Once upon a time, before the smartphone ushered in the Airbnb app and Eurail trip planner with their limitless resources sitting a finger tap away, I remember packing my carry-on and mulling which guidebooks I should bring, which I’d leave behind and what I’d sacrifice to fit it all.
Lonely Planet or Fodor’s?
The summer train timetables or that paper-weight-sized Bradt Guide?
The Moon Guide or pants?!?
A guidebook or trousers…talk about a Sophie’s choice!
Long gone are the physical guidebooks, timetables and pamphlets. Now, all that information and much more lives on our smartphones. But it’s all too easy to lose yourself in the smartphone glow, even in Europe. So, I keep my phone in my pocket by limiting my use to a few key apps, including Eurail and Airbnb.
Eurail and Airbnb are my go-to tools for stress-free, spontaneous European train adventures. They enable everything I want when traveling Europe on a flexible schedule: The Eurail Rail Planner app shows me all the reservation-free trains included in my pass. Then, when I’ve got a destination in mind, I open Airbnb to find a room rented by a local. Both apps serve accurate, up-to-date data and have existed long enough that devs have found and fixed major bugs.
All this means easier, stress-free spontaneous travel, and I’ll never have to choose between a guidebook or pants again. (I chose the book.)
In this article, I’ll show you how I use the Eurail Rail Planner app and Airbnb app to find trains on a whim and book last-minute accommodation.
How to Use the Airbnb App
Airbnb launched its first smartphone app in 2012 five years after the company was founded, but bugs and poor design plagued it. Since then, Airbnb improved its interface and vastly increased its capabilities, critical updates that would earn it a Google award in 2016. Soon thereafter, adoption of the app reached critical mass. By 2017, it’d become the world’s most-downloaded travel app. So, that’s all to say: It’s popular. The Airbnb app is popular because it’s pretty, so easy to use and has all the functionality of the website.
So, how do I use the Airbnb app to spontaneously book fairy-tale rooms in Europe?
After choosing a destination, date and who’s coming, click search. Search results will display on a map. At the top next to the destination name, click the filter button.
In the filter options, enter the number of beds and bedrooms, then, and this is key, click the Instant Book option. Click the “show stays” button on the bottom right.
Why do I emphasize the instant book option on the Airbnb app? Spontaneous travelers don’t have time to wait for booking confirmations. Sometimes I’m booking the room while on the train to the destination and may not have service for an extended period. Or, I might be out and about sightseeing. Sorry, I don’t need my church tour or leisurely cafe lunch interrupted by an Airbnb host declining my reservation. Plus, again, it helps limit the time spent on the app.
Of course, you can further narrow search results by setting a price range, picking a type of place and selecting applicable amenities. Then, it’s just a matter of zooming into the map and tapping through your options. I only pick places with at least 4-star ratings and a half-dozen positive reviews. I swipe through all the photos to ensure it looks clean and has the right ambience.
A tip: As a matter of convenience and sympathy for my future hosts, I make day-of bookings over breakfast or no later than mid-morning. I aim to book a place 8-10 hours before I’m due to arrive. Even though they’ve enabled Instant Booking on their listing, I feel bad booking too late in the day and not giving them enough time to prepare for my stay. I don’t want the hosts to feel like they’re scrambling to accommodate me.
How to Use Eurail Trip Planner
Well, if the Airbnb app got off to a rocky start, then Eurail’s Trip Planner app (now officially called “Rail Planner”) positively face-planted upon introducing itself to the world in 2013. The app was basically just a glorified, albeit extremely inaccurate, timetable search engine. It crashed all the time, didn’t distinguish between routes included or not included on the pass and offered limited functionality and no connection to the pass, which was still only issued in paper until 2020 (uff, bad timing).
But that’s all in the past, and, honestly, it’s never worked better since a major overhaul in 2019. You can now filter out trains that require reservations, add intermediate stops, upload your digital Eurail pass and save destinations and routes for later use or directly to the pass. Here’s how I use it.
After setting the from and to destinations and travel date, click search. For same-day or next-day travel, click the “Now” button instead of messing with the date. This is how your results will look:
Since we’re traveling via Eurail, we don’t want to spend extra for seat reservations. Besides, we may not even have the option if we’re booking same-day or next-day trains. To ensure spontaneity and adhere to the Eurail budget, let’s get rid of those trains requiring a reservation.
From the search results page, tap the “Options” button next to the departure date field. This will open a new window with a slew of options, including adding an intermediate stop, viewing only high-speed trains, transportation type and myriad other choices. Those are all well and good—use them as necessary—but we’re here for the “No seat reservations required” toggle, which is in the “Traveling with your Pass” section:
With the no-seat-reservations button toggled on, click update. The app will return to the search results page with all the train lines requiring seat reservations now absent from the returns. Voila!
Well, that’s about it. Nothing life changing. But for those traveling Europe by rail with no set plans, the Airbnb app and Eurail Rail Planner app will quickly become your best friends.