Hi friends, hope we’re all keeping well.
I recently came back from my 1 month long interrailing trip across 7 different European countries, and have gained some of the most memorable, insightful, and wonderful experiences from it. It is an activity I would highly, highly recommend even if you are slightly averse to travelling (like I previously was before the trip).
But first things first, let’s answer some questions about interrailing itself, for those who don’t know anything about it. Or, you can skip ahead and go straight to my own advice and strategies for planning an interrail trip.
Introduction-What is interrailing?
Simply put, there exists these online ‘interrail passes’ that basically function as train tickets. When you have one, you are able to travel and explore Europe by using the extensive rail network sprawled all across the continent. The passes are an excellent option for those who seek an affordable and accessible way to visit several different European countries in one trip!
As mentioned earlier, I truly believe everyone should try interrailing at least once in their lifetime, for at least 2 weeks. You need to learn how to manage routes, train times, accommodations and bookings, co-ordinate activities with groups etc. It is a chance to discover many different cultures around Europe, and a way to step outside your comfort zone and into the unknown. For young people especially, it is a genuine chance to grow and mature while also having an absolute blast travelling around a culturally rich continent.
But what’s my story with interrailing? How did my friends and I manage to get free interrail passes that lasted a month?
If you’re 18 or under, read on with great attention, for this is a golden opportunity for you and your friends to win free interrail passes like my group did.
All you need to do is enter the Discover EU competition. It is a part of the Erasmus+ programme focussed on giving out opportunities to discover Europe through learning experiences. There are 2 application rounds every year, open only to 18 year olds. You answer a couple of questions testing your knowledge on Europe (don’t worry, this part is entirely and legally Google-able), make a guess as to how many people are doing the exact same thing you’re doing now (entering the Discover EU contest), and then you’re entered in a draw for free interrail passes. You can enter either as a group with 4 other friends, or by yourself. My group and I were alerted of our lucky win a few months after the application round ended in October, which gave us sufficient time to plan our trip for the summer. After some quick Google searches and calculations, we found that you had a 20% chance of winning a pass!
You can find tons more details on the competition by clicking the link above if you’re interested, and I highly recommend young people to do so!
Pre-Travel Planning & Strategy
First, I would strongly advise going on this trip with a group of close friends. It’s fine if you wish to travel solo, but I feel having people you’re comfortable to be around with you significantly increases the enjoyment. It would also be a shame to be the only person among your friends to have experienced what you can experience on an interrailing adventure.
Next, it’s vital you have a firm route in mind for your trip. My friends and I first brainstormed for a couple of weeks on where exactly we wanted to go to, then used Interrail planner to scout country routes and transport methods for the places we wanted to go to. It’s great for making a small, mini-map/overview of all your planned destinations.
Another thing we did that I would recommend people travelling in groups can do, is to assign each member of the group a city or country to research and plan for. This member will essentially be the city’s tour guide when you arrive, and organises accommodation, plans transport, possible leisure, and researches tourist attractions and landmarks to potentially visit.
We felt it was unfair for someone to plan our entire 1 month long interrailing trip by themselves (plus we knew no one would be arsed), so we basically just broke up the work, and took up 1 or 2 cities each to research and plan for.
It ended up working out fairly well, but one thing that was unfortunate was that there were cities we went to, with places that a lot of us wanted to see, but the group member responsible for the city didn’t plan on going to it. Additionally, they might have planned to go to places none of us were that interested in going to.
So, if this strategy interests any groups reading, the key here is communication. If you’re interested in a certain place that is in a city your friend is researching and planning, bring it up to them early and make sure it’s on the itinerary for the city. A few days or weeks before the trip starts, I’d recommend a ‘final meeting’ to brief everyone in the group on your research and plans for each city. That way everyone is generally familiar with the plans for each city (or you guys can leave it as a surprise, it’s up to you🤷🏻♂️)
For a resource that can give you a more in-depth route to get to where you want to be, Rome2Rio is fantastic and was even highly suggested by the Discover EU organisers themselves to use. I didn’t personally use it when planning for my cities, but another friend in my group did and can vouch for its usefulness.
The most useful resource we all agreed was vital in planning for our journey though, was Google Earth. You can use this to gauge distances between locations, mark things on maps, find out approximately where your destination is, etc, from an eagle eye perspective, which was extremely handy. I used it to find the approximate location of the hostels I had booked, as well as their distances from certain points of interest.
For booking accommodation, HostelWorld and AirBnB were great. Though one word of advice when using HostelWorld, is when you find a hostel you like, check to see if it has its own website, and then check if it’s cheaper to book directly on their website than HostelWorld’s. More often than not it will be cheaper by a couple of euro, sometimes more. So, definitely worth checking in general, I’d say.
Regarding budget, it really depends on where you wish to go. For more western countries like France, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, they will certainly be more expensive than more eastern countries like Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. So, if you have a tight budget I would recommend staying around the east side of the continent.
One of the regrets my group had was in fact not travelling to more eastern countries, for most of our group members’ budgets had gotten really dangerously low near the end of the trip.
Finally, make sure to download the official Interrail planner app, to help check train times, what routes are available, how long they’ll be, etc. We had this app out on every single travel day, and was a lifesaver in navigating through the world of interrailing.
- While it’s common to see people interrailing and travelling with large rucksacks on their backs, my entire group opted for the old-fashioned luggage and schoolbag combination, with some of us also having a waist bag too (which were really convenient). One huge lifesaver and massive help that helped make things a lot less messier for me (in comparison to my travel mates), were these packing cubes that you can find online for pretty cheap. You usually get 4 in a pack, and I used them to organise and pack pretty much all my clothes. One for shirts and everything upper body, another for trousers and shorts, then another for socks ad underwear. The last one was miscellaneous and eventually used to store all the souvenirs I bought.
Another tip I have is before setting out on your travels, make sure to take a picture of all your bags. In the event anything is lost, a picture of your exact bag is so much more valuable than a rough description.
- Recommended items to pass time and for other uses: Books, deck of cards (vital), good headphones, locks, and a first aid kit. Last one is non-negotiable, as well as medicines for stuff like headaches and diarrhoea.
- A minor suggestion I have is also to check out this app called Zenly. It’s a real-time location tracking app you can add friends on, and was actually really handy when we got separated at times and weren’t bothered to text or call to meet up. A geeky thing I kinda like about it is once you enter new countries, they’ll become coloured in on your overall map which is honestly really aesthetically pleasing
- Oh my Lord, if your group can download Revolut please do it. It saves so much hassle and time in so many scenarios. Instant transfers to friends. Contactless payment. Currency exchange.
Before going on the trip, I actually felt like it wouldn’t be a huge deal. Turns out though, one of our mates, let’s call him Andog (my friends reading this would know why), couldn’t download it on his phone. So, for the entire trip, any transaction that involved him had to be kept track of by both him and the payer, and it was just really inconvenient. It was during the trip did I realise how useful Revolut is, especially when all your friends use it as well.
At the end of the day it wasn’t life or death useful, but the product definitely had network economies of scale (it was more useful as more people used it).
- For local transport, always check to see if there is some kind of public transport card/deal available for tourists. In Germany for example, there’s a €9 travel ticket that allows you to use local and regional trains for free for an entire month.
If no such deal exists though, my group’s advice (and honestly preferred method of travelling if it wasn’t for our tight budget) is to look for the e-scooters around the city. They’re not only the most fun way of travelling, but they also keep your options flexible and open. Obviously, be 10x more careful of traffic in the city though, as sometimes people will literally, blatantly, deathwish-havingly just drive by red lights without a care in the world.
Oh, and if you’re staying with a hostel, you can even check to see if you can rent a bike for the day (that day was certainly a highlight for my group).
My Final Advice
Overall, interrailing is a very flexible activity. Even if you don’t have a solid, rigid plan in place for the entire journey, you can still have just as much fun, if not more, than most people. If the whole planning and preparation stage seems daunting, don’t dig into it too deep,
My friends and I realised that sometimes, it’s the most spontaneous activities and trips that were honestly some of the most fun.
- Use this opportunity to try meet other travellers and interrailers like yourself. Share your experiences and stories with people who have/are undergoing the same things you are, and I promise you won’t regret it.
One of the biggest regrets I have for the trip was that I didn’t try hard enough to meet with other interrailers, and instead opted to stick with my group for the majority of the time. It would’ve been so nice to share experiences as we were going through them, but alas that opportunity is gone forever.
The people outside my group I did meet, like a former exchange partner and online friend, proved to also be highlights of my trip. The days I spent with them were amazing, and I’m so grateful I had the courage to reach out to them to meet up.
- For majorly popular cities, like Berlin, it would be wise to pre-plan and book the activities you want to do. There were so many things we wanted to do once we arrived, like the indoor surfing and skydiving, but we were too late to book.
- Take plenty of photos and videos. Or a diary to document your experiences.
- Don’t neglect researching what festivals are coming up in each city you’re visiting. Often times they’re either free, really unique, or could count as an entire day of fun. Or all of the above. For example when we were in Prague, we attended the international rum festival which we didn’t even know was a thing, but still had a good time with nonetheless.
- Don’t miss out on free walking tours if you’re having trouble deciding where to go in big cities. We didn’t avail of any, but they were highly backed by other friends who had gone interrailing.
Whew, that was a damn long post.
I really did try to fit in as much practical knowledge and insights I gained from the trip (without straying too much into the philosophical side of it) as I could, so I truly hope the information here can help even one person out there.
If I can make even one person’s interrailing journey more fun, more wisely-planned, or unforgettable, my work here is done!
If I think of any more tips or insights I can add to the post, I definitely will, but for now this is pretty much all of it.
Anyway, thanks for reading this far if you did, and if you’re a young soon-to-be interrailer, make sure to have the time of your life!