains zip all over the continent, hurtling across invisible borders and gliding past picturesque landscapes into the heart of ancient cities. By taking the train, you avoid having to nudge a rental car through Europe's tiny streets and the parking nightmares in many of the continent's major cities. Taking the train is also a budget-friendly way to crisscross Europe. Travelers often buy an all-in-one Eurail Pass for their trip, but many unsuspecting adventurers pay too much, according to travel guru Rick Steves.

Steves has published his top tips to stop overspending on your rail pass, and we're going to break them down. One of his best tips is about choosing between a Global Pass and two or more one-country passes. The Global Pass covers 33 countries, from Ireland to Turkey and Portugal to Finland. Note that several countries in Europe are not covered by the pass, including Albania, Ukraine and Belarus. Also, as you may guess from the name, a one-country pass covers one country. 

Steves writes that a Global Pass almost always works out cheaper, partly because you cannot use a one-country pass to cross borders. That means that when you go from one country to another, you use up a day from each one-country pass that you must buy. Steves strongly recommends buying a Global Pass for those visiting more than one country. An exception is the Benelux and Scandinavian regional passes, which allow you to travel to several neighboring countries.

Be flexible to get the best Eurail Pass deal

Rick Steves' next tip is about Flexi Passes. These passes allow you to travel for a certain number of days within one time period, for example, five days within one month. Steves recommends getting the most out of your Flexi Pass by using it for longer travel days and buying separate tickets for shorter hops.

Work out the cost of your pass by dividing the total by the number of days. The five-day pass costs $329 for adults aged 28–59, meaning it's around $66 per day. A seven-day pass costs $391, meaning it's about $56 per day. If you have five long travel days and two shorter days when tickets cost around $20 each, stick with the five-day pass.

Also, there are discounted passes for people aged 12–27 and those 60 and over that may make travel days more economical. Each adult paying the full price can get up to two child passes for those aged 11 and under for free.

Steves also advises checking what your pass covers in addition to train travel. Eurail passes entitle passholders to free travel or discounted tickets on several ferry routes (Italy to Greece is a popular one and is fully included in some passes.) The pass even covers some bus routes and gives travelers discounts on certain attractions and accommodations. Don't miss out!

Continuous travel using a Eurail Pass

If you're doing a lot of train travel during your trip, you might want to get a Continuous Pass instead of a Flexi Pass. Continuous passes allow you to travel for a certain number of days in a row, for example, 15 days or one month. One of Steves' tips is to plan your journey carefully so that you can use a shorter pass for longer trips. Most travelers start and end their trips by staying for several days in one place. By booking longer stays at the beginning and end of your trip, you could spend a month in Europe but only require a 22-day pass.

On the flip side, Steves writes that if you have a long journey at the end of your trip, it might be worth getting a longer pass. However, Steves says he would think about doing long journeys like that by plane. Europe's abundance of budget airlines means that covering long distances is often cheaper by plane than by train.

Finally, we want to add another tip to Steves' excellent list. Some European countries are budget-friendly rail havens, while others will often make your wallet wince. Traveling by train in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Austria tends to be more expensive than in Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. If you're going to countries where rail travel is cheaper, check individual ticket prices before buying a pass.