Once the gap year adventure of choice, Interrailing has been superseded in the past 15 years by bargain round the world flight tickets. But if you’d rather travel closer to home, or have less time to spend away, an Interrailing trip is brilliant.
Train travel for us is all about the romance of the rails. Chugging along in a semi-daze through stunning scenery, lulled to sleep by the side to side sway of the carriage. On arrival, your steel cocoon bursts into a new bubble of sights, sounds and smells. As the doors open the heat, humidity or chill of your new destination hits you instantly and you plunge straight in.
It’s about clashing cultures, feeling liberated, admittedly experiencing some moments of slight panic, and making new friends. With one ticket you can visit famous metropolises, dusty rural towns and blazing hot beaches. You’ll meet locals and travellers and experience the extremes of scenery our beautiful continent has to offer. The trains are on time and usually clean!
It can’t be beat. And these days you don’t have to be a student to take advantage of an Interrail pass – they’re open to everyone, and include discounts on some ferry routes too.
Interrailing generally means squeezing as much as possible into a short space of time, so planning is key! You don’t want to waste half a precious day traipsing around looking for a bed for the night. Book hostels, sightseeing trips, festivals, events and transport in advance wherever you can. It’s said a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Actually, here at Lifeventure we think it begins with lots of time on the internet!
Planning your trip is a daunting prospect so here are a few tips to simplify things. It’s a good idea to estimate how many train travel days you need to fit in all your destinations, and then choose either a Global Pass (to visit up to 30 countries) or a One Country Pass to get under the skin of a single country.
Now to tackle the logistics! The Interrail map shows all the main European train and ferry routes covered and includes approximate travel times between popular cities. Check the departure and arrival times – and crucially, if you have to make a reservation. High speed and overnight journeys usually need one. Get in there as early as possible as some routes, including the TGV and Intercité de Nuit, only allow a certain number of Interrailers per train.
When you’re booking, don’t be shy of asking which side of the train to sit. There are stunning views to be had while you gaze out of the window. Downloading a few audiobooks to listen to along the way is a great idea.
Pack your sleeping bag towards the top of your rucksack for easy access, day and night. Save time and money by booking overnight train journeys. A headtorch will be useful here. Keep your washbag and travel towel handy. You’re likely to feel a little ropey by morning but a wet wipe wash and a toothbrush will bring you back to life!
Sunglasses, earplugs or headphones can help ward off unwanted attention if you just want to relax. Travelling is tiring, however you do it.
Remember the 7pm rule. If you take a direct night train after 7pm, and it arrives at its final stop after 4am, only the following day is counted as a travel day. Try to use your travel days for longer or multiple train journeys and if you only want to travel a short distance, buy a separate ticket or take a bus.
If you’re only stopping somewhere for a day, storing your things in a train station locker will free you up to roam around and maybe even hire a bike. Buying a sightseeing pass will save you money if you’re spending a few days in a city. There are lots of free attractions in the larger European cities.
Camping is a cost-effective way to wake up in some of Europe’s most stunning locations. In Norway, Finland and Sweden wild camping is allowed. A simple way to save money (and the environment) is by filling up your water bottle from a tap and making picnics for lunch. Buying a baguette, cheese and ham from a local shop will help keep costs down. Take lightweight and sharp travel cutlery for ease.
And finally – learn a few words in the language of the country you’re visiting – ‘thanks’ and ‘hello’ will get you a long way!
A few suggested routes... let us know how you get on!
Sun Seeker: Lisbon – Madrid – Seville – Barcelona – Marseille – Nice – Milan – Venice – Florence – Rome – Naples
Eastern Bloc to Ancient Greece: Budapest – Ljubljana – Zagreb – Belgrade – Sofia – Thessaloniki – Athens
City Breaker: Brussels – Bruges – Amsterdam – Berlin – Warsaw – Krakow – Vienna – Prague – Munich