When I first started planning my year of travel, something I debated heavily was whether or not to buy a Eurail pass. I knew I wanted to spend at least four months in France, with the option to travel in Spain or other neighboring countries on a whim. There are a lot of options for passes and I used Rick Steve’s Eurail guide to help determine the best option for me. After considering the choices, the 1st class saver pass seemed the most reasonable for my trip and would allow me six travel days in a two month period of time. (If you are over 25 the 2nd class ticket isn’t an option).
The cost for this pass is $460 and would allow me to travel in three countries in the European Union. But, after doing more research I realized an added cost to the pass is paying a reservation fee which can range from $11-$27 per seat and must be done in advance before each trip. Unlike popular belief, a Eurail or regional pass will not allow you to hop on and off the train as you wish. Instead, there are a limited amount of seats reserved for passengers with this pass and they can sell out quickly. The Eurail pass seemed like an easy option for saving money and maximizing my time in Europe, however I hesitated at the hefty price tag and increasing limitations on the flexibility of the ticket.
I also knew I’d be traveling slowly, staying in one place for a few weeks at a time and doing workaways. The more I read about the different passes the more I hesitated to spend such a large chunk of change on one. Instead of increasing your independence and flexibility, I realized this pass actually hinders it! Thankfully, I trusted my travel instincts and decided to wait until I got to Europe to decide whether or not I really needed this pass. I told myself I would calculate the costs of travel without the pass for a month and if it would save me money I would go ahead and buy it for my remaining time in Europe. This seemed like a good plan and went along with the “flying by the seat of my pants” theme for my trip so far.
When I arrived in Paris, I started hearing a lot about “car-sharing” as an alternative to train travel in Europe. Skeptical at first (especially since I don’t speak French!), I hesitated at the thought of putting all of my belongings in a stranger’s car and trusting that they would take me to an agreed upon destination. Still, everyone I talked to in France highly recommended I try it, so I finally made an online profile and was relieved to find several safety features in place.
Each person must fill out detailed information stating their gender, age, and certain preferences such as whether they prefer smoking, traveling with pets, listening to music, and how talkative they are (hence the name “Bla Bla Car”). There is also a space for reviews from former passengers and once you agree to share the trip the driver’s verified phone number is available for you to call for any questions. You can also pay the website directly (there is a small fee charged) or pay the driver at the completion of the trip.
I am so happy I gave this a chance! I’ve traveled several times using car-sharing in France and I can’t believe I ever had any doubts about traveling this way (especially since I’m an avid supporter of couch surfing and Workaway!) Not only does this form of traveling save the environment and your pocketbook, it puts you in touch with locals and can be more comfortable than sitting on a train for hours.
I’ve saved an incredible amount of money by using covoiturage and one of the women I met along the way gave me great advice about settling in France long-term and told me about a possible job opportunity. I’m not sure I would’ve had this same chance to make a connection had I been passed out on a train with my earplugs in. If you’re still not convinced meeting locals and reducing your carbon print at the same time is enough reason to give it a chance, perhaps the amount of money you’ll save will do the trick. To give you an idea of my train expenses vs. car sharing, here are the routes I’ve traveled in France and Spain so far with the costs below.
Paris-Caen $53.00 by train (2 hour duration)
Rennes-Lorient $57.00 by train (1 hour duration)
Lorient-Vannes $11.00 by train
Vannes-Bordeaux $30.000 by covoiturage (4 hour duration)
Bordeaux-Archachon $11.00 by train (45 min duration)
Bordeaux-Biarritz $15.00 by covoiturage (3 hour duration)
Biarritz-San Sebastien $11.00 by train ( 1 hour duration)
Bayonne-Dax $11.00 by train (30 min duration)
Dax-Toulouse $15.00 by covoiturage (4 1/2 hour duration)
Toulouse-Palmiers $11.00 by train (1 hour duration)
Total: $225.00 using 10 travel days in 2 months. Compared to spending $460 + additional reservation fees for only 6 travel days, this is a HUGE savings! Notice for many of the shorter trips I traveled by train for convenience. Covoiturage is best for longer distances when you have a few days notice to plan and book your trip. Since many of my destinations in France have been planned last minute, the option of using covoiturage and booking my own train tickets has been the cheapest and most flexible way for me to travel. Bla Bla Car is also available in Germany, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Italy. So there is no excuse not to try it!
Have you used car sharing while traveling? What has your experience been like? Have you used a Eurail pass? Did you find it worth the investment? I’d love to hear your thoughts!Google+