Travel with a group this size is much more complicated than moving around with one or two (or even three or four) people. Here are some things we did, and learned:
We used Eurail passes for much of our trip–especially for trains that took us long distances between countries. They worked on some regional railways too, as well as some of the city transit systems (this was especially helpful in Amsterdam, for example, but didn’t work in Rome). Some trains recommended additional seat reservations. We mostly dodged this (largely because we didn’t have a way of printing the seat reservations—which seems like the only way to do it) by learning to read the digital seat reservation codes. We did learn, though, that having a ticket/Eurail pass does not guarantee you a seat. We got stuck on one stretch standing together with our luggage by the door. It wasn’t great, but we got where we needed to go. Next time, we might consider paying the few extra Euros for reservations on the more popular trains—at least during holiday season (which begins June 1).
We opted for electronic ticketing, using the Eurail app. This seemed like the simplest route, but next time I would definitely go old-school and take the paper option. Even with a European SIM card, we had so much trouble and stress with the app. I’d rather keep track of paper and pencils, even if it gets us strange looks!
Mask protocol varied pretty dramatically between countries. In Italy masks were expected and compliance was enforced on most public transit (“Maschere per favore!”). In other public places, it was more of a mixed bag. Germany was similar, with less enforcement. The Swiss and the Dutch seemed almost entirely unconcerned with masks. We only spotted a few on public transit and in stores—probably other tourists. On our last long train, almost everyone dutifully masked up through Germany and then unmasked when we crossed the border into the Netherlands. No one seemed concerned or frustrated about any of this.
In the Netherlands we’ve ended up on a couple of boats, part of the regular public transport system. On these, and the city buses, it seems easiest to just buy tickets as we board, but it’s always a bit of a guessing game.
We also wanted to drive ourselves for parts of the trip in Germany and Switzerland. Because we had such a big group on those stretches (8 people) we had to find large vans. This is not easy (or inexpensive) in Europe. But it worked out and we’re glad we did it. The extra flexibility allowed us to see family history spots and other places off the beaten path. It also let us stop for pictures, snacks, and exploring , which I missed on the trains. A US drivers license and our regular credit card’s insurance was all we needed.