A few years ago now, I set off on an Interrail with my two best friends from school. On one of our long journeys towards the end of the trip, we created a list of things that we had learnt along the way.
As we were three travel novices, much of it is fairly obvious. It’s basically a tale of three formerly respectable young women realising just how horribly grimy we could be. Delightful.
My first piece of advice for interrailing is to choose who you go with carefully. You will be living in each other’s pockets for perhaps up to 3 weeks, and all of you may have different ideas of what you want to do on what can be a trip of a lifetime. I have friends who have gone for a mad, drunken 3 week party, which could be amazing. My group felt we probably didn’t have the stamina or money to sustain that, and we wanted to sightsee without being completely hungover in the morning. Making sure you have the same frame of mind as the rest of your group about what you want out of the trip is important.
There’s a bizarre story that went viral a while ago when Bill Murray apparently crashed some guy’s stag do, and gave him the following piece of advice:
‘If you have someone who you think is the one, don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind, ‘OK let’s make a date, let’s plan this and make a party and get married’ – take that person and travel them around the world.
Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of.
And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK and you still love that person, get married at the airport.’
You know what, I agree with Bill. Travelling can bring out the worst in people and you should probably be a little prepared for that. Pick people that you can snap at and they won’t hate you forever. Because believe me, you will snap at them.
Others also decide not to book hostels before going- part of the fun could be living on the fly and seeing where your journey takes you. Honestly we were a little worried as 3 girls alone of being safe along the way. And once we heard horrific stories of bedbugs, we decided to book our hostels beforehand. I would say that especially later in the trip your hostel really can matter. Yes it’s only a place to rest your head for a night or two, but when you’re feeling rank and disgusting from travelling anyway it is nice to have a clean, comfy room. Don’t be too afraid of dorms- just bring earplugs for any heavy snorers.
Or if you end up in a situation like we did in Bruges, they will be needed if fellow guests bring someone else into their bunk. Quick word of advice, ‘Ben from Southampton’: No that flimsy curtain around your bunk is not soundproof. I did not need to know how much you were enjoying getting with the Swedish girl who should have been in the bunk below you. Gross.
If you choose to book them, Hostelworld is user-friendly, and has percentage ratings, with specific breakdown of how well security, location and staff have been rated. They also have mini guides for a lot of cities that gave nice overviews. These were useful for tips on key sights and recommendations for nice (and cheap!) places to eat.
One thing my friend Sarah did is note down all of the directions from the station to the hostels. Her little notebook of magic info proved really useful. I naively assumed I could just use the internet at the time to look it up, and depending on your phone bill you maybe could do this, but honestly it was easier to just have a notebook to help us along.
Like hostels, some people may choose to fly by the seat of their pants with this one but we planned our route. There were a few trains that required reservations, particularly because we got night trains and so we felt it was better to plan.
The interrail website planner is essential. In general I would recommend their website, particularly with regards to which trains require reservations etc.
The rail planner app is very useful whilst you’re away as it works offline too, and is available on Android and iPhone.
You could say this isn’t essential but you should also probably look at a map of Europe. Revolutionary piece of advice I know, how did I ever think of it. Let me explain: we realised after planning our route that we did a bizarre back and forth route in the later stages of our trip. It was fine as it got us from A to B but we definitely could have gone a bit more directly!
Also consider your flights back. We are idiots and planned a whole route before realising that getting back from Slovenia to Scotland was not as simple as we thought. As it was we had to fly back from Milan to Edinburgh, when really our last sightseeing stop was Venice. And I live in Glasgow. Like I said, idiots. To be fair the title of this post should have clued you in to this fact from the start.
Don’t necessarily go to all the places as quickly as you can. Spending a little time in a lot of places isn’t always as good as taking your time with a city. Also onsider your state of mind towards the end of the trip in your planning. Some may want to go out with a bang and party the night away in your last city, others may want to take it easy. I think this is especially important when thinking about your hostels. We booked a nice private cabin for the three of us in our last stop in Milan and it was actually really worth it.
Expect Part Two with more advice in a while!