Whether you plan to visit Europe, Japan, the United States or another country offering rail passes it takes some serious time and effort to determine whether or not it is practical and economical to purchase individual train tickets for every journey opposed to an official pass.

Rail Passes for Frequent Travel

Based on our experience, rail passes tend to be the preferred choice if you plan to travel a lot during your visit within a specific country such as Japan, or a specific region such as the Eurozone. For instance, if you plan on visiting Japan (like we did recently) for 2 weeks then purchasing individual train tickets can be an okay idea if you plan to see just one or two places. However, with such an array of places to see most tourists tend to want to see various sites within cities, between cities and anywhere in-between.

Rail Passes based on Location

Japan Rail Passes

During our recent trip to Japan, our decision to buy and use Japan Rail Passes turned out to be an extremely convenient and cost-saving decision. Each of us spent 17 days in Japan, so we pre-purchased 14 day rail passes before our trip began. We travelled frequently throughout our journey to maximize the freedom associated with using the Pass.

Additional Information about Japan Rail Passes

  • Japan Rail Passes save time. When you go to board a train or exit a train all you have to do is quickly show your card to one of the train employees. You don’t have to wait in a line to scan a card or purchase individual train tickets for each connection of your journey. Technically, you feel like a VIP as you fast-track your way onto the train.
  • Japan Rail Passes can save large sums of money. But there is one condition – you must travel frequently. For example, if you decide to visit Japan for a week and you purchase the 7 day pass, then technically, you should be planning on travelling 4 journey’s to other destinations. Using the bullet trains will also make sure that you utilize the amount used for the pass as these tickets tend to be more expensive.
  • Japan Rail Passes can be used for some, but not all of the ‘bullet trains’ in Japan. Many of the bullet trains in Japan are covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Therefore, try to use these trains if they are available for the journey’s you want to complete. This saved us valuable time during our visit to Japan.
  • Japan Rail Passes must be purchased abroad before your arrival in Japan. If you plan on purchasing a Japan Rail pass then you must be quite proactive. That means pre-purchasing one well before your flight to Japan and getting it mailed/couriered to your address. You then have to bring the paperwork with you to formally activate it at one of the official Japan Rail Pass offices that offer this service after your arrival.
  • Japan Rail Pass holders don’t need to make seat reservations for most trains. Unless you are taking a bullet train that requires seat reservations to be made or it’s a peak period for travel in Japan, then seat reservations typically don’t have to be made. We made some reservations on days that we knew we wanted to travel on, but when we boarded the train there were plenty of seats to choose from.
  • Japan Rail Passes are sold for different periods of time. For example, 7- day, 14-day, and 21-day passes are available to suit your travel itinerary.  Therefore, if you are in Japan for 9 days the 7-day pass might suffice if you don’t plan on taking a train for the first 2 days or last 2 days of your trip.
  • Japan Rail Passes can cover either the entire country or selected regions. Once you have made your itinerary then check to see if you are going to be in different regions of Japan. For example, if you are going to see Tokyo, Nagano and Mount Fuji then the JR East Pass will be sufficient. However, if you then want to go to Kyoto and then Hiroshima during the same trip, you are better off getting the Japan Rail Pass which covers different regions of the country.