Europe.

Even though my age bracket should qualify me for a luxury hotel and turndown service, I’m mostly a budget traveler. For many reasons.  Money goes longer.  The experiences I stumble upon on are always at ground level, far removed from a pristine preserved travel bubble.

I stayed away from Europe on purpose.  Not because of tourist bubbles or aggressive touts, but yes, monetarily it didn’t make sense for me. The timing wasn’t right.

Its sheer mystery and romance always qualified the continent on my to-do list.  Just later.

Then sometimes, magnetizing forces come together. There are moments you are in the right place at the right time.

My participation in the Ultimate Train Challenge may seem surprising, but if there’s one thing I’ve preached on this platform, change is about planting seeds, and then watching them germinate.

And they do!  I am going.  To Europe. In September!

My mind rushes to that scene in Before Sunrise, when Jesse convinces Cèline to disembark the train at Vienna, to walk all night, because he can’t afford money for a hotel room and his flight on Austrian Airlines leaves at 9:30 am.  So why not?

They are on the train; they are alien travelers, thrust into the backdrop of one of the oldest cities in the world.. the push, the pull.  It’s one of those train moments when you can picture yourself saying the words:

Jesse: Alright, alright. Think of it like this: jump ahead, 10, 20 years, okay, and you’re married. Only your marriage doesn’t have that same energy that it used to have, y’know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you’ve met in your life and what might have happened if you’d picked up with one of them, right? Well, I’m one of those guys. That’s me y’know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you’re missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you’re not missing out on anything. I’m just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you’re really happy.

Cèline: Let me get my bag.

That’s when I fell in love.  With Cèline and Jesse.  Enraptured by train travel in Europe.

So, when Eurail offered our Ultimate Challenge crew passess to get this challenge started, I fell hard again.

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You mean, I could?  Meet my Jesse?  Be a stranger, swaying to the clacking of the train with wood, trees or mountain revolving as I propel towards a destination.  Our eyes meet.  Flints fly.  The crossing of swords with another stranger, when reality is halted and the map of your life opens to each other because you think it doesn’t matter, you won’t see him again.

Or I might…

I’m thrilled. Seduced. And impressed with the mandate of Eurail.  They strive to show that rail travel is affordable and not difficult.

The passes allow travelers to visit up to 25 countries.  North Americans can book them online and you can even have your tickets shipped prior to your trip.  A huge relief for planners. It’s so transparent, there’s no reason not to try it.

Eurail recently won the Mashable Award for Best Social Media Customer Service.

Stay glued for September as I rack miles across countries like Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and beyond.

Maybe I won’t meet the man of my dreams, but I may have just met the train service of my dreams.

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.

Photo of map: Samantha Decker