InterRailing around Europe this summer? Here’s some helpful tips from someone who has already experienced such an amazing
Bring student ID
My biggest mistake! Before going on our month-long trip I hadn’t realised:
- How many places charge entrance fees – Whereas England offers free entry to most museums and galleries etc. that’s not the case in many european countries so be prepared!
- How many places you can get student concessions – With your student ID you can get discounted tickets. Although you may think you’ll not want to go into these places during your trip, if the heavens open your plans may be ruined. Amsterdam was spoilt for us when the weather decided to resemble Whitby in February. At times like this, museums, galleries and the like become a dry haven for a low budget, especially at discounted entry. Speaking of which…
Budget for extra things
Bad weather will happen, plans will change – planning for alternative things to do in each place can be a lifesaver, especially if the weather turns or you need some ‘me’ time. Regrettably we budgeted little beyond food, as we planned to mostly sightsee. This was one of my biggest regrets: Not only did we not adequately budget for things we wanted to see (such as museums we did not know charged entrance) we didn’t budget for extra special things, such as renting bikes to tour Amsterdam, or Gondolas in Venice. As much as seeing what happens is part of InterRailing, you need a little set aside to fund spontaneous plan B’s.
At the same time, you need to be prepared for plans to change. Having a vague plan for your day-to-day itinerary is extremely helpful, but do plan in time and money just in case you come across things you want to do that were not on your to-do list. In Venice, we accidentally timed our visit with an annual midnight firework which was an absolutely spectacular show that we did not know was happening until we arrived, yet it was easily one of the best parts of our whole trip. Be prepared and budget for going with the flow.
See each city at day and night
Some of my favourite memories were made by seeing the same place at different times of the day. Of course a lot of sightseeing and exploring is done during the day, but it is worth seeing those same sights at night and seeing the same city transformed over the space of a few hours as it becomes something completely different in the dark hours. In Budapest, the historic and must-see sites like the castle and the parliament building which in the day time are beautiful and impressive buildings, become shining beckons along the river at night as the city becomes illuminated by lights.
Go in a small group
Going in a smaller group or a group that you can split from, then meet up with at different points, works a lot better than a large group. Large groups mean a lot of compromise. We went as a large group of 10, and although this sized group was fun it did mean a lot of compromise and at times was often frustrating as it took a long time each day to decide what everyone was doing. Travelling in smaller groups, or meeting up with different people along the way, allows you to do more you want to do and prevents conflict. Going in a mixed group of boys and girls also helps to balance out the group dynamic. We had a majority of girls, which often resulted in a fair bit of bitching and heated moments, especially when some were trying to leave the house early and others were taking forever to get moving or get ready, and left the few boys feeling a little overwhelmed at the best of times and frustrated at the worst.
Be prepared for conflict
Along the same vein, it is essential that you go with the understanding that it’s not going to be a big, happy travelling family 24/7. There will be arguments, bitchy side comments, heated moments and you will need time alone. It is better to be frank with your travelling companions when you need a little break, or when someone is being a tad selfish expecting everyone to do what they have planned that day. This is another reason to not completely cross off what you want to do for the sake of the majority. After all, it’s your trip as much as everyone’s.
Take at least four days to see each place
InterRailing is exhausting. It is not a relaxing holiday. Taking three days to see each place only really leaves you one day to see it, as on the first you have just arrived and need to find your hostel, get your bearings etc. and on the third you have to check out of the hostel, back up all your things and potentially buy food for the long train journey. This only really leaves you one day to fully enjoy the place you’re in. In hindsight, four days dedicated to each location would have been much better as it would have given us two full days to leisurely experience each place and been a lot less hectic and exhausting as a trip overall.
Go on a walking tour in each place
These may sound to many as something very old-peopleish, echoing those tours you parents dragged you on in your childhood holidays. But in all honestly taking a walking tour in each place brought each place alive for me. Suddenly instead of being surrounded by buildings and historic sites you knew very little about, it cemented the history, culture and ambiance of the city, opening your eyes to the place. Hence, it’s better to go on a walking tour on one of your first days, almost as a quick, intense intro to the location allowing you to explore the bits you found most interesting later on. Also, if you are staying in hostels (which I highly recommend), ‘free’ walking tours often start and finish at your doorstop. Although it’s common practise to tip what you think the tour was worth at the end, so the ‘free’ part is a little bit misleading.
Avoid night trains like the Plague
Actually, that’s a bit extreme. Avoid night trains into or out of Croatia like the Plague. We only took one night train from Split to Zagreb, but it was one of the most horrible nights of my life. In the heat wave of the summer of 2015; the air con was broken, the tiny room with two sets of three bunk beds on either side was claustrophobic, the beds themselves were made out of the same material as old bus seats and for a duvet we only had a thin paper sheet. Our broken sleep was serenade by the sound of mosquitos and the train scraping along the metal rails due to us having to open the window instead of suffer the heat of the train with the lack of air con. It was beyond horrible. The train into Croatia was only slightly better. Again, no air con in 40 degree heat, in a train that ran through the very twisty mountains on a track next to very sharp drops. As a result, I spent 4 hours curled up in a ball feeling horribly sick from the suffocating heat, the jolting of the train and the hight of the track. Croatia itself is beautiful and I highly recommend visiting it. Just don’t go via train.