22 Jun The AA’s guide to Interrailing through Europe
Travelling across the continent in cramped, stinky trains with your good mates – what’s not to love? When we started planning our own interrailing adventure through Europe, I was a little apprehensive about it too. I dreaded the thought of the two and a half hour train from Heuston back home to Mayo every weekend. How on earth would I manage the 13-hour train journey from Prague to Bled?
Turns out that travelling for hours on end on overcrowded trains and buses through Europe is one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. Europe has some of the best scenery and history on offer and the weather is almost guaranteed to be fabulous or at least, better than it is here in Ireland.
The best part though? Thousands of other young people have had the same idea as you and you’ll meet all sorts of fun people along the way.
Before You Go Interrailing
Plan Your Trip and Travel Buddies
It’s probably the most obvious step, but the sooner you gather your gang of mates together the rest of your plans can fall into place. So get that interrailing Facebook/ WhatsApp group set up ASAP! Once you’ve decided how many of you are travelling, it’s a good idea to all meet up and discuss what route you’re going to take and how long your trip will be.
We found a Facebook group to be extremely helpful. We’d post reminders about booking flights and accommodation and also share whatever information we could find on hostels and things to do in the various cities.
Make a Budget
Interrailing can be pretty pricey when you’re paying for flights, train tickets and accommodation all at once. For cash-strapped students, it’s best to stagger your spending as best you can. We made a list of everything we had to book and then broke that down week-by-week. For example, one week we’d all book our flights, another week we’d pay for our train ticket and the following week we’d book accommodation in Amsterdam etc. This way, we paid a little of our trip every week and just had spending money to spare when we actually jetted off.
Book in Advance
Start off with booking your outgoing and return flights. To make sure you’re getting the best deal for your flights, check out Skyscanner. This site combines all airline providers and shows you where you can book the cheapest price for your flights.
The interrail website and app will be your new best friend. The site is packed full of handy maps and travel guides as well as train timetables that you can use throughout your journey. You can also book your interrailing train ticket on this site.
There are two general types of interrail passes – a Global Pass and a One Country Pass. Since we were planning on stopping off in a few different countries, the Global Pass was the best option for us. We chose the ‘5 days within 15 days’ pass, which meant that over the fifteen days, we could choose five ‘travel days’. This option was ideal for us, considering the time we had and the places we wanted to visit. You can get a continuous pass too, which gives you the freedom to travel on any day. Remember that if you use one of your ‘travel days’ on an overnight train, it only counts as one travel day and not two, even if you travel through the night. The ‘5 days within 15 days’ pass starts from €200 and a continuous pass will set you back at least €338.
Once you’ve your flights and train ticket sorted, the next step is to sort out your accommodation. The vast majority of people we met along the way didn’t bother booking their hostels until they landed in different cities. For us, we didn’t want to waste our first few hours in a brand new city frantically searching for somewhere to stay and to be honest, we were delighted we did book in advance.
What to PackObviously, you’re going to be dragging your bags around with you for quite a while so carefully consider what kind of luggage to bring interrailing. The best advice is to stick to hand luggage. A large number of fellow interrailing buddies carried large backpacks and rucksacks with them, but we stuck to small wheelie suitcases and they worked just fine.
Yes, you may cringe at the thought of them but bum bags are a handy way to carry the essentials. You can keep your important travel documents such as your train ticket, passport, flight details as well as the usual bits such as your purse and phone. You’d be surprised how easily valuables can be snatched from you when you’re trying to find your way around crowded train stations. You can even get some extra-thin bum bags that fit neatly under your clothes if you’re extremely fashion conscious!
European weather can be just as unpredictable as it is here at home so you’ll need to pack a good mix of clothes. I found that layering was the way to go when packing for an inter-railing trip. Packing lots of light layers meant that you can add on or take off as many as you like along the way.
It’s also important to consider your footwear. For me, comfort totally triumphed style when I was interrailing and once you’re comfortable you’ll definitely enjoy yourself more. Between you and your friends it might be a good idea to pack a basic first-aid kit. Think plasters, dressings and some paracetamol. You’re bound to get some use out of it over the trip.
Here’s a handy checklist of other small travel items that you will need over the few days that can be easily forgotten:
- Combination Lock – to store valuables in while you’re in the hostels
- Travel documents
- Your Travel Insurance details – if you didn’t already know, you can buy travel insurance with the AA
- Interrail Pass
- Some other form of identification (eg a driving license)
- Universal plug adaptor
- Wet wipes
- Toiletries (travel size, if you’re travelling with hand luggage)
- A lightweight towel
- Phone Charger
On the TrainsWe got into the habit of booking our next train the minute we got off our last one. When we first landed in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, we got the Intercity/ Sprinter train to Amsterdam Centraal and once there, we booked our train from Amsterdam to Berlin for later that week.
It did mean a little bit of time queuing at service desks in busy stations but by booking our next train journey, we were sure what time we were leaving for the next city and that we had seats on board. That way, we could just relax and enjoy our time in the city we were in without worrying about translating complicated timetables.
If you can’t be bothered with booking every single train journey, then at least make sure to book any overnight trains in advance. The Interrail Pass generally does cover overnight journeys but again, it will cost you slightly more to pre-book the cabin. A lot of travellers failed to do so and the corridors of the train were littered with people sleeping on the ground – not ideal!
When you’re on the overnight trains remember that station stops aren’t always announced, or may be announced in the native language that you don’t understand. Take note of your scheduled arrival time and set an alarm for maybe a half hour before the train is due to arrive. We were lucky in that a train worker knocked on our cabin about 20mins before our scheduled arrival but others weren’t so fortunate!
Finally, it may be stating the obvious but give yourself plenty of time to board your train. Most train stations around major European cities are massive and it can be as much as an hour walk between platforms so give yourself plenty of time to find your way about the place. Unlike most Irish trains, you cannot travel from car to car on long-distance European carriages so finding out what car you’ve booked is extremely important. Be ready to board the train the minute it arrives as station stops are often very short.