Tips for Eurail Travelling
(from a budget, "youth" traveller)
DISCLAIMER: Eurail changes yearly. The ticket plan I used (unlimited travel for 30 days) does not exist anymore.
Trains in southern Europe tend to lack announcements of any kind at any time for any reason. Even if you are stopped for hours on the tracks in the middle of Catalunya, chances are you won't be told why (although eventually you'll see the fire in the distance and figure it out). Keep your Eurail map handy and be aware of what stations you're passing through, 'cause no one down there will tell you.
As soon as your train and track are announced on the situation board in the station, run to the train. Do not walk. If you walk, and you don't have reserved seats, you will be screwed. This is especially true on weekends, and on any train going to Barcelona or Amsterdam.
Every teenager in Europe goes to Barcelona for the weekend, and they all take the train.
You will have to switch trains, unannounced, in the middle of the night in obscure French towns. Be prepared.
You are a second class traveller. If you sit in someone else's reserved seat in second class and they do not show up, the conductors will not care. If you sit in someone's reserved seat in first class and they do not show up, the conductors will care very much. You will be deported to second class and all the seats will be gone.
If you think the train that is pulling out is the one you want, and you're missing it, beware. If you jump on, the conductors who catch you in the doorway will literally push you off. But only after they've held onto you long enough that you think you'll be forever separated from your friends waiting on the platform.
At all costs, grab "couchette" seats. These seats are usually in a compartment to themselves, and consist of two groups of three seats which face each other. These seats can often be "reclined" and voila, you and your companions have beds.
Reservations for "couchette" seats are often free. Make them if so. Much reduction in anxiety.
"Sleeper" cars cost extra.
If you are afraid of pickpocketing, theft of luggage, and even being gassed into unconsciousness so the above can occur, lock the door to your compartment with a bicycle lock and chain. Chances are you'll never need it, and it's a pain when the conductors come around to check tickets, but it might make you feel safer and allow you to sleep.
The TGV costs extra. The Eurostar (Chunnel) train costs extra.
If you have to cross through non-Eurail countries you must buy extra tickets. You will be asked for these tickets every five minutes while in the non-Eurail country. If you are trying to sleep, add a passport check every ten minutes.
Other travellers will attempt to converse with you. Do not be alarmed. In countries other than the U.S. people actually do talk to people they don't know. You will probably learn something vital about where you're going that the guidebook conveniently left out.
Strange card games with verbal components amuse children who do not speak your language.
The ferry from France to Ireland can take 26 hours. The combined train and plane trip to Ireland via England is much shorter, but will cost about $300. Personal recommendation: sacrifice money for extra time in Ireland.
If you absolutely must bring all the extra weed you have left over from your stop in Amsterdam with you to your next destination, be aware that trains from Amsterdam are the most often searched for drugs (I wonder why?). Keeping your eighth in your shoe is uncomfortable and results in a fine marijuana powder.
Finally, trains are a cheap alternative (in that you've already paid for the train) to hostels/pensions for sleeping. However, the quality of sleep is poor to awful. Weigh your priorities.