If you follow me on any social media platform whatsoever, I’m sure you’ll know by now that me and Ciaran have ventured off on our one month adventure around Europe, mostly due to me polluting every possible news feed with countless pictures of me by a beach, me by a statue, me by a wall, me by a… You get the gist. In September Ciaran surprised me with the best birthday present ever- an interrail ticket to spend our summer travelling Europe together! So of course the proceeding 8 months were spent obsessively route planning and reading blog posts for tips and inspiration. I must have read a blog post on every possible European destination- truly it became one of my only past times.
I’m going to start with a small truth- the best way to go interrailing would be with a completely free spirit, allowing your trip to be whatever it becomes as you go along- no plans. Yet and with all if I went again I’d probably still plan it religiously because I just love love love planning my next travel adventures. It’s ALOT easier with a group of friends if you’re up for hostels and meeting fellow travellers. When researching I found many amazing blog posts but there was a niche of information for couples interrailing where of course the trip is more personal. So, hopefully I can be of use to any couples planning an interrail trip, but also to ANYONE planning a trip!
Of course, I’ll sieze any opportunity to get a blog post or 5 out of my travels, and will be writing separate blog posts on all of our destinations so keep a look out if you’re planning to visit any of these amazing spots: Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Budapest, Ljiubjana, Venice and Valencia.
But to begin, here is everything we learned about interrailing and my tips for other first timers!
What is Interrailing?
Interrail is just one of several companies that provides train passes to travel around Europe on participating trains. There are several types of passes to choose from depending on your trip ambitions. We chose the 7 travel days within a 28 day period pass which means exactly that- we can travel by train on seven separate days within a 28 day period and it costs €230- but keep an eye out for discounts throughout the year! This is the perfect pass for anyone who knows they will be travelling for a month at most, because honestly it would be difficult to fit any more than 7 destinations into this time limit. Another popular pass however is the continuous pass, ideal for people planning to spend the entire summer travelling as it allows unlimited train journeys. We met a boy from Perth in Berlin who was using this pass and were very impressed by the amount of Europe he had seen by himself over three months!
Is it worth the money?
Overall- yes, if you are definitely planning to use trains as your method of transport around Europe. You can save a lot of money on train fares which can cost €100 for a single journey if you don’t have a pass. Find the current prices here: https://www.interrail.eu/en/interrail-passes/global-pass.
When your pass arrives, you will get a (very handy) travel document folder, your pass, an Interrail map and a pass guide- I remember how excited we were when this arrived months ago. The guide tells you everything you need to know about using the pass as you travel- make sure to fill it out as you go along to avoid fines onboard!
To make the most out of your interrail pass, it’s very important to know how it works! Whilst it is implied that you can travel around Europe stress free thanks to the pass, this isn’t exactly true. Many routes require a reservation and you won’t be able to get on the train without one. This was the case for Paris to Amsterdam and we ended up having to fork out extra for a bus because we couldn’t get on the trains. It’s also notable that the price of the ticket doesn’t include reservation fees and some trains such as overnight trains could have reservation fees of up to €99, depending on how well you want to sleep…
Interrail offers a reservation service online or via their app which allows you to plan your exact train journeys and they will sort out the reservations for you. I personally would avoid using this service for 3 reasons: they charge an €8 fee per reservation, the reservations must be made at least a week in advance and they can only send you paper copies in the post which to me just sounds like extra documents to try and not lose.
Reserving trains in the train stations is relatively simple. Don’t stress about where to do it, just ask a member of staff to point you in the direction. You should be able to reserve most trains on the day of travel but if you want extra security try and reserve them 24-72 hours in advance (for overnight trains this is a must).
If a train doesn’t require a reservation I probably wouldn’t bother reserving it unless you really really really can’t sit alone on a train- which we never had to do anyway!
When you reserve a train, your ticket will state which carriage to get on and your seat numbers, which I am mentioning because me and Ciaran did not realise this and had to move ourselves and our 2 cases and 3 bags of luggage 3 carts further down the train because we had obliviously plonked ourselves in someone else’s seat- not ideal.
Planning your route
Excluding the actual travelling part, this is by far the best thing about interrailing- getting to decide where you want to go from the endless list of amazing, diverse cultures that Europe has on offer! It was so hard to narrow down our choices that in fact we ended up deciding to fly to Valencia and then onwards to Majorca after our pass had expired. Needless to say, we’re not good at putting our foot down! As I said before, there is no need to plan a route and it’s probably even more enjoyable if you don’t but if you’re anything like me and obsess over your next adventure for months beforehand, this is so much fun.
I have two tips to ensure you have a stress free, amazing route plan:
1. Simple but important: make sure trains actually run between your chosen destinations. They nearly always will but this stopped us from doing Dubrovnik for example, and you don’t want to arrive at a station just to find out there is no existing train to connect your two cities.
2. Determine a route that compliments your budget! Eastern Europe is unarguably the cheapest option with destinations such as Budapest and Krakow being absolute steals- £1.80 for a mojito? Well okay. The more lavish cities such as Paris, Rome, Venice and Amsterdam are significantly more expensive in comparison. If you’re on a budget stick to Eastern Europe and just research a little how much each city costs for a couple of days to make sure you have a good mix of cities that isn’t going to leave you bankrupt one week in- it can surprise you which stops are the most expensive!
Other pass benefits
Downloading the rail planner app will allow you to discover which benefits your pass provides you in different cities including museums, buses, tours, ferries etc. Me and Ciaran were slightly miffed to find out we had been paying for buses and metros in each city when they would have been covered by our passes!
Hotels vs Hostels?
The big debate that ultimately comes down to budget, and who you’re going with. For a big group of friends I would definitely recommend hostels. I know so many people who hosteled their way around Europe and made friends from all corners of the world, plus there are some very pleasant hostels out there that are even nicer than hotels which can cost 3x more! Check out Hostel World for rooms as cheap as £8 a night.
Ciaran and I stayed in one hostel in Berlin- Wallyard Concept Hostel– a modern, minimalist chic hostel where we shared a six bedroom dorm with 4 lone travellers. We really enjoyed the social aspect of this, meeting a guy from New Zealand, a guy from Perth, a woman from Moscow and a guy from Singapore. We loved hearing about their travels around Europe alone and it was such a good way to get talking to new people. If you are travelling alone it will make your trip the most interesting experience of your life for sure.
Of course, hostels don’t appeal to everyone, particularly if you are in a group of two such as a couple and prefer your own space. Here you have two options: hotels or private hostel rooms. I personally would opt for hotels here as private rooms in hostels are actually just as expensive (except in Amsterdam, and only Amsterdam from my experience). There are plenty of ways to make hotels cheaper: book in advance for a start, we got some really good deals 4-5 months before our trip.
Another way to nab a cheap hotel is the Hotel Tonight app which we used for Amsterdam and Valencia. This app is based on the concept wherein you can only book last minute (7 days beforehand max) and grab cheap deals on hotels that have last minute rooms to spare. You’re also guaranteed a nice (or at least acceptable) hotel as the creators have picked only hotels they themselves would want to stay in. We managed to stay in Amsterdam Teleport Hotel for £120 for two nights which was super cheap for Amsterdam on the dates we were going- on other websites the lowest price was around £190. It was an excellent hotel that we were very sad to leave, so the app creators do have valid taste.
Lastly there is the infamous Air B&B which offers private rooms or full apartments at prices set by the owner which typically makes it pretty affordable. You can rent out stunning full apartments if you’re willing to splash out, or rent a private room for as little as £10 a night. With Air B&B you aren’t staying in a hotel so don’t expect the same service aspect- you’re in someone’s home. We actually loved this though as it made our trip feel more culturally involved- staying in a Parisian apartment that was decorated and lived in by one of Paris’ own! Just make sure and check out the cancellation policy’s and ensure you’re staying in a safe and convenient area because cities are a big place and “10 mins from the centre” can be deceiving.
My final advice on interrailing is to plan as much as you want and let it become a hobby because it is the trip of a lifetime and worth obsessing over, BUT: don’t fret too much! Your trip will never go exactly as you originally planned and everything will work itself out… There’s always another train, a place to stay, an information desk, an English translation. Just go and do it and have the time of your life enjoying the amazing part of our planet that is Europe.
MY INTERRAIL VIDEO