Exams are nearly over, the summer is looming and the smell of Hawaiian Tropicana is nearly upon you. Having spent the last year visiting schools up and down the countryside it’s pretty clear that the post exam pilgrimage is to head to St Pancreas (in all its glory) to spend the summer interrailing around some of Europe’s finest sights.
So, with our ever helpful head on we have prepared a 5 step guide to help you happily zip around Europe and while we were researching we managed to cream some top tips from some seasoned railers.
Step One: What Type Of Ticket Do You Need To Buy?
You have a few choices when it comes to tickets. You can either buy a single country InterRail pass which lets you travel freely within one of 30 European countries, or a ‘Global Pass’ which is valid across 30 countries! (well, with the exception of your country of residence, though discounts may be available when you show your Global Pass).
The single pass, for a month, costs from about 87 Euros for Italy up to 154 Euros for Germany and all other countries rest somewhere in between. A month’s pass covers unlimited travel in a day for only 8 days of travel in your month so you’ll have to work your itinerary out beforehand. Options to upgrade to a premium ticket are available but the upgrade/premium only gives you the added benefit of pre-booking a seat – food for thought.
A monthly global pass gives you the flexibility to pretty much hop on and off any train in Europe and definitely gets our vote. Extras like reserving a seat in advance, travelling in a sleeping carriage or some high-speed trains often incur a supplement so check before you jump on the train if you’re not sure. Costs for these vary depending on how many ‘travel days’ you are after but on average a one-month travel global pass with 15 days of unlimited travel cost 361 Euros. Great Value for money.
Top tip from our seasoned railers: definitely opt for the global pass and advance book your overnight trains where you must check if they have reclining seats – if they don’t upgrade to a sleeping carriage – nothing worse than arriving in a new place exhausted to spend the first day asleep in the hostel.
Step 2: Where Do You Start Planning Your Route?
Like all adventures, Interrailing needs a bit of planning, but at the same time remaining flexible. Once you’ve decided on the length of your trip, it’s good to write yourself a list of the places you want to try to visit. Note that I say try – you’ll probably find that your list is a little bit ambitious, so you need to be prepared to be flexible. And because you never know what’s going to happen or who you’ll meet along the way – the joy of Interrailing is that if you see somewhere on your journey, that you hadn’t planned to visit that looks interesting – hop off the train and take a look!
Maps and books are really important both for the research and for the travelling. Good resource for the maps is Interrail itself: http://www.interrail.eu/plan-your-trip/interrail-railway-map
Guide books, on the other hand, are not so easy as they are heavy and who wants to lug them around on your back? Best to start your research on the internet, then when you’ve sketched a plan in place try downloading the relevant Lonely Planet books.
Top tip from our seasoned ‘railers’: don’t be too ambitious. Spend at least 3 days in each place, otherwise your only memory will be of the inside of a train!
Step 3: What do you need to pack?
Backpack or suitcase?
Like with any travelling, when interrailing, space is pretty limited so you don’t want to be hefting around loads of stuff. It can be tempting to think of it like any other train journey and opt for a wheeled suitcase, but it’s important to consider what else you will be doing on your trip – if you’re going to be doing lots of exploring (let’s face it, that’s the whole point right?), a backpack is probably going to be easier. Leave your wheelie bag at home.
What clothes and kit do you need?
Your phone is the key item to a successful trip – used for …well everything really – booking researching, keeping in contact you name it you won’t be able to live without it – more than usual –just make sure you GET IT INSURED before you go.
Be prepared for varying weather with sun cream and a rain coat, and make sure you’ve got the essentials like a sleeping bag (cozy) and your passport (obviously!) For security, it’s good to take a combination lock chain with you so that you can lock your bag to your train seat, the luggage compartment or your bed frame at the hostel (most have lockers, but not always). When it comes to clothes think 3 or 4 times ‘do I really need this’ as every item adds to the weight of the bag which will be strapped to your back for many an hour… In fact, we have written another blog on packing the perfect backpack so have read here: theleap.co.uk/pack-perfect-gap-year-backpack
Top tip from our seasoned ‘railers’: Try running with your backpack on before you leave home to test its weight and to work out the benefits of those weight-shifting straps!
Step 4: Where Are You Going To Stay?
Hostels are a great option, especially as they can be a great way of meeting other travellers – you might even get tips on places to visit that you didn’t know about or hadn’t included in your plans! Remember that you’ll need a Youth Hostel Association card for Youth Hostels, but also consider independent hostels in your plans. When making your plans, many hostels can be booked online or if not have contact details and can usually be booked up to 6 months in advance. Of course, for flexibility in your plans, you can also just turn up on the day – just be prepared to be turned away if they’re full! If you’re going for this option, try to arrive earlier in the day to give yourself time to find an alternative. Great place to start is Hostels.com
One and two-star hotels are another cost-effective option – sometimes they can actually be cheaper than hostels. And depending on your plans, sometimes a hotel is just more conveniently located. Start with booking.com for research and availability.
The new ‘go to site’ taking over the world for a seasoned traveler. A great website which gives you the option to book into homes from local hosts in over 191+ countries. The main benefit is you feel you’ve arrived in a home, sometimes with local hosts who can point you in the right direction giving you the insider’s guide to the location. I have used it this many times before and it has never disappointed, give it a go. www.airbnb.co.uk
If you enjoy camping, there are usually loads of options wherever you go – even if you’re visiting a city there are usually sites not too far away, and some offer a bus service into the city. Of course, a key consideration with camping is that you’ll need to carry a tent and some basic camping supplies around with you – not always the most convenient option when you’re out and about exploring.
Sleeping on route
Depending on your route of choice, there are often going to be options to travel overnight and you can sleep on the train itself. As I mentioned earlier, there will be a supplement to pay if you want a bunk in a sleeping carriage or reclining seat. It’s worth organising your bag a little bit ahead of the journey though so that the essentials you might need are easy to get to – think sleeping bag, toothbrush, water bottle.
Top tip from our seasoned ‘railers’: …the room rating on booking.com is very different from that on Air BnB. Just be aware/read up about it to avoid disappointment on arrival. If you want to lug a tent around try putting your tent up and down before you leave home!
Step 5: How Much Do You Need To Budget?
As a general rule in Europe, east and south are cheaper than the west and north, worth noting at the planning stage. As a rough guide, if you’re camping and making your own sarnies, you can get by on less than a 15 Euros a day. If you’re hostelling and eating out, you’ll need more like 25 to 30. But this is before you do any activities which need to be budgeted for.
The Euro makes interrailing super easy, remember Switzerland can catch you out! Take a debit card and a backup card – packed separately or split between you and your travel buddy. Carry little cash and withdraw money when needed from ATMs.
Top tip from our seasoned ‘railers’: let your bank know where you are going before you depart so they don’t stop your card half way through your journey for cross-border withdrawals which raise alarm bells on their system.
So there you have it – interrailing in a nutshell to help steer your planning in the right direction, so you too can become a successful seasoned railer.