From England to the World… Inter-railing Europe
From England to the World… Inter-railing Europe
I’ve been to 22 countries to date, one for each year of my life, and I’ve never regretted visiting any of them. Whilst I’ve never done a gap year, or lived in any country apart from England, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about travelling.
I’ve been on two different Inter-rail adventures; my first two weeks in Switzerland starting in Zürich heading to Geneva. My second was a five week, seven-country multistep starting in Hamburg and finishing in Naples (with places such as Helsinki and Athens in between!).
I learnt a lot on those trips, through mistakes and accidental successes, my top pieces of advice are:
- If it’s your first Inter-rail trip I would recommend picking a maximum of two European countries per week, preferably neighbouring countries and that use the same currency (the wonders of the Euro!). Your first trip will be stressful, long train trips can be exhausting and finding Bureau de Changes without extortionate commission charges can be a nightmare!
- Spend more than 24 hours in each place, in a limited time all you see are the tourist hotspots. With 24 hours in Amsterdam you may see the Anne Frank House, but you’ll miss out on the sex museum (trust me it’s a must see!). Every city has quirky things that you simply shouldn’t miss, a restricted time allowance will limit your opportunities.
- Visit more than one place in each country; you’ll see people going on Inter-rail adventures doing a whistle-stop tour of 10+ countries, focusing on the capital cities and missing out the rest. As someone originally from London the most important thing I’ve learned is that the capital city never has much in common with the rest of the country. Visiting the Czech Republic should include Prague, but shouldn’t neglect Brno or Kutna Hora.
- Always pick hostels that have good communal spaces, if you’re travelling solo they provide the social nights you’ll crave and if you’re travelling in a group they’ll provide you with an opportunity to speak to other people now and again. Most importantly if you have a travel problem you’re bound to find experienced travellers in the common room that can help you find solutions.
- Take a phrase book or save a few key phrases in the local language, nothing is more embarrassing than watching someone think that speaking louder will help someone else understand you. When I was in Rome the metro shut down for a day, my phrase book saved me when no one at the bus station spoke English.
- Research beforehand roughly how much everyday items cost in the country you’re visiting, paying €5 for a Starbucks Frappuccino in Athens will make you a laughing stock while the locals pay a quarter of that for an Espresso Freddo next door. Equally you’ll look a fool if you think €5 (roughly 5.50CHF) is enough to get you a hot meal in Zürich.
- Don’t be afraid to try something different. Inter-railing isn’t all about getting a train from one city to another and staying in hostels overnight. If you’re in Norway, Sweden or Finland try wild camping (it’s completely legal and even safe for solo travellers!). If you’re staying somewhere near the Alps spend a day in the mountains (if you’re inexperienced plan ahead and consider taking a guide with you!)
- Find the tallest building and go to the top. Cities look completely different from the sky than they do from the ground, plus it’s often incredibly cheap! The great thing about European architecture is that every city will have a Church or a Cathedral with a spire tall enough to scrape the clouds; you can often climb up for €2-5 (though hotels with roof gardens will drain your wallet for the same privilege!).
- Think very seriously about who you travel with. I’ve had amazing trips tainted and nearly ruined by travelling with the wrong people, just because they are your best friend or your other half doesn’t mean they will be a good travel companion. My first Inter-rail trip I travelled solo because I couldn’t find anyone I knew I could travel with. A great travel buddy will have a similar budget to yours (if they have more they won’t try to get you to do things you can’t afford, if they have less they will be good to budgeting!). A great travel buddy will also have similar desires as you, there’s nothing worse than you wanting to spend all day on the beach whilst they want to spend the whole day climbing mountains (and if you are different you’ll find a compromise without hard feelings).
- Finally, and for me most importantly, FREE CITY WALKING TOURS (did I mention free?). Most Inter-railers are on a budget, the best cheap way to see a city is to tag along on a walking tour, and these are often led by locals who can give you extra advice on the best places to go. Note: whilst I say free make sure you take a few Euros with you to be able to tip an excellent tour guide, giving them tips makes sure they can keep affording to give great tours.
- Check the price of the train trip you are doing, whilst Inter-rail is amazing you have to pick the number of travel days you have in advance, this can prevent you from taking additional small impulse trips. If your Inter-rail pass costed you £192 for 15 days than the average cost is £12.80 per day, this is an amazing deal for long trips or expensive countries (I’m looking at you Switzerland!) but a small day trip may work out cheaper than this…. Meaning you can save your important travel days for the more expensive trips.
- Make room in your budget for train reservation costs. Some countries don’t charge extra for seat reservations (Thankyou Germany!) but most do. If you have a long trip having to stand or move seats several times can really get annoying. Seat reservations cost under €10 and trust me you’ll appreciate them. Keep an eye out for trains with ‘compulsory reservations’ as well, the conductor has the right to make you leave the train or issue you with a fine if you haven’t booked in advance. Advance booking can be done online in most cases or in the departure train station (another good reason to have more than 24 hours in each city!).