Are you interrailing across Europe this summer? Well you’re in for an absolute treat. Interrailing is not only a great way to see more of Europe, but you’ll make lasting friendships too. One of my first travelling experiences was a 22 day interrail trip around Europe, it really started my passion for travel.
Here are my top 11 interrail tips to help you out.
Know these interrail ticket rules
Seat reservations: Whilst interrail tickets cover the cost of the ticket, on some of the faster and over night trains you’ll need to purchase a reservation to accompany your interrail ticket. They are reasonably prices, the most I’ve ever paid was €20 but often they will only allocate a certain number of tickets for interrailers so try to buy the reservation a day or two before to guarantee a space.
Ticket types: Some tickets will allow continuous travel within a set period of time, however these are usually more expensive and unnecessary. The better options are the ‘X days of travel within X days’ tickets. If using these, remember that you will need to write the date of travel on the ticket each day before you get on the train.
Own country rules: Remember the ticket is not valid for use in your own country.
Are you 18 this year? Find out about the EU’s free interrail ticket scheme for young people here.
Check which currencies you’ll need
Don’t get caught out, not all countries in Europe use the Euro. Make sure you check before you arrive. The following countries do not use the Euro:
- Sweden, Denmark, Norway – Crowns – Krona/Kroner)
- Switzerland – Swiss Franc – CHF
- UK – Great Britain Pound – GBP
- Bulgaria – Bulgarian Lev – BGN
- Croatia – Croatian Kuna – HRK
- Czech Republic – Czech Koruna – CZK
- Hungary – Hungarian Forint – HUF
- Macedonia – Macedonian Denar – MKD
- Poland – Polish Zloty – PLN
- Romania – Romania Leu – RON
- Serbia – Serbian Dinar – RSD
- Turkey – Turkish Lira – TRL
Pick accommodation best suited to you
Hostels are my go-to choice of accommodation when interrailing across Europe, there is an abundance of them and the atmosphere is always welcoming. But there are lots of different types of accommodation, choose one that is right for you:
- Hostels – I’d highly recommend staying in hostels on your interrail trip around Europe. The atmosphere is always welcoming whether you’re with a group of friends or travelling solo. Hostel World is a good site for deciding which hostels to stay in and for reading travellers reviews however you’ll usually find the best price on booking.com. Hostels usually have both dorm rooms as well as private rooms.
- Hotels – If you fancy a bit more privacy, particularly if you’re travelling with a group of friends to spread the cost, you may want to opt for hotels instead.
- AirBnB – a relatively new option for interrailers but becoming increasingly popular is Airbnb. There are a range of options from staying in a hosts spare room to renting an entire flat for your stay. Some of the hosts will even show you around the city – what better than your own local guide?
- Couch Surfing – Perhaps best described as a more-budget AirBnB, couch surfing allows you to stay with friendly locals, usually for free. ‘How is it free?’ I hear you asking, well, it’s more like a community and those that host have often experienced it as a traveller and returning the favour – be careful with your choices though and read the reviews!
- Camping – My least favourite option purely because of all the equipment you need to carry but it is still a viable option in most European cities – just be prepared for the heat as you get closer to the equator.
Take a night train
Travelling a long distance? Check if you can take a night train. This is a great budget interrail tip as it will save you paying for a nights accommodation and will also allow you more time for day activities. I would only recommend this for long journeys as the shorter ones might arrive around 3-4am which is awkward time as far too early to do anything.
Choose a good backpack – ideally front loading
You’ll spend a lot of time carrying your luggage so you’ll want to make this as comfortable as possible. I’ve seen some travellers managing with a suitcase before, it looked cumbersome but is possible if you’re not able to invest in new luggage. But if you are able to, I’d definitely recommend getting yourself a decent back pack to make life easier.
For interrailing across Europe, a 40L backpack should be adequate (assuming you’re not camping). The biggest tip is to choose a backpack that is front loading. This means it opens up just like a suitcase. The alternative is a traditional top loading backpack but these are impossible to keep organised and can make it difficult to access the items at the bottom. My favourite backpack is this Osprey Farpoint 40 – it made my life so much easier.
If you’re heading on your first interrail trip, you will probably overpack. Try to pack as lightly as possible, you’ll be carrying your backpack around a lot so try not to make it too heavy. You’ll usually have the opportunity to wash your clothes at your hostel/campsite or at a local laundrette. I’d advise taking clothes to last 7-10 days and aim to wash your clothes once a week.
I’ve written a European packing list to help you remember everything you need
Find time to meet new people along the way
I believe that the best thing about travel is not the things you see, but the people you meet (clique right?!). But seriously, this is the most important interrail tip. If you’re staying in hostels you are bound to make new friends, either in your dorm or common areas. But even if you’re not staying in hostels, there are lots of ways to meet new people. Often you might even make friends that are heading along a similar route to you. Here are some suggestions to meet new people:
- Group tours – One of the easiest ways to meet people if through organised tours, whether that be a full blown day trip or simply a free walking tour.
- Organised bar crawls – In any city that has a thriving night life, you’ll likely stumble across some organised bar crawls. A good company to check is Sandermans New Europe who offer lots of different tours across a number of cities – I’ve met lots of great friends on these pub crawls.
- Hostel notice boards – A notice board might seem a little bit like an interrail tip from last century, but don’t underestimate. They can be a useful way of finding others heading along your route, these may be fellow interrailers or could be road trippers or even using buses. If they are looking for road trip companions, make sure you’re clear whether they will want a contribution to the costs – if you’ve paid for an interrail ticket you will want to make the most of it.
Make sure you budget properly
The cost of travelling Europe depends upon the choice of countries you visit and the accommodation you choose. Hostels are usually around £15-£35 ($20-$47 / €17-€40) per night. In Western Europe (especially Scandinavia), this will be nearer the top end of the bracket whilst Eastern Europe will fall nearer the bottom.
In terms of day-to-day costs such as food, drink, attractions, socialising, on average I’d usually allow around £30 ($40 / €35) per day.
To help keep your costs down, I’ve put together some top tips for budget travel in Europe
Don’t forget about pre-trip expenses too as these can quickly accumulate, this might include the interrail ticket, plane tickets to your starting destination and home again, travel insurance, passport, plug adaptors, etc.
Don’t plan too far ahead
When I first went interrailing, the first few stops were meticulously planned. But actually, I started to realise that you don’t need to plan in so much detail. I’d recommend keeping a rough idea of where you want to go but there is no need to plan more than a few days ahead. Especially if you’re staying in hostels when booking a day or two ahead is absolutely fine (providing there aren’t any major events happening).
Use hotel/hostel staff for great advice
There are some things a guide book or internet research just can’t tell you. Aside from speaking to other travellers, my favourite source of advice is speaking to the staff in my accommodation, this doesn’t just apply to hostels/hotels but you can ask Airbnb hosts, campsite staff, even your couch surfing host. They will be equipped with local knowledge and can tailor recommendations. I’ve yet to come across any accommodation staff who haven’t been willing to help.
Take advantage of free walking tours
I always harp on about free walking tours (second time in this article), but I can’t recommend them enough. As well as meeting fellow travellers, you’ll familiarise yourself with the city fairly quickly and it’s always nice to hear about the history of a city and it’s main attractions. My favourite tours are Sandermans New Europe – look out for these.
Do you have any interrail tips that aren’t on this list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.