Interrailing has become a rite of passage for many students, adding to the coming of age experience that University brings. Embarking upon my travels across Europe this summer was definitely my highlight of 2017 and, as Interrail.eu are currently advertising their annual end-of-the-year 15% sale on all travel passes, now is the time to buy the ticket of a lifetime.
However, the dream of being a nomad for a couple of weeks or more during the summer requires some consideration in order to avoid becoming a nightmare.
Plan, plan, plan!
Although interrailing sounds far more exciting if you go onto the continent without having a route or any hostels booked, there is an increased chance of major pitfalls. Missing the last train and sleeping rough at a station in Germany may be a great story for when you return, but it won’t be comfortable or safe when experiencing it. Furthermore, your route needs to make logical sense to avoid unnecessary hours of travelling, which instead could be spent on exploring. Downloading the Rail Planner app and booking hostels in advance will save money and make your whole experience a lot less stressful.
The beauty of a “mini-inter-rail”
It is important to remember that there is more than one type of Interrail pass. There is a variety of tickets for how long and frequently you want to travel, which is beneficial for those who are struggling with a student budget. Personally, I opted for the cheapest ticket (travelling on 5 days within a 15 day period) which made my experience short but sweet. Travelling to only 4 countries meant that I had significant time to experience each city and, unlike friends who travelled to 13 countries in under a month, I was actually able to remember each city distinctively! What is the point of returning home and not being able to tell a story because you can’t remember the difference between Prague and Budapest?!
Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe
Europe is truly your oyster when interrailing as you have access to 30 different countries. Use this unique experience to travel to cities and countries that you wouldn’t imagine yourself going on holiday too. Avoiding the crowds of tourist in Rome and instead opting for unusual scenic countries such as Slovenia, Romania or Bosnia and Herzegovina would not only be exciting for unique discoveries, but Eastern Europe is also significantly cheaper!
It is very easy to get swept away with the idea of travelling with a large group of friends, but there is usually chaos and unnecessary tension over who sits with who on trains and all getting split up on a night out. Instead, leave the love-hate relationship with a certain flatmate in Southampton, and get a couple of trusted friends or your partner to see Europe alongside you. Making it easier to decide on what to do in a city and enjoying a comfortable silence will put you in the right headspace on 9-hour train journeys.
The main problem that usually arises with interrailing is currency – there aren’t as many countries in the Eurozone as you might think! Always check in advance the currency of the countries you are going to in order to decide whether you are taking cash or card with you on your journeys. For me, every country I visited had a different currency, and so I chose to take cash for each hostel (most ask for money up-front, and so I didn’t want the panic of looking for a cash machine in Zagreb at 11 pm!), but also a pre-paid travel money card. Although I chose a card from the Post Office (they provide an immensely helpful app for ATMs and top-ups), there are an array of companies who also provide travels cards. Always put more money on the card than you expect to spend in the case of surprise expenses and emergencies!
The power of the student card
On a final and simple note, remembering your university ID can be so helpful for reducing costs. Many countries have reduced student admissions for museums and tourist attractions, but the ID is necessary. This is particularly beneficial when visiting Paris as most sites (excluding the Eiffel Tower) are free or have significantly reduced fees with your trusty Southampton ID card.