Getting There: The Best Option for European Trains

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Decide which is the better option for your European vacation: the Eurailpass or Inter-Rail.

The high prices typical in numerous European countries have forced many folks to erase that continent from their vacation dream list during the past few years. If you’re one of those people, though, 1982 just may be your time to reconsider. The astronomically high U.S. interest rates have (for a while, at least) artificially inflated the value of the dollar overseas, tilting foreign exchange rates heavily in Americans’ favor. This means that your money could have as much as 20 to 30 percent more purchasing power in Europe than it did in 1980. In addition, the following tips — offered by a couple of our readers — could help you to save even more cash.

Eurailpass vs. Inter-Rail

“For those who wish to incorporate train travel into their tour of western Europe, a one- or two-month pass can prove to be quite economical,” writes Tom O’Neill.

“The most publicized of these is, of course, the Eurailpass, but if you’re under 26 years of age, the lesser-known Inter-Rail pass can be an even better bargain. Both provide unlimited second-class train travel for a period of one month (there are also special Eurail-passes that offer first-class seating and two-month Eurailpasses), and both are valid in approximately the same 19 or 20 countries. The main difference between the two of them is cost.

“In 1981 the one-month youth Eurailpass, at $260, was almost half again as much as the typical $180 Inter-Rail. I say typical because — as a result of different dollar exchange rates among the various European currencies — that price can range from a high of $200 down to $130 or so. For example, in October 1981 — when I gave up hitching for the ease of train travel — the Inter-Rail would have set me back the equivalent of $180 in the Netherlands. But in its two nearest neighbors to the south, Belgium and Luxembourg, the exchange rate was such that the cost was just $135!

“Furthermore, I discovered that Luxembourg is the European terminus for Icelandic Air and Air Bahamas, which are not members of the International Air Transport Association and are, therefore, quite inexpensive transatlantic carriers. Thus, that nation offers the happy combination of reasonable airfares to the heart of Europe and low-cost rail passes once you arrive!

“To determine the Inter-Rail cost in a given country, you’ll need to know both its price (in the local currency) and, of course, the country’s currency exchange rate, which can be expected to vary daily. (Major railway offices may or may not be able to tell you the charge for the pass in adjacent countries. Transalpino, a European student-and-youth-discount railway agency, also sells Inter-Rail passes and is often quite helpful.) Daily exchange rates are quoted in major newspapers.

“If you wish to travel by train for more than four weeks, a two-month Eurailpass could turn out to be less expensive than two one-month Inter-Rails. Possibly the greatest advantage of the Inter-Rail, though, is that — unlike the Eurailpass — you needn’t purchase it before you go and specify the date it should start. Rather, you can obtain an Inter-Rail on the spot from any major European train agency.”

(Note: On rare occasions, you may be asked to prove European residence when buying a pass. But, in such a case, giving a European address is usually sufficient.)

Explore France by Farm

Should you have the opportunity to take a break between the expiration of one Inter-Rail pass and the purchase of another, you might consider a “farm vacation” in France, an experience that offers a lot for the money according to Geraldine Kravis, who writes: “More and more French farmers are opening their homes to visitors who might stay for as little as one night or as long as the entire summer. Some of the available accommodations are simple farmhouses, while others are restored chateaux. In France, these lodgings are known as chambres d’hôte, and though their ancient, rustic charm is almost guaranteed, most of them do include indoor plumbing.

“The advantages of such stopovers are numerous. For one thing, your hosts will know the history of the area and can provide invaluable help in arranging trips . . . such as a bike jaunt from one farmhouse to the next or, say, taking time out to ride thoroughbreds in Burgundy’s Morvan Forest. For another, chambres d’hôte keepers are often able (and willing!) to demonstrate such skills as wine-making, tobacco growing, oyster cultivation or even preparing homemade pâté de fois gras. Prices average about 50 francs (roughly $8.50 U.S. at this writing) a night, per person and include breakfast . . . but don’t expect a private bath.”

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