The InterRailing Adventure

So you want to go InterRailing? Great! There’s so much to see, learn and experience by travelling across different countries and witnessing diverse and beautiful cultures that we at House of Coco are pupping to hit the tracks again.

With a wide variety of countries and cultures across a relatively small area, Europe is just perfect for scratching the InterRail itch. Plus it’s right on our doorstep (or tunnel) and travelling by rail makes it affordable for any budget!

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If you’re looking for information on the InterRail  ticket itself, head over to the InterRail site, or alternatively, you can use My InterRail or Rail Europe where you can get prices, buy your pass online and finally make the commitment that you’ve been wander lusting after.

Why Go Interrailing?

With just one ticket  you can travel freely throughout Europe for up to one month. The Interrail system caters to all traveller tastes – whether you fancy visiting sun-soaked beaches, bustling cities, picturesque towns or remote Swiss villages clinging to mountainsides.

You can skip through places that don’t appeal to you whilst on your journey to some of the more awesome sights such as the Alps and the Amalfi coast, while still enjoying the view of the country your speeding through from the comfort of your seat. Trains in Europe tend to be reliable, speedy and run on time.

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Karlův Most (Charles Bridge), Prague. @CaoilfhionnRose

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Sacré-Cœur, Paris. @CaoilfhionnRose

Firstly, definitely get your claws on Lonely Planet’s ‘Europe on a Shoestring’. It’s an absolute gem and will answer pretty much any queries you may have regarding your trip. The book also includes a guide for every sizeable town and city in Europe which is accessible to interrailers and compliments the InterRail map you’ll be given with your tickets. Other useful information on each featured destination in the book includes price ranges, must see sights, hostels or camping areas and lots more.

Europe is your oyster when it comes to InterRailing. When you first decide that you are going to interrail around Europe, it’s easy to get carried away and think that you can get around every town in Europe in the 30 days. Well, unfortunately you can’t. You need to be cut-throat when planning your route and consider what places are most desirable to you.

Remember when planning your route that you don’t always have to get a train to your next destination, InterRail offers a host of discounts to pass holders including travel on buses and ferries, e.g. from Croatia to Italy by boat. This can save on backtracking and wasting your limited pass days.

You can’t use your Inter-Rail ticket in your home country. It can be worth getting some cheap flights (go for mid-week) and starting your rail journey abroad. We’d advise flying to your first destination, wandering around there for a few days, and then starting your ticket so as to save time. It’s also useful to do this with your final destination also.

 

How It All Works?

The InterRail tickets come in two categories: the global pass and the one country pass.

The global rail pass allows you unlimited travel across a vast maze of tracks in 30 countries while the one country pass limits travellers to one country.

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Image: InterRail.eu

For those under 26, you are entitled to a Youth Pass which offers a sizable 35% off.

The one country pass works on a ‘price level’ system. Each country in Europe is placed in one of four price levels or zones, depending principally on how much it costs to travel in that area (with Level 1 being the most expensive).

Level 1 – France, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden.

Level 2 – Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland, “Greece Plus” (incl. ferry Greece – Italy), Republic of Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland.

Level 3 – Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania.

Level 4 – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey.

Although the InterRail pass allows you the freedom to hop on and off most local and regional trains, it will not guarantee you a seat. It is advised, particularly in the summer months, that you reserve seats for those long-haul journeys in advance. However if you enjoy the excitement of the unknown and jumping on a random train, bring a sleeping bag and make your own, exclusive rail seat on the carriage floor!

Also beware that some inter-city or express trains cannot be used with an interrail pass. Always double-check, otherwise you could be left with another expensive ticket to pay!

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Image: Rail Europe

The InterRail pass is individual and non-transferable, which means that only you can use it and you may have to prove that you are the ticket holder, so keep your passport handy. Along with your ticket you’ll be given a special form, on which you are expected to log and detail the plan of your journey.

Before You Go, Be In The Know

After planning your route, read up on the places that you’re going to be visiting. It would be rubbish if you’d left a town in the dust and just missed out on a major European festival. Europe on a Shoestring is great for providing dates of regional festivals, must-see sights and most importantly, basic language. Parlezvous Français?

Regata Storica di Venezia. Image: National Geographic

Regata Storica di Venezia. Image: National Geographic

Throughout your European travels you’re going to be faced with a number of foreign languages, which can be quite daunting.

Enrich your mind with a few basics, so that you don’t end up insulting someone or having to learn how to mime:

  • Hello
  • Yes
  • No
  • Thanks
  • Please
  • Sorry
  • Do you speak English?
  • Numbers (if you’re getting the rounds in)
  • Supplement (so you can find out if you’ll have to pay one on a particular train)
  • The food or drink that you’re most likely to ask for (bread, cheese, beer, coffee etc)

To make things a lot easier, go and buy this genius little picture book which will help anywhere in the world.

Travelling by train (rather than air or road) promises chilled out journeys which give you a ground level view of places you may never have heard of, and you’ll often find that you want to jump off the train and discover a country’s best kept secret.

Hidden Croatian gem; Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Hidden Croatian gem; Plitvice Lakes National Park. @CaoilfhionnRose

Where Can You Rest Your Head?

Hostels and hotels

Preferred by many backpackers, hostels are a great place to meet like-minded people. You typically have the choice of a shared or private dorm. Sometimes one or two star hotels work out cheaper than a hostel so if you have time, shop around. It is advised that you book this sort of accommodation in advance, where possible, so not to waste time when you arrive in your destination. We recommend HostelBookers.com of HostelWorld.com which feature almost every hostel and budget hotel along with user reviews.

Camping

Campsites are safe and cheap, so don’t think that your life will turn in to another sequel of Taken if you decide to pitch beside a stranger.  Again, Europe on a Shoestring provides maps and addresses of campsites in every town and city, so you’ll never be stuck for somewhere to lay your head. Most cities have campsites centrally based, or direct travel to local campsites in the suburbs of town. Our favourite is the quaint and homely Camping Memling in the suburbs of Bruges.

Tourist Information offices towns will be able to provide you with a list also, but they may promote the more expensive campsites so it’s best to research before you travel.

Sleeping on the train

A big money saver! Sleeping on the train can be free when interrailing, so long as you don’t mind curling up on a few seats. There are sleeper trains with cabins and bunk beds, but you’ll have to pay a surcharge. Even so it can be cheaper than accommodation and you’ll be saving yourself time travelling in useful daylight hours.

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What Should I Take With Me?

Travel light! You’re going to be lugging your backpack across Europe so bringing 5 pairs of shoes is a no-no and for once, it is acceptable to wear the same t-shirt 3 days in a row. Remember you can always buy things you really need whilst on the move! You need to have space for your essentials, which are as follows:

  • A secure purse or travel wallet
  • A padlock for your backpack – seems drastic, but what if you fall asleep on the train and there’s nobody watching your stuff?
  • InterRail Map
  • All your paperwork – ticket, travel insurance, passport etc.
  • The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in order to get free/cheaper healthcare if you get injured
  • A secure rucksack for your days out
  • Suncream, personal medication, insect repellent
  • Sleeping bag and liner
  • A tent (if camping)
  • A waterproof coat
  • Something warm – trains are not heated
  • A language book – get Point It!
  • An international phone and charger
  • Back up bank cards/money
  • Proof of identity – passport, student card, utility bills etc

Anything else?

The train staff on board have the right to check where you’re from so don’t panic if you’re stopped and asked to prove your place of residence. Armed police may hop on board when crossing borders and they may search your rucksack so don’t carry something that you shouldn’t be, otherwise there may be severe consequences.

Make sure you have travel insurance for the whole trip!

It’s a really wise idea to photocopy or scan all your important documents (passport, rail tickets, plane tickets, insurance etc) and email them to yourself.

Student discount card (ISIC card)

The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is your passport to fantastic discounts and services at home and around the world.

The ISIC card is the only internationally recognised student ID and ISIC card holders are members of a truly global club. Every year more than 4.5 million students from 120 countries use their student card to take advantage of offers on travel, shopping, museums and more, worldwide.

 

Know anyone who is planning on taking the InterRail plunge? Share this article with them to make their trip easier! 

Make sure to return to House of Coco for all your travel and luxury needs!

Caoilfhionn Rose

Caoilfhionn is a freelance travel writer who enjoys slow travel and avoiding landmarks in favour of diving into a destination's culture. Instagram: @CaoilfhionnRose

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