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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.