Planning to explore Europe by rail? Here are our do’s and don’ts when inter-railing…
DON’T… just visit the main cities.
Travelling off the beaten track will not only be more budget-friendly but will also make your experience more authentic and exciting! Ask other travellers where they would recommend, and consider hopping on local transport to get slightly further afield. Prices will be cheaper and you may just discover some hidden gems.
DON’T… turn up and try to wing it.
Accommodation is best booked in advance, especially if you’re on a tight timescale or budget. Plan your route and look up hostels before you get to the destination, rather than spending a day lugging a backpack around until you’ve found a bed for the night. Wouldn’t you rather be exploring that city hands-free?
DON’T… be shy!
Chat to people you meet on trains, in hostels, at bars, on platforms, in queues… They might just share with you a new destination or a tip that could totally change your interrailing trip. And don’t expect all the locals to speak English. Learning a few key phrases for each destination can be a lifesaver, and make the locals more willing to help out!
DON’T… take loads of luggage.
Whatever you do, try to pack light. Layers are key when travelling around Europe as you never know quite what the weather will do (your pac-a-mac may become your best friend, particularly if travelling outside the high season!). Take a backpacker – wheelie suitcases really don’t suit train travel, and choose dark or coloured clothing over lighter shades, which will get dirty more easily. You can top up your wash bag along the way, there’s no point lugging around full bottles of shampoo or shower gel.
DON’T… rush your trip.
Be realistic about timescales and don’t try to pack in too many cities or countries – otherwise you will ultimately miss out! If you can only interrail for a few weeks, then plan to come back and finish what you started at some point in the future! Rushing your trip will mean that you miss out on really getting to know the places you are visiting. Besides, who would turn down an excuse to return?!
DO… be realistic about your budget from day one.
There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a foreign city, without the money to go out and experience its sights and sounds. Work out a rough daily budget in advance, and then add on a little bit of contingency money. Most people estimate around £25-40 per day, depending on your level of accommodation and how much you plan to eat and drink… Carry Euros and a bank card for cash withdrawals on the road (travellers’ cheques are pretty much dead weight these days). For more tips on budgeting during your trip, check out our money-saving blog.
DO… take a great book.
The very nature of this travel means that you’re going to spend a fair amount of time on train platforms and in train carriages. A good read is worth its weight in gold – and you can trade it with fellow travellers once you’ve finished. Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There is a classic. But don’t get too buried in the pages, you wouldn’t want to miss the spectacular scenery that’s flying past…
DO… travel outside of the high season.
If you’re on a tight budget (and let’s face it, most of us are) then it’s best not to travel during the high season – which is inevitably summer – when the temperatures and crowds are at their highest. Spring and Autumn are great times to travel, with pleasant temperatures and far fewer tourists meaning that prices come down and the pace can be more relaxed.
DO… get a window seat to make the most of those views.
Remember that your interrail pass isn’t just a way of getting from a to b. While sleeper trains may help to keep costs down by reducing the nights you’ll spend in hostels, travelling under cover of darkness means you may miss out on some of Europe’s finest scenery.
DO… have the time of your life!
You’re on the adventure of a lifetime, make the most of every second!
Laura Davies started her career at South East Asia Backpacker Magazine on an internship in the summer of 2011. After proving she could knock back shots, ride a scooter and look good in a poncho, she soon became an indispensable part of the team. She's now living in London, working as a freelance designer frequently taking trips within Europe and writing for Europe Backpacker. Interested in becoming a writer for us?