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Photos: A European tour

By Charles Leocha Travel columnist

updated 4/10/2006 2:01:23 PM ET 2006-04-10T18:01:23

Back in the days of free love and VW buses, the Eurailpass was the only way to travel through Europe. It was the bargain to end all bargains — especially if you slept on the trains.

But today, it’s almost always cheaper to rent a car. Eurailpass prices have increased a lot in the last 30 years, and rental car rates have come down. Solo travelers will usually spend more for a car than a rail pass, but for two or more people traveling together, a rental car is almost always the better deal.

Back in the heyday of the rail passes, auto travel through Europe was an arduous affair. True, there was a small network of superhighways in France, Italy and Germany, but for the most part, the roads in Europe a quarter-century ago were almost exclusively two-lane affairs — and that goes for Great Britain and Ireland, too.

Today, high-speed roadways link all corners of Europe. Trips that once took two days can now be driven in less than 10 hours, and daylong journeys are now four-hour jaunts. Sometimes you have to look hard to find a less-traveled byway.

The rail-pass world

This year, the venerable Eurailpass costs $605 for 15 days of travel anywhere in Europe except the United Kingdom. Discounted Eurailpasses are available for $513, but two people must travel together. Train passes are also available for various country combinations; for example, a France/Spain combination pass sells for $522 (first class) or $459 (second class).

There are also some 10-day in-country passes available; generally, these must be used within one or two months. A 10-day pass for Germany costs $464 (first class) and $324 (second class); a pass for Spain costs $470 (first class) and $385 (second class); and France has similar pricing. The BritRail pass, good for 15 days, costs $702 (first class) and $469 (second class).


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