Getting Around: Do I need a Rail Pass?

Purchasing a rail or metro pass. Is it really necessary? Well, that really depends on a few factors.

  1. Where are you traveling?
    • Big city
    • Rural town
  2. When are you traveling?
    • Summer
    • Autumn
    • Spring
    • Winter
  3. How long will you be abroad?
  4. How much walking are you comfortable with doing?
    • Are you fine walking for miles around a city?
    • Do you have an injury or disability that inhibits walking?
  5. How much traveling long distances will you be doing?
    • Will you be staying mainly in one area and taking day trips to nearby locations?
    • Are you hopping from one city to another a lot?
  6. Are you doing self-guided adventures or are you booking guided tours?

Of all the places I have visited in my life, the places where I have found that a metro/rail card are necessary have mainly been in the USA, not Europe or Asia. Although, I should say that I found it necessary when in Japan simply because I was living full-time there so I traveled a lot by rail.

Boston, New York City and Chicago are locations where a metro/rail card will be essential. Parking your car in the city center will be not only difficult but also expensive. Traffic will be difficult to navigate while also trying to get your footing and take in the sights. In these places, even if you are only there for a day, a transit pass will allow you to not worry about carrying cash, determining the appropriate fair for each ride, etc. while also deciphering the schedules and maps.

Rail/transit passes can be expensive when you are staying in a country for several days or weeks. When considering the benefits vs drawbacks of a transit pass, first look at the time of year you are traveling. Will the weather be cold, wet or immensely hot? Are you wanting to avoid walking long distances in unfavorable weather? Do you have an injury or find it difficult to walk long distances for several days in a row? If so, then you may want to consider a pass.

Cities like Dublin, Galway, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness can easily be walked as many sites are nearby each other. A single bus or train to an area and one returning to the point of origin can work well in these cases. If you are booking tours out of the city to see major sites like castles, battlefields, memorials or countryside, then there is even less need for a transit pass. However, if you are choosing to have your adventures be self-guided or more spontaneous, then you may want to get a transit pass so that you have prepaid for all possible transportation.

If you are visiting several cities, it may be best to pre-book and pay for your travel between cities (we chose to when we were in Ireland and Scotland) but chose to walk the cities as much as possible, only taking transit when our feet were tired or it was getting late and we wanted to hurry back to the hostel.

It is important to look at the over all cost of transit for your trip. If you add in round trip or one way transit from city to city and it is only a few dollars/Euros/pounds more to get a pass for the duration of your trip, then it may be a better option to get a pass. Or you may find that it is more cost effective to have your major inter-city travels pre-booked and paid in advance and simply grab a train/tram/bus as needed out of pocket.

Be sure to watch out for regional vs national passes. Some cities will have their own rail/metro passes but you would need an additional one for outside the city.

In all, it is a personal choice in most cases. It is all about what you are able and wanting to accomplish. A little homework and planning and you can make the choice that works best for you and your companions!

“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wander often, for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee


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