Uni summers are long summers, and between having a part-time job and preparing for the next year it’s the perfect time to do something adventurous.
For those who don’t already know, the Interrail Pass is a single document which allows holders to travel by train in the 31 participating countries in Europe. There are different types of pass with different conditions, but ultimately it makes travelling in Europe a lot cheaper and easier. Last month, I spent two and a half weeks interrailing with my boyfriend, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences with using the pass.
Organising Your Trip
Before you buy your pass or book any hostels, you should start with a rough outline of your budget and timeframe for your trip. This way you will know from the offset the best options for your time and money.
Choosing Your Pass
There are several different types of Interrail Global Pass you can buy depending on how long you want to travel and how many different places you want to go to. The cheapest pass types have limited days on which you can travel. These are great for when you know exactly how many places you want to visit and want to do most of your booking beforehand. On the other end of the spectrum are passes which give you complete freedom to travel however many days you want within a set timeframe, up to three months. This type of pass is more suited to those who plan on a longer term trip or don’t want to be limited to travelling on a set number of days. Personally, we went for the ‘7 days within 1 month’ pass, as it fit with our plans and made it easier to budget for.
Once you know what pass you’re getting, you can start mapping out where you want to go. I cannot recommend the Interrail Planner App enough for organising your route. Not only does it let you see how long each train is likely to be and the changes you will have to make, but it also alerts you to any additional reservations* for your journey. You can also save any train times within the app and use it offline, which makes it great for planning your journey along the way.
*High speed trains like Eurostar and overnight trains tend to require a reservation and therefore an extra payment. It’s definitely one of the more annoying things about the pass on the whole, but it does mean you’re guaranteed a seat/bed on these trains.
Where to Stay
In terms of accommodation and reservations, there are two options. You can book everything before, so that it’s all arranged and you know exactly when you’re doing what. For me, this is the best option if you have limited travel days or a very rigid timeframe in which you will be travelling, as it takes the pressure off later. However, if you’re looking for complete flexibility you can do it all as you go. For both these options but especially the latter, I’d suggest downloading the Hostelworld app. Hostels can range in quality, but they’re definitely the cheapest and simplest option when it comes to accommodation on your trip. They’re also good for meeting new people who are also travelling. AirBnB can also be another cheap alternative to hotels for when you want some more privacy on your trip. We decided to alternate between the two options, which overall meant we had a good balance of socialising and relaxing.
Preparing to Go
What to Take
I 100% recommend using a 60L+ rucksack (like the DofE ones you can buy in outdoors shops). They’re much easier to carry around than a suitcase and fit much better in lockers. On the topic of lockers, a sturdy combination lock is a must for storing your stuff in hostels. I’d also recommend bringing a smaller rucksack you can pack into your bag for walking around on non-travel days and a bum bag/waist belt of sorts. These make it a lot easier to carry around things like purses and wallets or your phone if (like me) your pockets aren’t great or you have bulky things like water bottles. If you’re travelling with another person it’s really easy to just take one rucksack and switch who carries it, saving space overall. Other than basics like clothes and toiletries, some sort of entertainment for the trains is essential. We brought our Kindles and a puzzle book (at any other time in my life a crossword seems a bit boring, but three hours into a seven hour journey it’s a lot of fun), but downloading podcasts or films on your phone/tablet if you plan on bringing one would also be a good way to pass the time. I also brought earplugs with me, which are great when there’s a snorer in your hostel.
If you’re travelling from the UK you’ll need an adapter plug for your chargers and stuff. One thing that was really useful was a double USB plug that my boyfriend had which meant we only needed one charging point for both of our phones.
First Journey and Using Your Pass
Every pass comes with a travel diary attached, which is how you’re able to use the trains across Europe. In the diary, you write the date and time of every separate train you’re going to take, as well as where you’re travelling from and your destination. It’s best to do this as you go, else your flexibility is limited. Your first and last travel days can also include an outbound and inbound journey in your own country of residence. This can be from anywhere in your country of residence, not just on the train that takes you across a border. We realised this all too late and so wasted money on a separate train to London which would have been included in our pass price.
If you decide to buy a pass with limited travel days, you can use it on unlimited trains during that day. Also, if you travel on an overnight train, it only counts as one travel day as long as you don’t get on any new trains after midnight.
Tips and Notes
Ugh. The Interrail Website. There’s a lot to be desired with the website. Not only did it randomly switch between euros and pounds, it would log us out several times whenever we tried to make a reservation. Eventually it would decide to work, but it all caused a bit of unnecessary stress. I have no solution or way of fixing the problem here, just a warning of what to expect. If you work at Interrail HQ and are reading this, please update the website and get rid of the bugs. Please.
Night trains are really useful for travelling longer distances without wasting a whole day. They save you a night of accommodation too, which is always useful. Unless you are incredibly brave or just able to sleep through anything, I can’t really recommend a seated compartment on a sleeper train. Again, an issue with the website wouldn’t let us book a couchette on the sleeper we wanted to take, so we had to have seats. It’s very cramped and uncomfortable, especially when most of the people in the compartment are strangers. It didn’t help that the blinds were awful on ours either, so every time we rolled into a station the lights woke us up. If I were to do it all again, I’d definitely try to opt for the couchette.
The Interrail Pass is a great way to travel around Europe if you want to see a lot of places for not an extortionate amount of money. We spent around £1500 each, which included £750 spending money, the pass price and our accommodation. It really was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’d definitely do it again if I had the chance. I hope this has been useful for anyone considering using the Interrail Pass. Feel free to add a comment if you have any questions.