Written by Alice McLeod on 13 / 06 / 2023
Gap Year Advice
Exams are nearly over, the summer is looming and the smell of Hawaiian Tropicana is nearly upon you. The post-exam pilgrimage of interrailing around Europe is as popular as ever, perfect for anyone wanting to squeeze in some travel without taking an entire gap year.
So, we have prepared a 5 step guide to help you happily zip around Europe this summer on your interrailing adventure.
You have a few choices when it comes to tickets. You can either buy a single country InterRail pass which lets you travel freely within one of 30 European countries, or a 'Global Pass' which is valid across 30 countries! (well, with the exception of your country of residence, though discounts may be available when you show your Global Pass).
The single pass, for a month, costs from about 87 Euros for Italy up to 154 Euros for Germany and all other countries rest somewhere in between. A month’s pass covers unlimited travel in a day for only 8 days of travel in your month so you’ll have to work your itinerary out beforehand. Options to upgrade to a premium ticket are available but the upgrade/premium only gives you the added benefit of pre-booking a seat – food for thought.
A monthly global pass gives you the flexibility to pretty much hop on and off any train in Europe and definitely gets our vote. Extras like reserving a seat in advance, travelling in a sleeping carriage or some high-speed trains often incur a supplement so check before you jump on the train if you’re not sure. Costs for these vary depending on how many 'travel days' you are after but on average a one-month travel global pass with 15 days of unlimited travel cost 361 Euros. Great Value for money.
Top tip from our seasoned interrailers: definitely opt for the global pass and advance book your overnight trains where you must check if they have reclining seats – if they don’t, upgrade to a sleeping carriage – nothing worse than arriving in a new place exhausted to spend the first day asleep in the hostel.
Like all adventures, Interrailing needs a bit of planning, but at the same time remaining flexible. Once you’ve decided on the length of your trip, it’s good to write yourself a list of the places you want to try to visit. Note that I say try – you’ll probably find that your list is a little bit ambitious, so you need to be prepared to be flexible. And because you never know what’s going to happen or who you’ll meet along the way – the joy of Interrailing is that if you see somewhere on your journey, that you hadn’t planned to visit that looks interesting – hop off the train and take a look!
Maps and books are really important both for the research and for the travelling. You can also read our list of best interrailing routes here.
Guide books, on the other hand, are not so easy as they are heavy and who wants to lug them around on your back? Best to start your research on the internet, then when you’ve sketched a plan in place try downloading the relevant Lonely Planet books.
Top tip from our seasoned interailers: don't be too ambitious. Spend at least 3 days in each place, otherwise your only memory will be of the inside of a train!
Like with any travelling, space is pretty limited so you don’t want to be hefting around loads of stuff. It can be tempting to think of it like any other train journey and opt for a wheeled suitcase, but it’s important to consider what else you will be doing on your trip – if you’re going to be doing lots of exploring (let’s face it, that’s the whole point right?), a backpack is probably going to be easier. You also don't want the embarrassment lugging a wheelie bag over the many cobbled roads of European cities. Leave your wheelie bag at home.
Your phone is the key item to a successful trip – used for…well everything really – booking, researching, keeping in contact, you name it you won’t be able to live without it, just make sure you GET IT INSURED before you go. You can read about some helpful apps to download before you go here.
Be prepared for varying weather with sun cream and a rain coat, and make sure you’ve got the essentials and your passport (obviously!). For security, it’s good to take a combination lock chain with you so that you can lock your bag to your train seat, the luggage compartment, or your bed frame at the hostel (most have lockers, but not always). When it comes to clothes think 3 or 4 times ‘do I really need this’ as every item adds to the weight of the bag which will be strapped to your back for many an hour… In fact, we have written another blog on packing the perfect backpack so have read here. Keep in mind that you'll be able to find just about everything you could possibly need whilst you're out there, so if you forget to pack your toothpaste then no need to panic.
Top tip from our seasoned interrailers: Try out your backpack on before you leave home to test its weight and to work out the benefits of those weight-shifting straps! You don't want the first time you ever try on your backpack to be the day you travel to the airport.
Hostels are a great option, especially as they can be a great way of meeting other travellers – you might even get tips on places to visit that you didn’t know about or hadn’t included in your plans! Remember that you’ll need a Youth Hostel Association card for Youth Hostels, but also consider independent hostels in your plans. When making your plans, many hostels can be booked online or if not have contact details and can usually be booked up to 6 months in advance. Of course, for flexibility in your plans, you can also just turn up on the day – just be prepared to be turned away if they’re full! If you’re going for this option, try to arrive earlier in the day to give yourself time to find an alternative. Great place to start is Hostels.com
Sometimes hotels can actually be cheaper than hostels, and there'll be times when the thought of staying in a dorm room in a hostel is just too much - we all need our own space sometimes. Depending on your plans, sometimes a hotel is more conveniently located. Start with booking.com for research and availability.
Airbnb is perfect if you're planning on staying somewhere a little longer. The main benefit is you feel you’ve arrived in a home, sometimes with local hosts who can point you in the right direction giving you the insider’s guide to the location. Whilst usually a little more expensive than a hostel, if you find a property with a kitchen then it means you can easily and cheaply cook your own meals, thus saving on the cost of having to eat out each meal like you might have to if you had to share a gross hostel kitchen.
If you enjoy camping, there are usually loads of options wherever you go – even if you’re visiting a city there are usually sites not too far away, and some offer a bus service into the city. Of course, a key consideration with camping is that you’ll need to carry a tent and some basic camping supplies around with you – not always the most convenient option when you’re out and about exploring.
Depending on your route of choice, there are often going to be options to travel overnight and you can sleep on the train itself. As mentioned earlier, there will be a supplement to pay if you want a bunk in a sleeping carriage or reclining seat. It’s worth organising your bag a little bit ahead of the journey though so that the essentials you might need are easy to get to – think sleeping bag, toothbrush, water bottle.
Top tip from our seasoned interrailers: the room rating on booking.com is very different from that on Air BnB. Just be aware/read up about it to avoid disappointment on arrival. If you want to lug a tent around try putting your tent up and down before you leave home!
As a general rule in Europe, east and south are cheaper than the west and north, worth noting at the planning stage. As a rough guide, if you're camping and making your own sarnies, you can get by on less than a 15 Euros a day. If you're hostelling and eating out, you'll need more like 25 to 30. But this is before you do any activities which need to be budgeted for.
The euro makes interrailing super easy, remember Switzerland can catch you out! Take a debit card and a backup card – packed separately or split between you and your travel buddy. Carry little cash and withdraw money when needed from ATMs.
Top tip from our seasoned interrailers: take a prepaid debit card like a Monzo or Revolut card as they often have much lower overseas transaction charges than a regular debit card.
So there you have it – interrailing in a nutshell to help steer your planning in the right direction, so you too can become a successful seasoned interrailer.
If you get the backpacking bug then we can help send you further afield. Download our gap year guide for backpacking inspiration, which contains several sections on preparing for your adventure. If you do catch the travel bug and want to go further afield then take a look at our team programmes, which all combine elements of challenge and contribution. Joining a team programme is the perfect way to give you confidence and experience in new countries before heading off to independently travel should you so wish. However you decide to spend your gap year, we're here to help so please get in touch if you have any questions or queries.
How long should I go interrailing for? How much time do you have? There's such a huge amount to see and experience in Europe that you could feasibly explore it for months. More realistically you're likely to do between 2-6 weeks. Some parts of Europe are expensive in relation to other parts of the world like SE Asia so you can find yourself quickly burning through all your money if you're not careful.
Do I have to go through passport control whilst interrailing? You must have your passport with you when you travel, but most of the time you won't even notice that your train has crossed borders. There's free movement through the Schengen area, but you may be asked to show your passport at any point on your travels.
Will I need any visas to interrail? No, you don't need visas whilst you interrail on a British passport.
on 13 / 06 / 2023