With a screech the alarm erupted beside my head, doing its best to wake the entire dorm as I scrambled for the snooze button. Hoisting my bag, the morning sun promised another hot day as I wandered into downtown Portland. Sadly I would not be there to enjoy it, however – my time in the US had come to an end all too quickly, and in 23 hours I would be back in Europe.
While my first month earlier in the year was all about the west – Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Austria – this time I’d be doing something different. The lovely people at Eurail.com had offered me a Global Flexi Pass, valid for 15 days of travel over the course of two months, throughout 22 different countries. Looking at the map, the options seemed endless.
Would I explore some of the areas I had been to before in more depth? I’ve seen so little of France, for instance, and barely scratched the surface of Spain or Germany either. How about going north, taking the opportunity to visit places like Norway and Sweden that I’d always wanted to check out but never quite made it to?
After considering dozens of different routes, though, one general direction kept presenting itself. As appealing as the other choices were, they would have to wait for another time. The decision was made: for several weeks from mid-July, I’d be heading east.
There’s two main reasons for this, one entirely practical and one more whimsical. I need to be in Turkey for a yacht trip with friends in early September, so it makes sense to travel generally in that direction. That’s the sensible part.
The whimsical bit is simply the fact that the central and eastern parts of Europe are a huge blank space on my mental map of the world. Other than a few weeks holidaying on islands in Greece, I’d never been further than the north-western tip of Croatia. My knowledge of places like Bosnia and Serbia is limited to sketchy memories of war footage from the early nineties, but I know there’s so much more.
Countries like Romania and Bulgaria still haven’t really made it into the global eye as tourist destinations, yet the history, beautiful Black Sea beaches and relatively low prices hold great appeal for me.
I make no secret of the fact that my preferred mode of transport, bar none, is train. Being able to turn up a few minutes beforehand, walk on board and enjoy a drink while watching rolling countryside and small villages pass by is infinitely better than spending hours enduring security lines and cramped seating with a budget airline.
With my Eurail pass, it’s even better. For everything except the high speed and sleeper trains, I don’t even need a reservation. I can literally decide on a moment’s notice that I’d like to check out somewhere new today. If I see somewhere appealing in the guidebook that’s a few hours away , there’s no lining up for tickets, no paying expensive last-minute rates … I just go. For someone like me with an allergy to planning, it’s perfect.
Because I’m over 26, I can only use a first class Eurail pass. This somewhat-arbitrary decision by the train companies adds significant additional cost (around half as much again), but usually gives more room and comfort, complimentary tea and coffee and power sockets to keep my laptop going if I decide to get some work done onboard. Most importantly when travelling in the height of the European summer, it means there should usually be a seat available. That’s kinda handy.
While a Global Pass like mine offers the greatest flexibility, there are plenty of other, cheaper passes available as well. Fewer travel days or a smaller range of countries keep the price down while retaining most of the freedom. If you’re only going to a single country – Italy, for instance, or Spain – there are even One Country passes for those as well.
I’ll be doing a wrap-up at the end of my trip comparing the cost of the pass versus buying point to point tickets for the places I’m going, so keep an eye out for that towards the end of next month.
As you can probably tell, I’m very excited about what the next few weeks have in store. While the exact cities and towns remain largely unknown at this point, the general route looks something like this (everything in bold is covered by the pass):
Germany –> Czech Republic –> Slovakia –> Hungary –> Croatia –> Bosnia –> Serbia –> Romania –> Bulgaria –> Turkey.
I can’t wait!
And hey, if you’re going to be anywhere in the area between now and the end of August, be sure to let me know. After all, I’m only a train ride away…
As mentioned, Eurail.com has graciously provided a complimentary pass to allow this trip to happen. As always all reviews and opinions will be my own, but I’m genuinely excited for the opportunity to explore the continent like this!