On May 22nd 2017, my 3 friends and I set out on the trip of a lifetime; interrailing through Europe for 3 whole weeks! Before I set off, I must have read every blog and watched every Youtube video about the interrailing experiences but no amount of words or prettily edited videos can put into perspective how amazing the experience of backpacking through some of the world’s most beautiful cities with your best friends truly is. I’ve written this series to capture my experience in the hope that I can inspire (and hopefully help likeminded travellers with some of the niggles we came across on our way)
DIY vr Agency
Your first big choice when planning your interrailing trip is weather you want to plan your adventures yourself or go through an agency. We did it all ourselves; finding the agency route a lot more expensive. Yes it’s hard work planning a multi-city trip for multiple people and yes it’s time consuming and at some points brain melting but it does save you money and means your trip is entirely customisable to your personal needs and wants. If you do wish to go down the agency route, the most popular are Euroventure and Interrailingpackages which both offer interesting and customisable packages.
I “borrowed” this image from @redthreadstyles cause she clearly takes the better photos in our Trio.
Interailing tickets are provided by Interrail who provide a number of different pass options and travel tickets. Remember if you are under 27, travelling with kids or seniors; you’re going to receive considerable savings on your interrail pass. There are 2 specific types of passes you can choose from when undertaking an interrailing trip; all of which are customisable based on travel duration and locations you plan on visiting. The options are laid out below:
The One Country Pass
This pass does what it says on the tin; it’s valid for one country and one country only. If you’re out to explore one particular country in depth, this pass is ideal for you. Some of the more popular one country passes include the France pass, the Italian pass and the Spanish pass. Ticket prices for this type of pass start at €59 for 3 days travel within one month and up to €110 for 8 days of travel within one month. If you’re planning on travelling in a smaller amount of countries (ideally 2/3), it may be cheaper to combine a number of one country passes. )
The Global Pass
This is the most popular pass and probably the best priced choice if you’re planning on visiting more than 2 countries during your trip. Again, this pass comes in different variants and different price brackets depending on how many days you wish to travel. These began at travelling 5 days in a period of 15 for €206 and range all the way up to travelling everyday within the period of one month for €493 (which sounds widely excessive to me). We used the pass which allowed us 7 days of travel within a month. THis cost €253 and we actually ended up only using 6 days of travel.
It’s really important to get the pass that suits your travels the best and the team at Interrail are so helpful in making sure you choose the right choice. Remember during each of this travel days, you can take as many or as few trains within that 24 hour period as you want. Another thing to remember is that you need a valid passport to purchase your pass so check yours if all in order before you get buying!
TOP TIP: Buy early to save! My friends all bought there passes a few months before our travels allowing them to avail of a 15% discount. I didn’t have a valid passport at the time and missed the discount by a few days. Also watch out for Interrail’s flash sales to save as much as you can on your pass!
What to Do With Your Pass
Once you book your trip and pay the shipping (it costs a little extra but worth it for quick and save delivery!), you’ll receive a pack which should include a map, a “how-to” book, your pass, a pass holder (Mine was missing!) and a small gift. Filling out the pass if quite straight forward but the first time you see it, it’ll look quite daunting. Your pass will look as follows and the only thing you need to do with this section is fill in your travel dates. NB: the pass isn’t valid for travel if the date isn’t filled in before you board the train. We were reminded of this twice on our travels! This part needs to be stamped by the train company in lieu of your ticket.
From Google With Love
The next part (of which your pass is attached to) is more so for the interrail.eu company but it still needs to be filled out and it will be checked and stamped. This section should detail every train you take, the dates and the times. We filled ours out the night before as we often made changes to train times.
From Google With Love 2.0
Planning For Them Pesky Trains
I’d recommend making a loose plan of your train schedule and then reiterating it as you go. The Interrail Train Planner app is amazing but once or twice we were about to find more direct or quicker trains by enquiring at the station. Always know what station you are leaving from and get their early. We found that there is a tendency for last minute platform changes that leave you with a 30 seconds dash from one end of the station to another. Another thing we noticed is that you definitely need over 15/20 minutes of transfer time when getting connector trains. Though the European train system is extensive, very well planned out and nearly always easy to use, there are the inevitable delays.
Location, Location, Location
Before you buy any ticket however, you need to have a rough idea of where you want to visit or at least how many countries you plan on visiting so that you can buy the pass that’s ideal for you. This stage of planning really depends on your own personal preferences and the countries you want to visit but it is worth researching previous routes taken by other travellers. Making sure your route is attainable is vital here and it’s worth using Interrail’s Train Planner app to look at the distance and travel time between two destinations. Night trains are a good idea for longer connections but remember many of these come with additional reservation fees.
Our trip took us on the following route which we arranged to ensure we didn’t have travel times that were too laborious or long. In total, our longest trip was around 5.5 hours and the most changes we made were 3. Remember with a heavy bag, it’s sometimes annoying and tiring to take a journey that has too many changes and we attempted to limit these to the fewest we could possibly manage. Our planned route looked as follows:
Krakow > Berlin > Hamburg > Amsterdam > Brussels > Bruges > Paris
Which breaks down into train journeys that we thought would look like this
but ended up looking more like this:
You’ve probably read lots of conflicting reports about buying reservations for your interrailing trip. In general, Interrail.eu is the best source for real time and up to date knowledge on train reservations. From our trip, we required just 3 reservations and were luck enough to get seats on all our trains (though one not together) Our reservations were between Krakow and Warsaw (in general Polish trains do require a res but we paid zero for this), Warsaw and Berlin (again, polish trains. This cost us about €7) and Lille to Paris (€10 pre booked online with Thalys. We deliberately took this route to avoid paying more to go direct and at the station this res cost €20, I checked!)
When booking reservations, try and find counters with English speaking clerks; it’s alot easier to explain where and what you want and they are often used to the interrailing crowd so will search for the best deal for you. Krakow have the nicest train staff but Warsaw ended up being a little lost in translation at first (probably caused by my wonky polish translations of the word reservation). Book any high-speed or sleeper train online before hand to get a better rate!
Train Stations in Europe – Dos and Don’t
- Use clean bathrooms where you can (Berlin 100/10 for cleanliness).
- Ask for help when you need it
- Check train times and routes. Then check again.
- Keep your stuff safe; pick pockets love crowded places!
- Be sucked into the trap of paying stupid money for snacks and drinks at stations
- Sit ideal; see some station sites if you have time to spare
- Get lost in fast-paced commuter scramble. Learn to stand your ground
The NB Bits
Passport Time – Make sure your passport is in date. You can also take your passport card instead of the physical booklet; especially useful as it can be carried on you at all times. In total we were asked for ID once on the train to Berlin (be advised, don’t fall in love with the Polish border control; they are scary, carry guns and won’t love you back; my bad)
Travel Insurance? – I lived life a little dangerously and travelled for the first time without insurance. For me, it’s never been an issue but as Murphy’s law always like to appear at the most difficult of times, I’d recommend taking out a cheap policy.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – this little card could be a life saver if you fall ill abroad and so I always carry it. It’s free and it provides you with healthcare in the EU if the worst comes to the worst for absolutely nothing! Citizens Advice in Ireland says of the card: “If you are an EU/EEA national and are travelling or staying temporarily in another state of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you are entitled to receive medical care if you become ill or have an accident.” Apply for one from your local health care provision before you go!
Be Aware of Your Surroundings– Probably a given but when you are travelling, you need to be extra aware of your personal safety and who you surround yourself with. Always be cautious of your surroundings and don’t deliberately seek out dangerous situations. I try to take extra precautions especially in unknown territories so I’d recommend staying in well-lit areas and anyways knowing the way (or at least the general direct) of your accommodation. Just be alert and if you do get into danger, know how to seek immediate help (and for everyone’s sake; don’t get so high that you end up screaming about dying to the emergency services who have far too much shit to deal with and have seen a lot worse than an over-adventurous youth who’s out of her head at 3am – we were privy to this too much in the Dam).
Be Respectful – Number 1 rule of any travel (especially when sharing hostels and close proximity with strangers): learn how to respect your fellow traveller. In Berlin we shared a hostel with a American who closed all the windows in the middle of the night as 6 of us slept in the close confines of the tiny room. It was 27 degrees at 3am and probably the worst nights sleep I’ve ever had. Be kind, polite and courteous everywhere you go and leave all places just as you found then (this includes parks you pesky litterers!)
Be Prepared – My Fitbit tells me we walked on average 20,000 steps a day for 19 days straight; that is a heavy load on your body. Remember to relax. My pilates instructor always tells us to “listen to your bodies” and this is something everyone should practise while travelling. Allow for rest days and pack those plasters, comfortable shoes and blister patches; you’ll need them.
Got you own interrailing tips and tricks? Please share!