Interrailing is often a magnificent experience for those who've embarked on it, and can give you the amazing opportunity to visit many European destinations.
With interrailing the choice is all yours when you travel; you can zip through many countries and destinations, pace yourself and relax - or you can do both in equal measure. Its praises cannot be sung enough, but there's always the word of caution too, as there is a lot of planning and preparation needed to make sure your interrail journey goes without a hiccup.
We have prepared a list of the best things to know, plan and prepare for interrailing travel so that your experience can be a safe and enjoyable journey.
The InterRail Pass is a rail ticket designed for EU residents (Eurail is the equivalent for non-EU residents). There are two types to choose from when buying a ticket: the Global Pass or the One Country Pass.
The Global Pass lets you travel most European countries, and allows you to choose from 4 different types of different durations. You can choose to have continuous travel for either 22 days or 1 month, or there's also the option for limited-day travel, which can be either 5 days of travel within a 10-day period, or 10 days of travel within a 22-day period.
The Global Pass is valid in these 30 countries, however be aware that it is not valid in your own country of residence:
|Belgium||Great Britain||Republic of Ireland|
The One Country Pass is the other option, which gives you unlimited travel for only one European country of your choosing. The One Country Pass lasts for one month, and you can choose from 3, 4, 6 or 8 days of travel.
You can pick from any of the countries tabled above, but its of interest to note that Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are combined to form the Benelux Pass. There is also the Greece Plus Pass, which includes ferry crossings to/from Italy.
If you want to find out how to purchase your own InterRail Pass, and to find out more information regarding fares and restrictions, visit the InterRail website: www.interrailnet.com
Planning your route and travel
Your route planning will be dictated by the length of the journey and the countries/cities you wish to visit, so you should write a list of places you would like to visit before travelling. However you must be prepared to drop or cut short your plans at any point, as this list is usually far too ambitious!
For some journeys you might find that it's not always a necessity to buy the Global Pass to get to where you want to visit. If you are travelling in Eastern Europe where the Euro is not their currency, you might find that it is a lot cheaper to buy your tickets as you go. It is also often cheaper to get a budget flight out to an Eastern country to skip past the expensive travel regions such as France, Italy and Germany.
When booking your accommodation you should decide whether to book it all up in advance, or on the night before your stays. For those wanting to see lots of cities and countries with no set plan, booking the night before gives you incredible flexibility. However, if you have something really special in mind it's advised to book ahead, as it will give you peace of mind and also something to aim your journey towards.
When planning routes to travel you may not want to leave every journey to a night train, as most major stops are no more than 4 or 5 hours between each other so it can be totally impractical at times. This of course all depends on the route you take, as some journeys are much faster by taking the night train, Barcelona to Paris being a notable example. If you book early enough in advance, night trains can also help you save on a hostel for a night - and you arrive at your next destination in the morning!
It's recommended to budget between £25 and £40 for a day (depending on how lavish you are) for your accommodation, food, travel (trams, buses) and entrance fees to museums etc. Remember to factor in the cost of your ticket, backpack and other equipment on top of this.
On the whole, you shouldn't spend all of your money on the first day, and you also need to bear in mind that a little goes a long way. There are some unnecessary items you can cut down on such as unusual souvenirs, but the best advice is to keep a budget and always stick to it!
You can get an estimate for the cost of your trip here.
What to pack
When Interrailing, like with any sort of travelling, space is limited so you need to pack lightly, but you also need to be sure to pack all the essentials. Read the guide on What to Pack to make sure you leave nothing behind and that you don't get overloaded with excess baggage.
When you consider that you're going to be walking, getting on and off trains etc, it's recommend to bring a rucksack no larger than 50 litres. 40-45 litres can be enough for 2 weeks, and what you use for two weeks can be simply washed and used for a month. Also by taking a smaller bag you actively force yourself to take less of the unnecessary things.
What documents you need to take
Here's a list of some essential and extremely helpful documents that you should take on your InterRail journey:
- Interrail Ticket
- YHA Membership Card
- ISIC Card (Good for student discounts and using as ID when you don't want to leave your passport)
- Travel Insurance Documents
- European Health Insurance Card (i.e. the EHIC, the card which has replaced the E111 form)
- Traveller's Cheques and Information about their serial numbers
- A European Train Timetable Book
It is very important to keep copies of all these documents. You should photocopy, or record the details of each of these documents and put into an envelope. On the front of the envelope write down any emergency telephone numbers and reference numbers (such as your passport number) for quick reference and to cut down on the bulk of items you need to take with you.
Keep these copies away from the real documents, and if you are travelling with someone else, take a copy of each others' documents so if your backpack goes missing you have your details with someone else. It is also a good idea to email yourself scanned copies of the documents, so that they are sat in an email account waiting for you to access in case of an emergency.
How to find places to stay
If you want to book Youth Hostels, you must have a Youth Hostel Association card, which is available from www.hihostels.com. This website also lets you check the availability at all hostels and you can book at many of them online, although those that can't be booked online have contact details available. The hostels can be booked up to 6 months in advance or you can simply turn up on the door if you're feeling spontaneous (and prepared to be turned away if the hostel is full!).
Always check to see how far out the youth hostel is and make a note of any instructions of how to get there when you're booking. Also be aware that there are independent hostels that may be more suited to your needs (I.e. no curfew, no lockout during the day), and these don't require YHA membership. Good websites to check are www.hostelworld.com and www.europeanhostels.com, both sites either have online booking forms for the hostels or contact details.
How to be safe
One of the most important things to remember when travelling is to protect your belongings. You should make sure your most important items such as your ticket, passport and purse/wallet touches your body, so that you would know if it disappeared, or be somewhere inaccessible in your backpack.
Take a combination lock chain with you, most youth hostels provide lockers but not all of them do, but you can push it through the handles of cupboard doors or lock your rucksack to the foot of the bed if you haven't got one.
Don't go down dark streets or do anything you wouldn't do at home. Have your wits about you and try not to scream tourist (even with a big rucksack on your back, try to speak English quietly, don't brandish your map and ask for directions in shops instead of on the street)
It's important to split up your money, credit cards, ID, and tickets twice, even three ways before you leave home. You could even get a money belt to hide the majority of your money, and keep a credit card hidden in your backpack (this way, should the worst happen, you'll still be able to eat and get home). But remember, wherever you are from, the most important thing you carry while abroad is your passport, you should know exactly where this is at all times.
Make a record of all document numbers, telephone numbers, and serial codes in advance (passport/credit card numbers, lost/stolen card hotlines etc, camera serial number etc) as it makes cancelling things and getting replacements much quicker and easier. Email a copy to your parents too, so that if you lose something, all you need to do is call home and get your parents to call round for you.
What to do in an emergency
No one wants to read much about the bad things that could happen, and everyone thinks there's no way its going to happen to them. But should the worst happen and you have something important stolen, this is what you need to do:
1) Don't Panic - it'll only slow you down.
2) Attempt to call home and get someone to call round cancelling whatever's been stolen.
3) Find out where the nearest police station is (your hotel/hostel should be able to help, or any local business).
4) Go straight there, and tell them what's happened. Ask to speak to your embassy for advice on collect calls, getting money out etc.
5) Call home immediately after leaving the police station using the collect call details obtained (it doesn't matter what time of day/night it is at home).
6) Cancel your credit cards if not already done, and inform insurance companies within 24 hours too.
Enjoy the experience
Interrailing is a fantastic opportunity to see many countries, cultures and landmarks, so make sure that you keep yourself safe and prepared so that you will enjoy your journey to the fullest. Make sure you also take pictures and grab a few souvenirs - it will be something you'll be able to share for the rest of your life!