1. Losing all sense of privacy and personal space
You never would have guessed just how comfortably you can fit ten people in a six-person seating compartment. Yes, you had that Spanish guy’s foot in your face all night, but you were able to get in some solid sleep before arriving bleary-eyed and mussed-haired in Port Bou at 5 in the morning. Just another night riding the rails of Europe.
2. Waking up in the middle of the night and wondering what country you were in
You didn’t typically need to flash your passport when crossing borders, or you just left it on top of your bag while you slept so the immigration guys could stamp it and leave you in peace. So, those forested mountains out the window, shining in the moonlight…Germany? Belgium?
3. Covering nowhere near as much territory as you thought you would
Okay, so we’ll start in Madrid, head up to Amsterdam, drop down through Prague and Venice, catch the ferry to Greece… But then it was already two weeks into your four and you were having way too much fun hopping from town to town through the Basque country and you realized — maybe it’ll just be Spain and France on this trip.
4. Feeling empowered, capable, and independent like you never had before
Who figured out that the fastest way to get to Ljubljana was to actually travel backward an hour so you could catch the overnight express from Munich? You did. Who made sure your entire group was awake and at the station to catch the 03.23 to Kosice? You again. Especially if you were fresh out of high school, or if this was simply your first trip abroad, acting as your own Eurail-wielding travel agent showed you a side of yourself your parents doubted existed.
5. Having an enlightening geopolitical discussion with a group of total strangers
Wait, not everyone loves America? Who knew!? But somehow that motley collection of Indian, Argentine, German, and Ukrainian backpackers still managed to let you down gently.
6. Getting so used to sleeping on the floor of a moving train that a nice hotel bed felt weird
You high-fived your friends when, after walking nearly the entire length of the train and finding no seats, you came to a utility car with no one in it and space for all of you to lay out your sleeping bags on the floor. Who needs a mattress or pillow mints? You’re a Eurail superstar.
7. Playing way too much poker
That dog-eared pack of cards was your go-to entertainment option when conversation, window gazing, and dining-car booze wore thin. To this day, every hand of Texas hold ’em reminds you of that cute Danish girl you taught how to play, and then proceeded to let win all night.
8. Never getting over the fact that you could travel 20 minutes down the line to Zagreb, or three days west to Lisbon, and it would cost the exact same
That’s why you bought the Eurail pass in the first place — you won’t get the same flexibility for that price from any other mode of traveling the continent.
9. Learning the most wildly inappropriate profanities in all the languages of Europe
Cultural exchange runs rampant on European trains, language learning included. Unfortunately, you’ll never be able to use any of those four-letter Gaelic words your new best friend Fearghal taught you that one night after your second bottle of wine.
10. Laughing at other American tourists
The loud-talker from Des Moines who wouldn’t stop going on about how much her boyfriend probably missed her. Those kids from Colby with the Phish shirts and Visine. The New York high-schooler who got separated from his buddies when the train doors closed and made a move to pull the emergency stop lever, before being shouted down by everyone else in the passenger car. Yeah, you were so much cooler than them.
11. Developing regional stereotypes based on how people behaved on your train
Man, that group of 30 Italians was rowdy. Do all Australians drink so much? You never knew Koreans were so selfish that they wouldn’t share their seating compartment when there was clearly enough room for two more.
12. Feeling completely clueless about the whole reservation thing
You thought you’d scored the perfect reclining seat on the night train to Paris, until that German businessman calmly informed you it was in fact his, bought and paid for. He had a reservation. Reservation? With a Eurail pass, wasn’t the entire train fair game? You’ve heard enough similar stories from fellow Eurailers over the years that the new reservation booking service from Eurail.com seems like a no-brainer.
13. Becoming an expert in the geography of tiny Austrian mountain towns
Kitzbühel is east of Wörgl and just a ten-minute train ride from Mittersill. It’s also the home of what you still consider the best fondue you’ve ever eaten.
14. Discovering that trains and epic tequila hangovers do not mix
Seriously, if you had it to do over again, you’d unroll your bag and sleep it off there on the platform. Holding yourself over an Italian train toilet somewhere between Viareggio and La Spezia, regretting every euro you spent on that bottle of Sauza, was probably the low point of your trip.
15. Wondering why there are people in the world who don’t use the 24-hour clock
When that train you have to catch is scheduled to depart the station at 6 o’clock, you don’t want to have to deal with AMs and PMs, evenings or mornings. Just tell me 6:00 or 18:00, dammit! The same should go for life in the US.
16. Meeting between cars for a clandestine hookup / drink / smoke
Not because you had any real privacy there. There was just something about those noisy, unstable spaces, where you could feel the power of the train most intimately, that encouraged the loss of inhibitions. A kind of rail-bound international waters. Good times.
17. Forgoing entire countries because they weren’t part of the network
Depending on when your formative Eurail experience occurred, there were certain countries in which your magic pass wasn’t accepted. Fine — Denmark, Czech Republic, Bulgaria? Who needs ’em! Fortunately, in the intervening years each of these places, and many more, have jumped on the bandwagon. The Eurail Global Pass now gives you access to 24 countries.
18. Coming to life-altering epiphanies about quitting your job / dumping your boyfriend / transferring colleges / etc
It’s not about whether you followed through once you got home. It’s about the feeling you had when you were there. And if you actually did follow through — cheers! Your Eurail trip made you the person you are today. I know it did for me.
Feature photo: Felix Montino