You've paid a bunch of money for something that looks kind of like an old carbon credit card receipt. You have no idea what to do with it or how it works. Fret not!
Step 1. Validate at the station.
First of all, you don't need to do anything with your pass until you get to Europe and decide to validate it.
Rail passes must be validated within six months of their purchase date. To do this, once you're abroad on your trip, take your self, your rail pass and your passport to your nearest train station, and hand the papers over at the ticket window. The ticket seller writes your passport number on the pass, the pass's validity dates and stamps the pass with a big rubber stamp. Voilà: validated.
Step 2. Write the date in the boxes.
On the bottom part of a flexible day Eurail Pass, you'll find two rows—one for the month of travel and one for the day. Fill those in with your travel day and you're ready to go hop on a train. If you purchased a consecutive day Eurail Global Pass, the first and last day that your pass is valid is printed on the pass, so no worrying about filling in travel dates. Simple, no?
Any time you travel using your pass, you'll need to show your passport along with the pass, even if you're not leaving the country.
Some friendly advice: Don't try to erase or alter your travel dates in order to finagle another day of use on your pass. This is fraud, and it's grounds for the conductor to confiscate your pass and maybe boot you off the train. Don't ask us how we know the consequences. (cough!)
Tip: Consider point-to-point tickets for short trips.
As we mentioned earlier, rail passes are expensive, so on occasion it might be worth it to buy point-to-point tickets. One rule of thumb is that if the trip takes less than three hours, it's worthwhile to buy tickets instead of using a day of your pass. Most three hour trips will cost you less than the price of a travel day (for example, a Venice to Milan trip takes about three hours, and will cost you from €19 to €35, depending on the type of train).
This not only allows you to save travel days on your pass, it potentially saves you money.
Still not sure if you need a rail pass or point to point ticket? Check pass prices with EuroCheapo's rail partner, Rail Europe.
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