Five months, three days, and sixteen hours. This is the time it took for me to plan each and every detail for a month long trip through Europe with my sister and my best friend. A major issue however was how we were going to travel to and from seven considerably distant cities, Paris, Bordeaux, Salamanca, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Viana do Castelo, and finally, Madrid. I contacted my local AAA travel agent with my issue and she requested the Eurail Pass. The Eurail Pass, for those of you who are unaware of its purpose, is a pass that entitles you to unlimited travel for a number of inconsecutive days in a specific number of countries for a “set” cost. We purchased a Eurail Pass that included 8 days of travel throughout France, Spain, and Portugal for an initial cost of $403 each through AAA. However, a pass can be purchased from www.eurail.com for youth 25 years of age or younger for $399.
To continue my planning I attempted to make train reservations from the United States. To my dismay, this was literally impossible. Reservations in the countries we traveled to required purchasing in their respective countries. We were stuck having to show up at the train stations unaware if we would be able to catch a train and have somewhere to sleep that night. This was an issue when we were forced to take an overnight train from Portugal to Spain one night earlier than planned. Sadly, we were not able to cancel our reservation at the Hotel do Parque in Viana do Castelo, Portugal that night. Moreover, only a certain number of people can reserve a spot on each train using the Eurail. Another fault of the Eurail pass was that in addition to the “set” cost, each reservation required a reservation fee that ranged from $10 to $45. Some of our train tickets could have been purchased without the Eurail for under $20. Overall the Eurail Pass cost us over $600. However it provided me with some unbelievable experiences.
To begin, the Eurail pass safely transported us between three countries. It was quite the experience when the train arrived at the station and you had only a few minutes maximum to identify your car and get you and your luggage on the train. Being a petite young woman, I recall one time when I didn’t have the arm strength to lift my heavy luggage onto the train. I left it behind hoping my friend would see it and lift it on. Luckily she did and my luggage safely made its way to me, however I do not recommend repeating this. Additionally, along the way we met many fascinating individuals. On the fast train from Paris to Bordeaux we sat with a young man from Bordeaux. We had fun teaching each other card games and learning that we had a common interest in engineering. On another train from the border of France to Salamanca, Spain I met another man from France who was making his pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago, to Santiago de Compostela. I enjoyed hearing how he yearned to become a doctor so that he can help eliminate AIDS in Africa. To conclude, while in the end I think the Eurail pass was extremely expensive and it complicated my transportation between France, Spain, and Portugal, taking the train was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Therefore, I do not recommend purchasing the Eurail Pass; instead I recommend purchasing tickets directly at train stations in Europe.
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