European travel and lifestyle
A few months ago I set off on an adventure. It wasn’t as exotic as Thailand, or quite as long as a year backpacking – holiday leave only gets me so far. Instead, I decided to go interrailing around Eastern Europe: a two-week train escape that took me through Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany.
I’d never been committed enough to the idea to go before now. A few friends had done so before, but their approach seemed manic: seven countries in the space of nine days; sometimes barely spending a few hours in a place to see it properly. With a habit for walking somewhat slowly and taking everything in at my own pace, my understanding of interrailing didn’t fit in with my ideal way of travelling.
Fast-forward a few years, and I decided that I should experience interrailing for myself instead of setting it aside due to a minor inconvenience. That, and tickets are cheaper for under 25 year olds, so it was time to get my 24-year-old arse in motion.
So, was interrailing the rushed mess I’d feared, or could I possibly tailor it to suit my own needs?
Let’s start with an obvious reason to take the plunge: interrailing is cheap. Well, relatively cheap. If you’re a European resident aged 25 or under, a youth pass gets you a 25% discount on adult prices. For example, the Interrail Global Pass (which lets you travel and choose between 30 European countries) starts at £306 for adult tickets and at £245 for youth ones. To make the deal even sweeter, prices can be even lower depending on site sales.
While the cost goes beyond a one-off trip, the total price is usually cheaper than that of several budget flights. However, you should plan out your journey costs properly, as longer travelling periods are more expensive and most high-speed and night trains require a reservation at an additional cost.
In addition, take into account that only European residents can travel with an Interrail pass. If you’re a non-European resident, you’ll have to book an Eurail pass.
European residents can choose from the Interrail Global Pass or one of the Interrail One Country Passes – a great option for those who just want to travel within the one country. With the first one, you can further tailor your ticket by choosing the amount of time you want to travel for. The global pass covers:
One country passes are subject to individual country costs. For a full breakdown, check out the All Interrail One Country Passes list.
Whilst I’m always up for cloud gazing on planes, one of the best parts of the trip was taking a train straight through the Alps and getting a close look at Austrian towns that were already showing their first signs of snow.
There wasn’t always a great view to look forward to. There was a stop in the middle of Serbia where travellers had to cross the tracks to get on the train – almost as good as the delightful squatting toilets that hadn’t been hosed down.
Despite the bad, one thing you do learn is how far travelling has come in the last fifty years. Trips that would’ve taken days take a matter of hours. You can get from one side of the world for another without having to go outside. Long-haul train rides can help you appreciate that – without having to resource to squatting toilets.
Having booked hostels in advance, my flexibility to change destinations was limited. However, there were plenty of people who hadn’t done so they could make decisions on the go. Travelling in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, having that option would have come in handy, as certain borders were closed with little to no notice and delayed travel on more than one occasion.
When it comes down to basics, being able to change destinations left room for spontaneous travelling. At a time in my life where I feel restricted by planning and timing, the ability to change my mind on the spot feels like a long shot – one that I will strive for on my next interrailing trip.
While I missed out on spontaneous travelling, the unreliability of interrailing information sometimes went a step too far. Already aware of the crisis taking place, we made sure to check the Interrail app, consult train station boards and ask station staff if travel had been affected for the time being. We even checked with information staff the night before each train left, just to make sure we were getting the most up-to-date schedule.
None of this preparation helped when travelling from Ljubljana to Salzburg. The line supposedly ended in Frankfurt, something that the Interrail app quickly confirmed. However, staff at the station said Salzburg would be the last stop on the line due to border disruption.
It turned out that both were wrong. The train stopped at Villach – only a mere 700km short of Frankfurt. While the replacement bus was quick to pick us up, it was a valuable lesson on checking sources and being flexible when it comes to human and technological errors.
Above everything else, I’m a firm Europe lover. I love how close I am to everything. I enjoy hearing and reading about the mixture of languages, culture and history (all of which have clashed at one point or another). I love how, as part of the European Union, I get the opportunity to live and work around it with little to no complications. Knowing that all this variety is a mere train ride away makes it all the more appealing and, if this is your first time around the continent, it is one of the best ways to see all it has to offer.
Are you considering interrailing? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me @sideroutes.
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