10 things you need to know for your first time Interrailing
You’ll more than likely need some advice, and maybe a few suggestions. Interrailing might be an amazing experience, but it can be seriously stressful too! There are routes to plan, hostels to choose, a complicated selection of passes and reservations to navigate… All that can leave you feeling pretty frazzled about the trip of a lifetime. Well, luckily we at Euroventure are the Interrail experts. Every day we plan trips across Europe and beyond for people of all ages, nationalities and budgets. Allow us to help you out with a few of our most essential tips for your first time Interrailing…
1. Planning your trip part 1:
Decide what kind of trip you’re after.
Without a basic idea of what kind of trip you want to create, you’ll really struggle! So before you start looking at a map, you need to get a few things straight in your head.
- First things first. How long can you travel for?
- What’s your priority – do you want to cram in as much city sightseeing as possible, see awesome scenery at a leisurely pace, chill out on the beach or meet loads of new people and sample awesome nightlife? Maybe you don’t care where you go but just want it to be as cheap as possible! Start from here and then research destinations that match your priorities.
- What are your “must see” destinations? Combined with your total trip length, you’ll be able to see how long you can spend in each place.
- What’s the maximum length of journey you’re prepared to take on one day? This will help you work out realistic distances to cover.
- Think about your preference for accommodation: do you want to stay in hostel dorms, private hostel rooms, or opt for a bit of luxury with hotels?
Now, with all the above in mind, get out the map! Work out where you can realistically go based on your requirements.
2. Planning your trip part 2:
Start early, and book in advance.
Planning routes is kinda our jam, so take it from us when we say you’re better off starting early. For your first time Interrailing, it might seem like a great plan to just pack your bags and wing it. We guarantee you’ll kick yourself later. With many of the most popular train routes in Europe now requiring seat reservations (which can sell out weeks in advance), you’ll be out of options if you leave it too late.
Similarly, hostels in popular cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Florence can sell out well in advance – especially in the summer! If you’re planning to spend time in Europe’s major cities, do yourself a favour and get your route straight ASAP. That way you’ll save money and have your pick of the best hostels – no one wants to pay a fortune for a grotty old mattress with bed bugs, are we right?! We’re not saying you have to sacrifice all your flexibility – that’s the nature of Interrail after all – just think ahead and make sure you book popular accommodation and activities well in advance to avoid disappointment.
3. Choose your friends wisely…
Think carefully about who you travel with; these people can make or break your trip! If you and your mates/partner/family regularly disagree on basic stuff like what you want to see in each city, budget or how to spend your evenings, you may struggle. Being with a group of people for several weeks non-stop can add a lot of strain to a relationship!
Try to travel with people who have tastes that more or less match with your own. If you do disagree, make sure you give each other the space to do your own thing. No one wants to miss out on seeing cool stuff just because their mates aren’t in the mood!
4. Don’t worry if you can’t see it all
Sometimes a city you’ve always dreamed of visiting might not fit with the rest of your plans. If getting there is going cost you a lot of time and money, don’t force it. You’ll only stress yourself out trying to cram somewhere in that just doesn’t fit. Remember: there’ll be a hundred other opportunities to visit it another time, so rather than spending 2 days and nights travelling in the wrong direction, just save it for a weekend break. A return flight at some point in the future will be a worthy investment if it means you can make the most of your first time interrailing.
5. Think about night trains before you rely on them.
Night trains can be an awesome way to cover long distances, save money and make the most of your time away. However, bear in mind that they might not always be the best way to travel! Night trains in Europe are decreasing in number, gradually being replaced by high speed lines. Don’t assume that there will be a night time option available for every journey! Make sure you do your research first.
Most that still exist are pretty comfortable, but bear in mind that they’re not luxury services! Obviously, you can book a private sleeper cabin if you want a bit more space and privacy, but these do come at a higher cost. Alternatively, you can opt for a hard seat or a 6 person couchette. This second option can be a good choice if you’re after a balance between a decent sleep and your budget!
Also bear in mind departure and arrival times. If you want to get enough sleep and be able to enjoy the rest of your day, look for longer night trains. The longer you’re on the train, the more chance you have to get a few hours shut-eye! Try to avoid early ones – arriving later in the morning is definitely more convenient. Granted you have the whole day ahead of you, but there’s nothing worse than being dropped in a city at 5am when there’s not a single shop open. With that in mind, journeys taking less than 7 or 8 hours might be better taken during the day if your timetable allows for it.
6. Enjoy the journey!
Don’t disregard destinations just because they aren’t serviced by direct trains or high speed services! Some of the most beautiful destinations in Europe are at the end of a slow and windy train ride – and Interrailing is all about the journey. Working out transport connections, getting lost, admiring the views, overcoming language barriers, meeting strangers along the way… these are all part and parcel of the travelling experience, not to mention a great source of travel annecdotes and hilarious memories.
7. Explore beyond the main sights
Obviously while you’re travelling you want to tick things off that bucket list; see the Collosseum, visit the Red Light District, explore Montmatre and admire the Sagrada Familia. But aside from these “must sees”, make sure you leave time to wander, get lost, be spontaneous and explore… We always say that the most memorable travel experiences usually aren’t the ones you’ve planned. The nights out that you never intended to go on, the day trips you hadn’t thought of or the long evenings spent wandering around an undiscovered part of the city… All these and more are the moments that will stay with you. Leave yourself chance to enjoy them!
8. Try to get up in the mornings…
We know it’s hard (we struggle with mornings too) but getting up and out in the morning will give you so much more time to play with! Obviously there are going to be a few late ones – you’d be forgiven for having a few too many pilsners in Prague – but try your best to drag yourself out of bed before noon! Especially when it comes to your first time Interrailing, backpacking trips can often be a whistle stop tour of sights, new places, nights out and new friends… Don’t waste what little time you have leftover in bed! Hit up the hostel kitchen or nearby cafe for a top notch brekkie, down some delicious continental coffee and you’re good to go. Your memories will more than make up for the lack of sleep… Plus those long train journeys are the perfect place to catch up on snooze time!
9. Pack as light as you can!
It’s always easier said than done… but packing light comes into its own when you’re Interrailing. Most likely, you’ll be hopping on and off trains, walking through city streets to your hostel, taking public transport and waiting around at various different times during your trip. All of these things can be made pretty difficult by massive bags!
We’d recommend that you pack as light as you can. And that goes for longer trips too! We reckon you can take the same amount of stuff for a 6 week trip as for a 2 week one. That might sound crazy, but what more do you really need than the basics – passport, phone, clothes, toiletries, a pair of shoes – maybe some flipflops and swimming stuff? You can wash your clothes on the road, stock up on supplies as you go and buy anything extra as and when you need it.
A rucksack between 30 and 50L is enough for most trips. You’ll have room for all the essentials, but won’t be knocking out passers-by with your enormous luggage, or struggling to squeeze onto the metro! If you don’t believe us, check out our style tips and packing hacks for more light-travelling secrets!
10. Stop worrying. It’s going to be incredible.
In all the stress of planning, it’s easy to forget that your first big trip is an awesome rite of passage. Despite our best efforts, things don’t always turn out as we’d planned, but sometimes that makes for an even better experience in the end. Travelling is all about dealing with the unexpected, and enjoying the freedom of being far from home! If something goes wrong on the way, don’t panic! You’ll cope with it, grow in confidence and come back with a whole host of memories and experiences…
If you’re still freaking out about where to start, why not let us help. We’re the Interrailing Experts, and have been sorting out trips for over 5 years. Travel independently, but ditch the stress. You just tell us where you want to go and we’ll sort out the best train passes, reservations and hostels for you. Then we package them all up in a beautifully personalised travel pack complete with recommendations, maps and directions – not to mention a 24 hour helpline in case of any problems.