Here’s how I know this can be a problem: I paid twice to take the train through Europe in 1999. It was clear Trisha and I had two strikes against us: we were very excited; we had no idea what we were doing.
We had established a strategy early on, which we thought would save us both time and money. In the end, I still believe it did. I’m also aware that we probably through away something in the neighborhood of $250.
Our plan was to spend every-other night at a hotel, and to spend the alternate nights on the train relocating us to a new destination. These were our general guidelines, but we didn’t want to waste the day sitting on the train. Though not the most comfortable for sleeping, we were able to save both time and money by being a little put out. It was a sacrifice we were willing to make.
Key to this plan was the Eurorail Student Pass. I believe in 1999 we paid $250 or $275 USD for each student pass. Eurorail, the amazing train system of Europe, define a student as anyone under 26.
Here’s where we went wrong.
I think the pass is meant to allow you to just get on any train you want. Present your pass as method of payment when reserving your ticket. Our first train ride was Lisbon, Portugal to Barcelona, Spain. It turned out to be the perfect storm of ignorance and confusion. The ticket agent in Lisbon told us we would have to pay for our tickets despite having the student passes. I’m not sure if we did something wrong, or if there was a language problem, if she was new or if we were just stupid enough to pay it… but we paid for that, and every other ticket on our trip. It didn’t feel like a hardship, but after the fact it certainly felt like the whole situation didn’t go as planned.
This lesson isn’t just about trains; it’s about asking questions and really understanding what is included in your package. Whether you’re taking a cruise or a road trip, don’t be afraid to ask questions (and ask again, if necessary). What is included, and more importantly, what is not. What do they mean when they say “all-inclusive” or “transportation optional”? If you aren’t sure, kindly ask someone from the hotel/resort/train/airline/etc. It is their job, after all, to assist.