EUROPE, August 24, 2013 – Back in 1959 when the legendary Eurailpass was introduced with unlimited rail travel in 13 European countries during a two-month period, the most popular travel trend for Americans travelers became “The Grand Tour of Europe.” (www.raileurope.com)
The “If-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium” concept of traveling is mostly a thing of the past, and the trains of Europe have kept pace with a more discriminating and savvy traveling public.
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In the process, the number of participants in the Eurail Global Pass (previously called Eurailpass) has grown to 24 countries. In addition, more than 30 countries now offer national rail passes, which may seem overwhelming when deciding on the product that is the best for your itinerary.
Though it may seem daunting at first, it is really very simple it you know a few basic facts. Rail passes can offer considerable savings to travelers making their way through Europe and also with the growing popularity of international family travel, which today includes grandparent and grandchildren.
Actually there are only two basic passes: Continuous Days and Flexipasses.
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A Continuous Day pass is a ticket for a specified period of consecutive days of travel. A 15-day pass is, therefore, good for 15 straight days of travel after validation.
A Flexipass covers a specific number of days within a longer period of time. For example, a four-day Flexipass may be valid for any four days a passenger chooses to travel within a period of one month.
The reason for the two products is simple. Many travelers using the original Eurailpass felt compelled to travel every day in order get the full benefit of their pass. Hence the Flexipass allowed more traveling flexibility.
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As European rail passes have evolved, Eurail Passes (two words defining all rail pass products) remain 1st class tickets for adults. There is, however, a 2nd class Youthpass for travelers under the age of 26.
Here’s where it appears to get complicated. With increased popularity in rail travel and more people focusing on just one or two countries, Eurail created combination passes that can include two, three, four or five countries. At the same time, 34 countries now offer their own national rail passes.
Remember, all passes are either Consecutive Days or Flexipasses. While Eurail only offers 1st class products for adults and a 2nd class ticket for youth, national rail passes may be available for 1st or 2nd class travelers regardless of whether travelers are adults, youth or seniors.
Class of travel, whether you are a child, youth, adult or senior and the number of rail travel days during the validity of a pass is how prices are determined.
One product that has become extremely popular is the Saverpass. A Saverpass is technically a group ticket which provides a discount for two or more passengers traveling together. A Saverpass is ideal for family vacations.
Eurail also offers the SelectPass, which allows passengers to use the national rail networks of three, four or five adjoining countries connected by train or by ship. More than 20 nations participate, but some combinations are only counted as one country. Benelux, for example, is considered one country though it includes Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Croatia/Slovenia are counted as a single country as are Montenegro/Serbia.
It is also possible to purchase additional bordering countries for a SelectPass. Select Passes are available for Consecutive Days or as Flexipasses for five, six, eight, ten or 15 days of travel within a two-month period.
Remember, rail pass prices do not change within any given year. The price of a ticket in January 2014 will be the same throughout that year. If a change is made it will not happen until January of the following year.
Although many high-speed European trains require reservations, some do not so it is important to check. On the other hand, reservations are not necessary in Switzerland, except for the world famous Glacier Express.
Point-to-Point tickets from one city to another or roundtrip can also be purchased if a rail pass does not suit your itinerary.
Travel insurance is highly recommended. There is no refund policy for lost or stolen rail passes. A travel agent could help with this purchase, or you can look into the Rail Europe Protection Plan offered on the Rail Europe website.
Frequently overlooked are the bonuses that come with each rail pass. Bonuses vary from country to country, but they add considerable value to a rail pass. For example, a SwissPass allows free admission to over 400 museums throughout the country.
Ground transportation is often the last thing travelers consider when planning a trip. Rail travel is fast, convenient and great value when you consider the amount of travel that can be done and the bonuses that are included.
Rail travel is really not so difficult once you learn the system. All you need to do is train yourself.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events and the people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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