by Luc O Cinnseala
Interrailing is a rite of passage for many Europeans and each year 300,000 of us leave our normal lives behind to discover our wonderful continent by train. With Global Passes allowing travel in 30 different countries, this is no ordinary way to see the continent. With this once-in-a-lifetime trip comes a unique set of rules to bear in mind to make this unforgettable experience the most positive one possible.
Not a European resident? Don’t worry! You can still buy the Eurail Pass at a slightly higher price. Most of the below rules still apply*
1. Buy the right pass
Each Interrail trip is different and you can save hard-earned cash before you’ve even boarded your first train with a little forward planning. You don’t need to map out your entire itinerary before buying a ticket, but having a general idea of how often you’ll be travelling could save you up to €200.
While the one-month continuous pass might give you peace of mind at €479 for a youth (25 and under) it’s unlikely most people will be travelling every day. If you plan on travelling on average every second day, then you’ll save €118 by buying the cheaper ‘15 Days within 1 month Flexi Pass’ at €361. If you plan on travelling every third day then go for the ‘10 days within 1 month pass’ for €292.
A full list of prices for all passes for every age group can be found here.
2. Take night trains
Two things you’ll be guaranteed to do while Interrailing are sleeping and taking trains. Why not combine both and save a few euro? It’s likely you’ll be taking at least one night train over the course of your adventure so it’s worth knowing your couchettes from your sleepers.
Couchette compartments are the cheaper option, with between four and six bunks per compartment and pillows and blankets generally provided. As of 2016, the Interrail supplement for a bed in a couchette is around €20 – €37 in Western Europe and €10-€18 in Eastern Europe.
If you want a little bit more comfort and privacy then a sleeper might be for you. These contain more comfortable beds, washbasins and occasionally a light morning snack. Compartments can (occasionally) have up to four beds and sometimes as little as one. Prices for two-bed sleepers cost about double the price of couchettes.
It’s worth noting that travelling overnight only uses one day’s travel of a Flexi Ticket, provided your train leaves after 7pm and arrives after 4am the next morning. Just write the date of your arrival on the ticket. This is known as the ‘7pm Rule’.
3. Invest in some security
Consider buying a bike locks, combination padlocks and a backpack security cover, which can fit around your luggage and be padlocked closed. A light bike lock will ensure your entire bag isn’t lifted from the train when you’re sleeping while the latter two, used together, will do a good job of keeping thieving hands away from your belongings at any time.
4. Think one city ahead #1: Book your outward journey as soon as you arrive
You’ve just stepped onto the platform in Budapest off your overnight train from Krakow, you’re sick of cramped spaces, you smell and you just want to explore this new city. In all likelihood the last thing you want to do is queue for half an hour in a poorly-air conditioned ticket office that smells worse than you do. But you’ll be thankful when you’re not left scratching your head in the same station three days later, wondering why there was no space on the train to Vienna.
While booking on local trains is preferable to get a seat, especially in the summer months, it is a necessity in order to get on most high-speed trains all year ‘round and often comes with a small fee. These can be as low as €1-€2 on some intercity services and as high as €114 for Eurostar services.
5. Think one city ahead #2: Book hostels ahead of time
Nobody wants to spend their time in Paris worrying about where they’ll be staying in Madrid but, then again, nobody wants to arrive in Madrid wondering where on earth they’ll get a room for their party of four in the middle of summer.
Again, think one location ahead and when you’ve checked into a hostel in one city, book the hostel for the next. Booking on the go with HostelBookers has never been easier using our app, available in the iTunes store and Google Play Store.
Because plans do fall apart and trains get missed, consider buying Payment Protection when you book. This means that your booking deposit will be refunded if you cancel any HostelBookers booking because your plans have changed.
6. Be spontaneous
‘But you said to think one city ahead?’ Yes, we did, but things don’t always work out as you hoped. You may miss your train to your next destination for any number of reasons. (Sub-rule: Leave enough time to get to the station). If this happens, see where the next few trains are going and find out if they have available seats/beds. You might just find yourself falling in love with a city you might have never have thought of visiting.
7. Use the benefits that come with your pass
Your Interrail pass comes with some great perks which differ by country. These can range from discounted hostels to free local transport to hefty discounts off international ferries which aren’t already included in the Interrail pass. A range of buses between locations that aren’t connected by rail are available for free or for just the booking fee. Bear in mind that for Flexi Tickets, these perks are only valid on travel days.
8. East is cheap
If this is your first big trip in Europe then of course you’ll want to visit iconic and beautiful cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Rome but expect to budget at least €60 per day between accommodation, transport, meals, drink and attractions. Head to Krakow in Poland and that cost is more like €22.
If you want it all, try planning a trip that takes you from west to east; for example, start in Paris and end in Warsaw. This way, you’ll see the value of your money increase as the holiday goes on.
9. Use general common travel sense
Photocopies of your passport, money kept in separate places, sun cream, travel insurance; you know the drill by now. All normal travel rules apply.
Find out more and buy your ticket on Interrail’s official site.
*The Eurail pass, available to non-Europeans, offers much of the same travel and benefits as Interrailing, with two fewer countries – UK and Macedonia. Info and tickets are available here.
Why not visit…
A must-visit destination for all European backpackers, this city is well-connected by rail and combines modern clubbing with somber history lessons, being a short journey from Auschwitz concentration camp.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Consisting of two distinct cities in one – the Turkish-style Old Town and the European New Town – Sarajevo isn’t at the top of many Interrailers’ lists. The city’s buildings still bear the bullet holes of the devastating siege from the 1990s, but its rich history, charming people and beautiful surrounding hills make this one for your list.
Check out the Hostel Franz Ferdinand, whose design is dedicated to the Archduke whose assassination in this very city led to the First World War.
An exception to the expensive Western European capitals rule, Germany’s capital is surprisingly cheap and famed worldwide as one of the greatest party cities in the world. Again, Berlin is steeped in history and has no shortage of great restaurants and high-quality hostels.
Try Wombats City Hostel near Alexanderplatz. It’s both quirky and belongs to one of Europe’s best-loved hostel chains. Dorms start from €12 and the view from the roof bar/terrace is not to be missed!