Do you want to go on a summer holiday this year? Didn’t get around to organising a J1? Can you only get two weeks off from your summer job? Fear not, interrailing is your answer!
Interrailing is a European holiday whereby you travel around the continent via trains, stopping in any city you want using a flexible rail ticket called InterRail. You can plan your destinations down to the second, or you can keep your ticket open and hop on a train to whatever country takes your fancy. I am going interrailing in ten days, and I have already planned most of my trip. There are eight main parts of planning an interrailing trip, which are as follows:
Deciding on a route
If you are interrailing solo, you have the freedom of deciding your own route, so spend a day or two searching online for routes other people have gone on. There are numerous blogs and vlogs out there to help you plan it out. If you are going as a group, set up a Facebook group chat and create a Google doc to gather all of your information together. Research popular routes, connecting trains, and sort out a rough area of where you want to go. Be realistic, you will not enjoy seeing 15 countries in 14 days. Aim to spend at least two nights in every city so you actually get the benefit of travelling there. One point I would like to make is that with western Europe, the cost of living and trains are usually more expensive than in Eastern Europe. Ryanair also does very affordable package weekend deals to the likes of Amsterdam, Berlin and Rome, so perhaps don’t waste a valuable stop on one of these cities if you want to cover as much ground as possible. Once you have a timeline of dates and cities, then start looking at flights.
Once you have decided on a rough route, book your flights to correspond with your start and end points. I personally chose Ryanair as they are cheapest, with return flights to Europe averaging at €100. If you choose to fly home from a country that doesn’t use Euro, you will be charged for that flight in the local currency, which might rack up a bit of a bill with the exchange rate. I recommend flying to and from Eurozone countries where at all possible. Make sure you book the right dates and don’t forget to check in 48 hours prior to take off with Ryan Air. Also note that you have to pay for priority boarding to reserve a seat and get your luggage in the overhead bins. If you don’t pay for this, you will be seated randomly and your luggage will go in the hold free of charge. So, if you are rushing to get a train straight after you land, pay for priority boarding.
As a European citizen, you are entitled to an InterRail ticket which can be purchased on their website https://www.interrail.eu/en/interrail-passes. Usually they offer discounts to people under 25 and if you book before a certain date. Note: discounted passes are non-refundable and you cannot change the name on your InterRail ticket to someone else’s, as it corresponds with your passport number. So, make sure you are definitely going. Ticket prices average at €200 for a global pass which gives you 15-30 days travel. Work out how many trains you are getting and ensure you have enough journeys covered on your pass. The ticket is delivered to your house by courier so be there to sign for it.
We decided to reserve trains as we wanted to be certain about our accommodation dates before booking anything. Reserving the trains had to be the most stressful part of organising interrailing. We ended up changing our route in order to get connecting trains, so be prepared for some frustration. Interrail has an online ticket reservation system https://reservations.eurail.com/ which allows for group reservations once one person enters their fellow travellers’ details. This person then has to pay for all of the group’s reservations so bear this in mind. InterRail sends off a request for reservation to each rail company and will get back to you in three or four days saying whether you were successful. A lot of our trains were already “booked up” (InterRail is only allowed to reserve so many seats so it is highly unlikely the train is full), but don’t panic. InterRail then offers alternative trains which you can book. Reserving trains is an extra cost onto your InterRail pass, your pass does NOT guarantee you a seat. The majority of day trains will allow you to get on a train without a reservation and will even allow you to sit on the floor if there are no seats available. However, for night trains, you cannot board without a reservation for a bed, and you can’t get on the train between 12-4am. So InterRail recommends at least booking your night trains. Their online system costs €8 per booking, then prices vary according to the rail company. It can cost a lot more to reserve so if you are willing to take a chance and not reserve seats or beds do. This being said, plenty of people go over with no reservations at all and manage to book seats and beds at the station two or three days in advance of their departing journey, so don’t worry too much.
A few years ago, hostels were the most popular form of accommodation for students interrailing. Nowadays Air B&B has exploded, with full apartments being offered for less than the price of a bunk bed in an eight-bed room in a hostel. I cannot begin to describe how affordable Air B&B is for groups, the majority of apartments are centrally located and are yours for the duration of your stay. You are also free to use the washing machine and cook your own food in these apartments, therefore saving money and luggage space. If a person in your group sets up and Air B&B account then sends a discount sign-up code to the others, you can get €30 off each of your stays. However, Air B&Bs are usually only affordable in groups, so if you are going as a couple or on your own, you may want to stick with hostels to cut down on costs and to meet people on your travels. Book Air B&Bs in advance as they tend to become unavailable quite quickly. Same goes for Booking.com.
Trip Advisor is very helpful when trying to decide on what places to see and what attractions to visit. Make note of the amount of time you have in each city, and plan accordingly. If you are carrying luggage around, store it in lockers in train stations. I highly recommend “free” walking tours which are usually in every main European city. You walk around the city with a tour guide who tells you about the local history of the place, then you tip them at the end. These are better than open top bus tours especially when a lot of European cities are pedestrianised.
What to pack
Please remember that you will be hauling your luggage onto trains and around cities to check into your accommodation, so don’t bring a fifty-tonne suitcase with you. Europe is hot in the summer, it will be over 20 degrees Celsius so bring light clothes. Pack sunglasses, a sun hat and a bum bag. While they may be uncool you really don’t want to be lugging around a big leather River Island handbag on a three-hour walking tour. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Bring a backpack instead of your handbag. It is also not a fashion parade on nights out, most people don’t dress up for nightclubs they way us Irish do, so a simple sundress will suffice. Don’t waste valuable luggage space by packing stilettos. Also make sure you have your train and plane tickets, passport, European Health Insurance card and any other documents required.
Money and insurance
A lot of Eastern European countries aren’t part of the Eurozone, so if you withdraw cash from an ATM, be prepared to pay exchange rates and service charges. It is usually better to withdraw all the cash you need rather than just constantly withdrawing small sums and whatever you do, don’t keep using contactless payments willy nilly. You also need to budget, don’t take out loads of money in one currency then have it leftover and unusable in your next city. The good news is that if you are in a Eurozone country, there are no charges on ATM withdrawals or using your card with a student account. Before you head off make sure you
put a travel note on your bank card so you don’t get any calls from a worried bank employee concerned someone in Berlin has robbed your card. I would also recommend getting travel insurance. This can cover medical and legal bills, delayed flights and lost or stolen luggage and valuables. It really doesn’t cost that much for single trip cover and it will give you peace of mind.