Unraveling the Mysteries of European Train Passes

After many, many hours of poring over library books, Rick Steves videos, public transport websites and traveler’s forums, I have pinned down reservations for all major aspects of our upcoming trip and have been dubbed by Marcie as Christina Rick Steves Howell.

Which Train Pass?

When I started looking at our transportation options, the Swiss pass looked pretty appealing with its one price for all public transport including trains, gondolas, cable cars, buses, and even boats as well as free entry to something like 5 billion museums. A bit pricey at $252/person for 4 days, but the one price, low hassle aspect is certainly worth consideration.

Ok, but since we’d be going to three countries, there was more (so much more) to take into account. Should we get the Swiss pass plus the German pass?  Or the Swiss-German combo? What about the French-Swiss combo?  Or the Global pass, or the Flexi pass, or the Half fare pass….?  Of course, there’s always the more complicated option of buying point to point as we went.

I agonized over the options and tried in vain to find a site that would tell me definitively, “Yes, this is the solution for you.” Add that I was working on an extremely complicated project at work, and I had a serious concern that my head was going to explode.

Map it out to Determine Savings

Oberhofen castle in SwitzerlandFinally, I had to do what the people on the forums kept saying.  I had to sit down and map out what each individual leg of the journey would cost for each option.  I spent an entire day plugging in routes on Rail Europe and the German bahn.de and SNCF French rail and SBB Swiss rail.   Ok, to be fair,  there were substantial amounts of time when I got distracted by the beauty of all the places on our itinerary.  …And… I may have discovered Pinterest! http://pinterest.com/rathbone6/

At the end of the day, I had an Excel spreadsheet full of fares converted from Euros and Swiss francs that added up to tell me that my first instinct of going with the Swiss pass was the way to go.  The German & French combo passes didn’t cover any of the city public transport, so they were quickly ruled out.  From my calculations, the Swiss pass would end up being very close to what we would pay point to point.  Figure in the ease of just buying the tickets once and the 15% discount on the hotel and it was the clear winner.

The Swiss Pass was the Winner for our Journey

Hotel Eiffel Seine ParisI found that with the Swiss Pass, our best bet is to go from Munich to the first town on the Swiss border, St. Margrethen’s, on German Bahn train, then switch to the “free” Swiss train system from there.   The same idea
applies for our trip from Switzerland to France.  Take Swiss trains to Basel on the border of France & take French SNCF trains to Paris.  We’ll stay in Paris one night at a lovely hotel that Marcie found near the Eiffel tower.

Now if I can just get the pass in my grubby hands… UPS says they delivered it on Tuesday 6 days ago to my porch.  No sign of it yet, but Rail Europe was kind enough to reprint and send another on it’s way to me.


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  • Mark Overton

    September 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Looking great! Cannot wait to see you guys!

  • Unknown

    August 14, 2013 at 2:34 am


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About Me

Hi, I'm Christina. I love travel, cats, gardens, house sitting, birds, painting, dogs, museums, good food & drink, you know - all the good stuff! I've been working on my first memoir, Magicians, Cross Dressers and My Uterus while living my second!

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