Jul 21, 2015 - 1:45 PM
Hi LucyY (welcome to MySwissAlps), and hi pstaff,
Let's start by saying it's not our intention to have you going around in circles. We're here to help! I certainly understand things can seem quite complex for first time travelers. But, the basics are actually very simple. Don't compare train traveling to plane traveling (I'm not sure if you do, but I know some people do). Booking trains in advance is not required and quite uncommon in Switzerland. Like I said in the other thread: "There's not really a booking process. You simply go to the rail station, buy a ticket from the staffed counter or a machine, board the train, and find a seat. There's nothing more to it." The same applies to boats, buses and trams.
So, you can buy a Swiss Travel Pass to save money in case of lots of traveling (or to have the convenience of not buying tickets), or you can buy tickets as you go.
Advanced booking of specific trips is only required if you travel with a train (or bus) that requires seat reservations, and that's only a handful. It is explained on myswissalps.com/ train/reservations (also click to "How to use"). The Golden Pass line does not require reservations. They're recommended for a few trains between Montreux and Zweisimmen as explained on our Golden Pass page, but not required. Our Wilhelm Tell Express page explains about how you can travel 2nd class and without reservations.
You're definitely not required to buy a Swiss Travel Pass. It is recommended to do the math as explained here, to decide which pass is the best one price wise. It might be the Swiss Half Fare Card, the Swiss Travel Pass, any of the other passes, or point to point tickets. In any case, do spend some time to see what's included in the Swiss Travel Pass (click "Where it's valid" on the pass page). For example: boats are free too, as well as buses and many museums. Even some cable cars and cogwheel trains are free. Most others are 50% discounted.
I hope this clarifies things! If not, feel free to ask!