Interrailing! I still can’t stop going on about it because, oh boy, I had a whole range of new experiences on those trains. Today, in classic blogger fashion, we’re talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly about taking trains all over Europe. This has all come from my one experience but let’s just say I feel like a changed woman now.
So a little bit of background before we get into it. George and I decided that the summer of 2017 was going to be our "travel Europe like we’ll never have the opportunity to do it again” summer and even though it was super awesome to visit that many places in such a short time, our biggest - dare I say it - regret, was actually taking the trains. Now, I wasn’t primarily in charge of train bookings but with the earful I got from George every time he had to make a reservation or something was enough to make me glad that I decided to put myself in charge of itinerary planning!
Anyway, let’s dive in bit by bit and I’ll lay out all the good, bad, and ugly parts of three key aspects of interrailing.
The Interrail Passes
the first minor faux pas
The good part about interrailing is that you can opt in to have one pass for everything. That means for certain trains you can just rock up with your lil’ pass and be like “yo what’s up it’s me ya boi” and they’ll let you on should you still have valid travel days. The pass itself also has a travel diary for you to write down all of your journeys and make sure that you don’t exceed what you’ve paid for. You also get to keep the passes once you’re done and I just think that’s an adorable little bonus souvenir.
The travel days themselves are a little strangely structured. I assume this is so it’s easier for you to claim certain travel days but for us this wasn’t the case. A new travel day starts after 7pm and ends at 7am the next day. So hypothetically, if you leave at 8pm and arrive at your destination at 7:30am - you’ve effectively used two travel days. That’s a bit of a waste of travel day considering once you get into a city, the inter-rail passes won’t cover transport within them. I wouldn’t expect them to cover it, but now you’ve used two travel days instead of one and you could potentially be missing out on the opportunity to really use your pass to the full.
Seat reservations are NOT included in your pass. This won’t mean anything to you if you’re happy to rock up on a train and just stand for 5 hours, but if you’d like a seat on some trains it is mandatory that you book it. Some trains won’t even let you on if you haven’t booked a seat! The worst part about this is that seat reservations are paid for. This means you could spend over 300EUR on an inter-rail pass, and then an extra 200EUR on top of that just to get a seat on the trains you want to ride on. Not the best system, and it totally put us over our budget for transport because on the website when you book your tickets, it’s not 100% clear that you’ll have to dish out extra cash just to get a seat.
The Trains Themselves
and the worst night sleep I ever did get
If you travel during the day, the views are unparalleled. Think the Hogwarts express type views. The European countryside is beautiful and a sunrise or sunset over hillside towns is stunning. It’s also a cool experience to travel cross-country by train and see how the architecture changes as you leave one place and head into another. The nature of the train journeys and the way the seats are laid out means that sometimes, you can also meet a lot of cool people.. but not always.
It takes AGES to get anywhere. Sure, that’s kind of pack and parcel with the whole “taking the train” thing. And I guess the whole point is that it’s cheaper and that you get a nice view of the countryside, but in reality, the costs can stack up to something akin to an airfare and there’s only so many times you can go by a field and go “oh, how beautiful!” The other bad side to taking the train is safety. If your train is packed in like sardines, you might not be able to keep your bags close to you without being squashed in yourself, or getting in the way of other people. There’s also no stowage compartment for your bags, so if something gets lost (or taken) - then you’re (excuse my language) totally fucked.
People are loud. People are loud and inconsiderate of others when it’s night time and everyone is trying to get some rest in a tiny cramped seat. When you’re sat on a train for 5 hours or travelling over night, it can and does get very cramped and uncomfortable. If I’m not mistaken there are some new trains that have awesome comfy seats and foldy-outy tables, but the older trains are cramped and full to the brim with travellers, especially in the summer. On one of our night journeys, I got super squashed because the woman in front of me reclined all the way, and the woman behind me refused to let me recline at all. Safe to say, I arrived in Paris in quite the mood. On another night train, an older Hungarian couple wouldn’t stop talking and poor George couldn’t get to sleep at all.
The Overall Experience
and how it was the time of my life
It was awesome to experience an alternative style of travelling than the one I’m used to. It definitely opened up my eyes to a whole other world of people and allowed me to see different parts of each country and city without needing to go out of my way to do it. It’s also sweet that at the end of our trip, we’ll get to keep our passes as a memento of our travels with all the details written out. Relationship wise, it was also a time for George and I to see how well the other one deals under a lot of stress and pressure. (He’s definitely the patient one!)
For me, it was just uncomfortable, and I found myself getting my knickers in a real twist every time it was time to board a new train. Being hot, sweaty, and pissed off that yet another person had decided to bring a small (very active) toddler on a night train was not a good look for me. We also attempted to take a bunch of night trains, which ended up having a load of interchanges throughout. This meant a really messy sleeping schedule, and two very irritated travellers.
I’m broke! Like middle-class broke, but still broke none-the-less. We went way over budget with the trains due to our oversight of the seat reservations. We also had a ton of sleepless nights, where at least one of us had an awful nights’ sleep meaning when we finally got to our AirBnB, the thought of sight-seeing was only appealing to the lucky duck who got some shut eye. Taking the trains also meant lugging our bags through the city to get to each station and as quaint as cobble streets are, that shit ain’t quaint when you’re trying to wheel your bags down them.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I definitely learned that I’m an airplane, 5-star hotel staying kind of girl, but I did have a good time attempting to navigate the numerous central stations of the European capitals. My advice to you if you’re planning to interrail is to make sure you read the fine print and don’t try and outsmart your accommodation by taking night-trains. Otherwise, if you can withstand the cramped seats and the long journeys then get to booking your tickets and planning your trip (check out my guide here!) because at the very least, you’ll have some great stories to tell the grandkids.
Until next time friends,