A beginners guide to Interrailing, every 18-year-old’s post sixth form dream

Hello lovely people!

Last summer I took to the rails and headed out to Europe for my first Interrail trip. Myself and three of my friends had just finished our A-Levels, and fresh with our new-found freedom we smashed 12 cities across 9 countries in 14 days, hearing 6 languages and dealing with 3 currencies (definitely didn’t just include the stats because I think they’re impressive).

It was quite the adventure, but I’m not here to talk about the specifics of the trip. Instead I’m going to share all of my tips and tricks, as there are definitely things I did right and things I’ll be doing differently on my next Interrail style trip to Berlin, Prague and Budapest this summer.

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Yes, you can Interrail in the countryside too! (Schaan Vaduz, Liechenstein)

Before your adventure

Planning this kind of trip is a lot more complicated than a few flights and hostels.

First of all, you’re going to need a route. I’d reccomend Interrail Planner for doing this, as it allows you to visually map out where you’re going to go, complete with distances. You are going to have to make sacrifices. Sometimes a city is just that little bit too far out of the way, or it doesn’t make for an easy route. It’s also worth considering how long you want to spend in each city at this point. We spent either a day or two in each, which for most cities (save Paris, I always need more time in Paris) I found worked out just fine!

Next stop; flights, trains and accommodation. For flights, as always, I’d reccomend Skyscanner. If you can, search for flights from a few different UK airports near you, as there will always be one that trumps the other on price. Once arriving in Europe, you’re going to need a place to stay. We used a mixture of hostels and airbnbs to keep costs low. I want to do a full post on how much I love hostels, but I’ll give you 3 main tips for now; choose places with kitchens, don’t worry too much about location (most cities have excellent public transport), and don’t expect much from a free breakfast. Next stop; trains (they’re a bit of a nightmare). Some will need further reservations not covered by your Interrail pass, especially in Western Europe and on night trains. When booking trains I’d reccomend making travel plans that allow you as much city time as possible, whether this be by making use of night trains or early morning trips.

Also, get travel insurance and an EHIC. You never know.

 

 

How to pack, for those who have had their Mum do it their entire lives

If you think you’re taking a suitcase, you’re sorely mistaken. Invest in a hiking backpack (think dofe in year 10 style), and use a smaller day bag for sightseeing. Preferably one that doesn’t have to be held together with string by the end of the trip like mine did last year.

I’m not going to tell you exactly what to pack, because quite frankly there are hundreds of lists online. But there are some random things that you will 100% need but will 100% forget. You will need: an extension lead for trains with only 1 plug, a headphone splitter to share comedy podcasts, playing cards so you don’t have to buy some in broken French, a First Aid kit for when blisters strike, photocopies of your passport and ID, and a fanny pack, because they’re oddly versatile.

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Are we real backpackers yet? (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Dollar dollar bills (or Euros? Francs? Zloty?)

My main point here is DON’T TAKE CASH YOU IDIOT. If you lose your wallet (which I did in Prague…. who’s an idiot?), have it stolen or get in a fire somehow (???), boom, all your money is gone. Instead, I’d reccomend using a Caxton card. It works like a prepaid debit card which you load before or even during your trip, without any of the nasty international fees often charged by UK banks. It covers a lot of different currencies, and even for those it doesn’t, you are still able to withdraw money from the card in whatever country you’re in (found that out the hard way in Liechenstein). Alternatively, I’ve just switched my current account to Monzo because they allow international transactions without fees, but you don’t need to be so drastic.

As for a budget, I found that 25EUR per day on average was about right, plus the cost of hostels on top. Some cities like Paris topped this budget, but others like Prague went way below. Everyone’s happy.

 

 

Getting from A to B

You’d be stupid not to use public transport, especially as it is generally much cheaper and more efficient in Europe than in the UK. Upon arriving in a city I’d advise checking out what tickets are available to you for your stay, as sometimes there are deals for students, or those staying 24h/48h/72h. This is easier said than done when you don’t speak the language, which is probably why we got better deals in France and Belgium. That said, guessing and looking confused when the train man speaks at you in Czech works well too.

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We love the S-Bahn (Munich, Germany)

Keeping yourself entertained

You’re going to see and do a lot more if you sit down and have a quick google in advance. We each took a few cities and did some research, even if for Thomas this consisted of asking a random German lady on the train what she’d reccomend we do in Munich. Personally, I’d reccomend checking out travel bloggers and instagrammers, as well as just generally googling “things to do in x city”. Don’t make a rigid plan though, as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stick to it and don’t want to spend the whole trip rushing around. Most of the time we took a few minutes the night before to work out what was vaguely close to other locations and came up with a rough idea of what we were doing. Make sure to take a student card if you have one, as many museums and galleries are much cheaper or even free!

 

 

Final tips

These are all of the random things that I couldn’t fit into any other boxes, but that I think deserve a mention.

STAY ORGANISED. To maximise your time and reduce stress, make sure you know exactly where you’re going, when you’re going, how you’re going and where you’re staying. A simple shared google doc or spreadsheet should do the trick.

For getting around I’d reccomend City Mapper if the city you’re in supports it, or failing that, Google Maps. Each app gives you a detailed travel plan including any public transport, which means you’ll be wasting much less time than you would staring aimlessly at Subway maps all day.

Document your trip however you can! You will thank yourself for your memories a year or twenty down the line. From our 2017 trip we have a vlog, the photos we shared in our group chat each day and a set of disposable camera photos each. For my 2018 trip I’m going to be doing the exact same, along with writing a diary each day.

Food wise, you want to keep costs low (more beer money right?). Breakfast for us consisted of rice cakes, chocolate spread and fruit on most days. Lunch options were either eating in a cafe if it was cheap, or heading to a supermarket and going picnic style with a baguette, cold meats and cheese. Dinner can either be something that’s quick and easy to cook in a big pot in a hostel kitchen (think spag bol and stir fry), or eating out depending on your budget.

 

 

So, now you have all the wisdom you need to go out and “find yourself” on a train in the Alps. For all I joke, my 2017 trip was easily a life highlight, and something I love looking back on all the time. If you get the chance to Interrail, take it. I can’t wait to be returning to the train-hostel lifestyle next week, and introducing my uni friends to it. LIVE THE ADVENTURE KIDDOS.

 

-Megan, listening to my release radar on Spotify because I’m so up-to-date and hip.

 

 

 

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Durham is just a budget Edinburgh, so why not visit the better one?

Hello lovely people!

I’ve always wanted to become a travel blogger. Mainly for the pretentiousness, feigned image of being cultured and fitting into millennial ideals for once in my life. In reality, I’m just any other skint student wandering around with a backpack, trying to see as much as possible on as little money as possible. Still, doesn’t mean I’m not going to write about it.

Last Friday I took a day trip up to Edinburgh (I know, this travel blogging thing isn’t exactly starting with a bang, but just go with it). This was mostly to stop my friends’ incessant complaining about having never visited throughout the year, but also because on my last visit all I did was go clubbing and be hungover (thanks Hive). So we booked our train tickets, got up painfully early, and set out on our adventure.

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Travel

This section is largely self-explanatory. Due to my lack of car space, and everyone else’s lack of cars, we took the train up to Edinburgh. We chose to do an early start and a late finish, because the train tickets were cheaper we wanted to make the most of our day.

Buying bus tickets in Edinburgh is a bit pointless really, given that most of the main sights are at most a 20 minute walk from the main station. Didn’t do, wouldn’t reccomend.

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Natalia really likes cows, and I’ve never been exactly sure why

To See & Do

As a broke student, I always aim to make my travels as cheap as absolutely possible (tips and tricks guide coming soon), and Edinburgh was no exception.

Old Town

Walking around Old Town felt almost like I hadn’t left Durham with the prevalence of cobbled streets and hills. Nonetheless I’d totally reccomend setting aside a few hours during your day to just wander around this area, because you really will stumble upon some absolute gems, from cute independent shops to cathedrals and cafes. Avoid shopping or spending too much time on the Royal Mile though; this tourist hotspot is expensive and always busy. Instead, hit up side streets or the Grassmarket – you’re bound to save money.

Edinburgh Castle

Welcome to tourist-land kids. It’s nice to look at sure, even nicer to slav squat in front of, but do you really have £20 spare to visit it? The answer is no.

Scottish National Gallery

It wasn’t the first time I’ve visited this particular gallery, and it won’t be the last. I am a self-proclaimed idiot when it comes to art, but I can appreciate a pretty painting of a landscape when I see one. I’d also reccomend going to this gallery with friends with as stupid a sense of humour as you, so you can spend the entire time making jokes about the exhibits. To top it all off, it’s completely free! Thanks Nicola Sturgeon.

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Edgy emo kid looks at art for the first time

Holyrood Palace & Scottish Parliament

If your legs are getting tired by this point, these two are right next to each other – neat! We again decided not to venture inside either of these buildings because we’re poor, but it’s definitely a nice area to check out cool parts of history (I’m such a nerd). Added bonuses include the nearby Unknown Pleasures record shop (still not over how amazing this place was) and the fact that you’re surrounded by hills in this area whilst still being within Scotland’s capital city.

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Scottish Parliament, the only place to still use Gaelic

Food & Drink

I like food a lot. I also like coffee and beer. Hence this section.

Hula Juice Bar, West Bow

I’m obsessed with this place. It was our first stop of the day to refuel on caffeine, but I’m desperate to go back and try out their largely vegetarian and vegan menu. Not only was their coffee blend perfect, but the place had a really cool aesthetic (am I a millennial now?).

Deep Fried Mars Bar*

Can you really go to Scotland with your foreign friends without showing them deep fried mars bars? Answer: no. As always they’re a heart attack in a snack and not to be eaten on the daily, but super sweet and annoyingly tasty. *Best eaten with haggis for good measure.

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I love having heart disease

Toro Loco, Grassmarket

We collectively decided that by taking packed lunches with us (ultimate student travelling right there) we’d saved enough money on food and chose to eat in a restaurant for dinner. Toro Loco was the perfect choice; Mexican street food indoors (thanks to a typical Scottish rainy summer we didn’t fancy eating outside). I had some amazing bean quesadillas, with chips & guac for the table, totalling less than £6. A no-brainer really if you want good food at a good price.

Biddy Mulligans, Grassmarket

As it was raining, we were simply forced to spend the last part of our evening in the pub. What can you do? There was no better way to finish off the day than a pint of Tennents (when in Rome…), a little live music, pals and the football on in the background (I’m trying to learn to like it for world cup purposes).

 

So, my return to my Scottish heritage was, by all accounts, a lot of fun. Edinburgh is a beautiful mix of traditional and modern; the city’s industrialisation not hampered by it’s classic roots. I’m sure we’ll be back for more deep fried mars bars and whiskey before too long.

-Megan, pretending to watch the world cup as my flatmates pack up for home around me.

 

(Most of the photos in this post were taken by my absolute babe of a college wife Oana. Check out more of her photography here)

 

My name is Megan, I’m 19 and not straight. Nice to meet you!

I wish I remembered when I first realised that I’m not straight, but the reality is, I don’t.

There was no great awakening, fanfare, sudden realisation or cinematics. My sexuality would not have made for a good coming-of-age film plot or inspiring open letter to young questioning youth. It just happened, to the extent that I hardly even realised it had happened. But, it did happen. And this Pride month, I want to talk about it.

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Even the gays need meal deals

So hello, my name is Megan, I’m 19, and I went to my first Pride this year. Whilst the night may have ended in Klute like any other Durham Sunday, the rest of the day was filled with undeniable feeling of gratitude. I was lucky enough to be able to spend my day wrapped in a pink, purple and blue flag as I marched alongside my college and so many others from the university and local community. I had the chance to dance in the streets, watch people of all genders love and be loved, and be outspokenly proud of myself and the people I love.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. I’m 14, confused and alone. I really fancy Hayley Williams, and find the pretty girls at school attractive in the same way I find boys attractive. But I’m not gay!  Internalised homophobia and casual schoolyard comments led me to believe that being queer was undesirable, something other people were. So, I pushed it all aside, tried not to think about it, and carried on.

Fast forward to around year 11. I’m starting to find my feet in life. I discover Pretty Little Liars and it’s lesbian character arc, Troye Sivan on YouTube and the gay side of Tumblr (or is all of Tumblr one big gay space? Anyway…). Coupled with a new-found awareness that bisexuality is a valid label (thanks YouTube) and a number of my peers coming out I began to become more comfortable with who I am.

 

And then I dated a woman. I think it was pretty out of the blue to most people, as at this point in late 2016 my bisexuality was still largely irrelevant to my everyday existence. It wasn’t a huge secret, I just didn’t feel the need to bring it up. So, most people in my life discovered I was bisexual at the same time that they discovered that I was in my first relationship (nice one past me).

Coming out to my parents was, naturally, awkward. In fairness I didn’t take the best approach; telling my Mum I was starting to date a girl whilst she was driving me to a house party at 60mph. She was, unsurprisingly, pretty shocked, although I think that was more because I’d told her as she drove at high speed. Sorry Mam. I then sunk the best part of a bottle of peach schnapps, cried a bit with some friends, and got on with it.

My Grandad’s reaction is, to this day, my favourite coming out reaction I’ve ever had. “Megan’s got a girlfriend? Well I’m not that surprised. *sips pint* Nice weather we’re having today.” I shit you not, my nearly 80 year-old Grandad’s reaction to my sexuality was on the same level as his reaction to a bit of sunshine. It didn’t matter to him who I loved, and still doesn’t, as long as I’m happy.

That relationship soon ended, but throughout it I came out every single day.  I had some homophobic comments here and there, some catcalling peppered in, but thankfully, my coming out experience throughout my life has been largely positive.

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My relationship with my own sexuality has changed a lot from how it was in the early days. Even when I’m not dating women, my bisexuality comes at the forefront of my identity. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “Hi, I’m Megan and I like girls and boys” when I first meet someone, but it usually comes along quite quickly. That’s not to be controversial, or over-zealous, or make people uncomfortable, but because I see it as something that defines me. After hundreds of years of queer oppression which still continues today, for me my relative freedom to express my sexuality is really important. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not even safe for everyone, but for me, it’s something I am unashamedly proud of.

So for me, Durham Pride was the culmination of a lot of years of difficult decisions, changing outlooks and personal development. I spent it with the best bunch of amazing humans and I sincerely hope that we’ll all be together again next year to celebrate ourselves once again.

“One day we won’t have to come out of the closet. We’ll just say we’re in love, and that’s all that will matter.”

 

-Megan, writing in the early hours of the morning to the sound of Courtney Barnett’s Aussie jams

Meet the Blogger!

Hello lovely people!

Welcome to my (albeit not first) attempt at blogging! As someone who has written the description of the president of Durham University Orchestral Society on their website (thanks Laura), knows a bit too much about music and is so left-wing it hurts, I’ve decided to create a space for my musings on everything from music to politics.

So in the unlikely event that someone who doesn’t know me in real life is reading these (hi people from school I haven’t seen in years), here’s a little introduction to myself.

I’m Megan, I’m 19 and I’m just a paper boy from the North West (Courteeners anyone? No, just me…). I spend half of the year driving an 11-year-old Citroen to work and back in the Lake District, and the other half doing much more exciting things at Durham University. I study French & Spanish at St Cuthbert’s Society (possibly the best college in the world), meaning that essentially, I listen to Despacito on loop and drink too much wine (#culture?). When I’m not crying over the impossibilities of Medieval French I go to cool FemSoc things, try to get involved in my Labour Club, go to too many gigs and have a terrible habit of booking travels that I can’t afford.

I ALSO FUCKING LOVE MUSICALS. Just needed to shoehorn that in somehow.

I’m quite impressively awful at small talk and introductions so I think it’s about time to end this part here. Here’s to hoping this isn’t just a phase and I keep writing as the weeks go on.

 

-Megan, currently listening to Childish Gambino and complaining about how hot it is in the UK