If you are a young backpacker in Europe, you’re probably used to living and traveling on the cheap. This means slogging your way through hellish, uncomfortable plane, train, bus or ferry rides just to bask in the glory of getting to the next destination with a few cents still left in your pocket.
A surefire way to make sure you find yourself on at least one painfully uncomfortable, multi-hour transportation experience is to purchase a Eurail ticket. There are several different kinds you can get, but generally, the idea with a Eurail ticket is that you get more bang for your buck in the travel department. For my trip, my travel partner and I agreed on the 10 trips within 2 months ticket which meant that we got to use the ticket to travel as long or far as we wanted on any 10 given days within the span of 2 months.
One thing to keep in mind with these tickets: they guarantee you a ride on a train, but not a seat. So if you’re traveling a popular route, be prepared to accumulate stories like this:
Aleah and I were headed from Berlin to Prague. We weren’t too worried because we didn’t think Berlin to Prague was the most popular route, so we were flabbergasted when we arrived at the train station and saw the crowd of people waiting at our stop. We double checked the train schedule to make sure it was the right one. In the crowd of people outside the train, we were able to discern that the train was also headed to Budapest, where there was a huge music festival going on.
There was almost no room to breathe on the platform, and when the train arrived, most of the seats were already taken by passengers who arrived with the train. Walking up and down the aisles of the train from front to back, it became clear there were no seats available. But, with our Eurail pass, we didn’t need to get off the train—we just needed to find a clearing and make it work.
At the ends of every train car there is a small clearing for entering the train, exiting the train and using the
bathroom. On the floor of this clearing, with all of our baggage, sat me, Aleah and four Dutch guys. They had a whole lot of luggage. A LOT of luggage. So much luggage that everyone almost had to curl up into the fetal position to fit in. Some of the guys didn’t have room to sit, so they were sentenced to stand through the train ride.
We all started chatting with one another—because, as we found, most people that speak Dutch are also fluent in
English—and found out that these guys were in a band called Big Moose and they were headed to Budapest to play in the show. That explained all of their gear. They also had Eurail passes, which explained the unusual seating arrangements. Each Eurail pass comes with a map, and we all took out our maps and traded stories about the different routes we’d been on and the different crazy travel itineraries we’d had.
It was turning into a fun ride. Yes, we were all cramped into a tiny space on a train for an extended period of time, but there was a beautiful sense of brotherhood in it—we were all in it together! But there was one thing raining on our parade.
Like I said earlier, in the tiny clearing in which we were seated was the door to the bathroom. And continuously, people would have to walk over us and all of our stuff, go to the bathroom, leave, and inevitably the smell of the bathroom would waft in and ruin our high for the next 3-5 minutes. Finally, one band member had a genius idea. He pulled a bent piece of paper out of his backpack and wrote the following: “DEFECT.”
“Does anyone have any tape?” he asked. No one did, but I had something that might substitute. I pulled the “Eurail” sticker off of the cardboard envelope I received my Eurail pass in, and by the time I’d gotten it off, it was
still sticky enough to accomplish our goal. We stuck that sign to the door of the bathroom at our end, and never worried again. We watched people peer through the window, see that the bathroom was “out of order”, and not even bother walking all over us to investigate further. We’d all laugh whenever we saw people go, “Ah, defect? Damn!” We couldn’t believe it worked as well as it did.
When the train finally cleared out and we were able to sit in actual seats, I was a little bit bummed. It had been fun traveling with Big Moose on the floor of a train with no wiggle room, deceiving all those people who just wanted to go to the bathroom. It was just one of the many moments in Europe that proved that usually, traveling on the cheap is the most valuable way to travel.