The first holiday I had after finishing my A Levels was a very un-laddish experience, with my friends from home; no matter how hard we tried. A couple of us were still 17 and we definitely didn’t know how to make the most of our time on holiday.
Most of our days consisted of spending far too long sitting in the hostel playing with a football because it was too hot to go outside and we avoided clubs that cost more than €5 as they were ‘too expensive’. But, we still had a great time! The five of us went interrailing around Western Europe, using the “10 days of travel within 21 days” ticket to make our way from Amsterdam to Barcelona – via Berlin, Prague, Munich, Florence and Nice.
A lot of good can be said about interrailing just for the stunning scenery you can see by travelling between big cities. Winding our way through the Austrian mountains and along the French coast was especially beautiful and it’s really handy to be able to get on virtually any train that you want. It was a great to know that we didn’t have to book trains and pay loads of money in case you forget to do it in advance. Also, there’s a great community feeling between interrailers, especially when you meet people who you first saw in a different country. If you haven’t already booked accommodation, you can change your plans if you make friends with new people or stay somewhere longer than you planned. Its flexibility is a huge positive and I would especially recommend it to people who haven’t done a lot of travelling before. Sure, working out what time the train leaves and where exactly the station is can be a bit of a challenge; but with an interrail ticket you can always catch the next one.
Of course, there are a few issues with interrailing. You can’t use it on every train and you’ll often have to pay a little bit more for a seat reservation. My friends and I did have to sit on our luggage next to the train doors a few times, and the Italian train service is a bit of a joke.
It is also quite an expensive thing to do. A flexible train ticket doesn’t come cheap and it’s only really worth it in Western Europe, where the rail networks are good. We wanted to do a similar trip the following year into Eastern Europe, and since we wanted to save money, we decided to ditch the interrail ticket and sort something else out. For a two-week trip, it was actually cheaper to get flights between destinations, so that’s what we did. We flew around Eastern Europe, visiting Budapest, Belgrade, Istanbul and Warsaw. Not only was the transport cheaper; but the whole holiday was as well. Accommodation in Germany cost us around €10-15 a night, while in Poland it was more like €3-5 a night. Food was better value, there were fewer tourists, and the locals were much happier to see us.
We spent as little money as we could on both trips; but your money will definitely go much further in Serbia than it will in The Netherlands. I distinctly remember staying in one of the least secure rooms in my life in a Spanish hostel during our first trip, sweltering under a useless fan, and then watching the World Cup Final on our next trip in our hostel bar in Istanbul before going up to our private room for which we’d paid much less.
Doing your own thing in the East might be cheaper and more fun; but there are places in Western Europe that you just have to go to. You can’t miss Amsterdam or Berlin and interrailing is definitely the best way to see them. If you want to go off the beaten track, cheap flights are the way to go.