(@Eurail), the Ultimate Train Challenge and… Which Way Should I Go?? 40

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Ultimate Train Challenge logo

The beginning of The Ultimate Train Challenge is exactly two weeks from today and I face a typical situation of my personal style of traveling.

I have absolutely no idea what route I am going to take. No idea at all.

At least I know how I am going to get around, once I sort out the where part. The amazing folks at are one of the primary sponsors of UTC11 (#utc11 is our Twitter hashtag for this zany adventure) and they have generously denoted three passes good for 15 days of train travel in a 2 month period. Of course, we will be using the 15 days in …. 15 days.

eurail logo was the first sponsor to sign up with the Ultimate Train Challenge and they have been a complete and utter joy to work with. If I am fortunate enough to be able to work with companies this professional, knowledgeable and conscientious in the future, I will be a lucky, lucky travel blogger.

So, as you know, I am a big fan of trivia, so I put the folks to work on coming up with some odd and/or interesting facts about their company and its products:

  • The service and sales team replies to 75,000 questions by e-mail per year (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese). In the first six months of 2011 the number of answered Facebook replies is 5,000 (English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese).
  • Eurail.Com services to over 216 nationalities and delivers worldwide.
  • Most popular Eurail pass: Global Youth pass 15 days.
  • Most popular benefit: free ferry crossings between Italy and Greece.
  • In 2012, Slovakia will be added to the Eurail Global Pass offer. In 2012 they transported 45 million passengers and this is likely to increase because of the Global pass travelers!  (I thought that number was a mistake, so I asked them twice)
  • met over 2,000 of her travelers all in one week in Venice: in July they celebrated their Mashable Award with fans by offering free gondola tours for every customer who bought their rail products from either or We’re looking for suggestions on what they might do next year.
  • Eurail.Com actually has three websites:, and (their newest). InterRail is the rail product for Europeans.
  • Most popular countries to travel in: Italy, France, Spain and Germany.
  • And… they are going to be handing Eastern Europe soon, so you are going to be able to use their Rail Passes everywhere in Europe, for the most part.
michael hodson boarding train in zambia africa

one goal of this trip... I need more pics of me with trains

In short, they are the preeminent supplier for your European train travel needs. Their website is a snap to work with — you can check train schedules, figure out which of their many pass options work for you, or check out the map of the extensive European rail system.

Did you know that Germany has 29,3oo miles(47,200 km) of railways?!  For comparisons sake, the entire United States Interstate Highway System is 46,876 miles (75,440 km).

The area of Germany is 357,021 sq km, or 137,847 square miles – slightly smaller than the state of Montana. Or half the size of Texas.

You think it might be time for the US to start catching up on basic infrastructure yet?

eurail map, europe railway map, european railroad map, map

So, let’s get back to my mini-dilemma. Which route am I going to take?

Par for the course on all things Train Challenge, Jeannie is ahead of me here. She has set up online polls of her readers to choose locations she should stop in Spain and in France, and no doubt others soon enough. I am far from that tech savvy.

Nora, perhaps the most prepared and plan-oriented traveler I have met yet, has already agonized over this and I am sure has come up with a hour-by-hour route.

On the other hand, my basic travel style is just to show up and see what happens.

Given how much trouble I have had with that “strategy” in the last month over here in Europe, I am thinking I might need to make some revisions and come up with a plan. Heck, I might actually make some reservations for some of the overnight trains.

I know. Crazy talk.

So I shall open this up to the crowd. There are a variety of different themes I can go with on this trip — and I am a theme kind of person.

  • Visiting all the “tiny” countries: Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino.
  • Making the furthest north, with a mad dash all the way up to Sweden, including a part where the train actually rides on a ferry. For real.
  • Hitting the best wine regions in Europe: Rioja, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Mosel, etc. Damn, perhaps that is a bad one to pick.
  • Making it all the way south to Greece and though the Balkans, all new territory for me, aside from Croatia.
  • Maybe a “best castles in Europe” quest?
  • How many different beers native to a country can I taste in two weeks?
  • Or anything else you can think of….

So put your creative hats on. I want to hear it. No theme is too offbeat or odd for my taste. Well…. perhaps there are a few themes I might have to censor, but generally speaking, you get my point.

I await your desire to make me do something slightly crazy, offbeat, and memorable.


To book tickets or find out more visit Eurail’s website.  I highly recommend “liking” their fan page, quite often they offer contests or special deals.  And of course, don’t forget to follow their Twitter stream, to find out just why that won that award.  Did you know they even have a  YouTube channel?  To get the travel juices flowing.

Don’t forget to also follow the Train Challenge antics, and stalk us on Facebook or Twitter.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

40 thoughts on “ (@Eurail), the Ultimate Train Challenge and… Which Way Should I Go??

  • Nora

    So….I’m one of the most prepared and plan-oriented travelers you’ve met yet, huh? What does that say about me? Not to mention the other travelers you’ve met?

    Meh – who am I kidding? I’m totally OCD. 🙂

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Your OCD is going to save me. Already has a few times in this planning stage.

  • Erin

    fun fun fun! The wine themed trip sounds awesome even if it is a recipe for disaster. Best castles sounds fun, too!
    How about a crappy adventure?! You could visit all the places people recommend you to NOT go. heehee.
    oooo how about a haunted journey? Haunted houses / castles – Europe is FULL of them! scary! 🙂

    • Katrina Mauro

      I LOVE that idea!!! I can see the post now… “Where I was Told NOT to go, and Why I Loved it”

      • Michael Hodson Post author

        That actually does sound like something I would do. I do have a really odd list of countries I want to do another travel “quest” on in 2012 that is similar to that…

  • Katrina Mauro

    Wow Michael! This is great! I would love to do something like this. Regarding your themes, I love the idea of seeing all the tiny countries…especially if you’re doing a train per day, I mean that will be the best route to maximize time for each place. Europe’s best castles would be great too! As would the wine theme. I also really want to make it to the Balkans and Croatia, so those sound spectacular… however, I gotta say that the idea of riding a train on a ferry is the most captivating to me – and how much cooler would the pic of the ferry train be than just the train? Also, I really liked Sweden, and might be partial there due to my consistent craving for Reindeer with lingionberry gravy since I had it there 8 years ago.
    Ultimately, I’m for doing whichever route maximizes what you see/do, rather than maximizing how much time is spent on rails.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I am thinking maybe some of the tiny countries, then also maybe the northern route right now… don’t know.

  • Jess

    I love all of the suggestions so far. I’m a bit of a train lover too so can’t wait to follow you guys on your journey (quest?).

    I read a book once about WWII which talked about hundreds of people going east to west across Europe to escape the war on trains. The book actually wasn’t that great but the picture of people escaping on train after train not even knowing where each one would stop or was going to end up has stuck in my mind.

    Anyway, not a suggestion for a route because it’s the wrong direction but just a bit of train trivia for you!

  • Erik

    Can’t go wrong with the beer tour!

    I think you might find the tiny countries tour hard to do since Andorra and San Marino don’t have direct train connections.

    I love the rail passes, I used to sell them at our bookstore in Chicago. I’ll be following!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yea, I know they don’t have train connections, which I think will make it more interesting. Train up close, then see if I can quickly hitchhike or catch a bus. I know I am going to try a few of the small ones like that at least.

  • Chantal, Eurail.Com

    How about the challenge of… a seriously fierce party of lasergaming followed by a “bitterbal” and a Dutch beer around our office in Utrecht, Netherlands 😉 I just posted a status update with this article asking for travel tips to the Eurail and InterRail Facebook, keep an eye on it for the suggestions!

    Good luck guys!


  • ehalvey

    I like the beer tour idea, but how about only traveling to countries that have an R in their name? Or the order that the country broke off/was sacked from the Roman Empire? I’m a history dork.

    I had a theme of only going to the -lands for a while: Ireland, England, Switzerland and Deutschland.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      all of those would be great ideas… if I didn’t have to actually find a way to make it across Europe, only by train! LOL.

  • Mikeachim

    If you’re truly leaving it all until the last minute – and I’m not sure I believe you 😉 – then you’re doing it the right way. It’s possible to do it in most of continental Europe even if you’re paying as you go along. In the UK, getting tickets on the day is the way to pay 500%+ the normal price. No, really. Never ever book your train tickets the same day in the UK. It’s financial suicide.

    Greece and the Balkans would get my vote – although Greece can be pretty heaving and raucous at this time of year, and I know from Facebook that you hated that about summery Europe. In which case….Eastern Europe. Architecture, food, less people…beer.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      If you are planner, Sir, you will hate traveling in my company. Not only not joking about having no idea. Still don’t.

      The reason I picked September was that it was out of high season, so I am hopeful (crossing fingers) that just winging it is going to be largely possible. We’ll see!

  • Audrey | Uncornered Market

    I’m torn between the wine tour and the Balkans (also a region I don’t know outside of Croatia). Only worry with the wine theme is that you may never leave…

    Northern route would be fun, but it’s going to be getting a bit cold and gray by that time – save that for the crazy white nights of summertime.

    You could also push your luck and try to get into Belarus and try the “last dictator of Europe” theme…

  • dtravelsround

    Oh goodness!! I have been on the Eurail system throughout nearly all of the countries they offer. Here are my thoughts: if you are in need of something quick, do NOT go on any train through the Balkans. The trains are slow. They stop a lot. They are nearly always late. Trains through this region are notoriously a pain. I never even finished a train ride from Bulgaria to Montenegro because it was nearly 5 hours delayed … with no arrival time in sight. I like the idea of a wine tour — it is the one I would do. Or, since I am a sucker for scenery, would love to do one that traces the coastal areas … I cannot wait to follow along on this journey. I hope you do this next year. I want a seat!!

  • Walter

    I’d say try to have one goal north or south, then later go to the opposite direction and explore. 🙂

  • Jing

    I mean that will be the best route to maximize time for each place. Europe’s best castles would be great too! As would the wine theme.

  • Lily

    Hi Michael,

    I vote for the “tiny” countries in Europe quest – they can be quick day trips, plus you get to add a new country to your train challenge list 😉

    If you’re in a crunch for time, the German/Austrian trains are an efficient way to go and they connect to neighbouring countries like Benelux, Italy, Hungary etc (plus, no reservations needed).

    Good luck tomorrow! Keep us updated 😉

    – Lily

  • Abi

    How about a lucky dip? Either pick a platform number randomly or ask the station staff to suggest somewhere…With a few limitations…Otherwise you could end up travelling round and round in circles…;)

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