Inter-railing was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done and it was such a gas trip. I went with my boyfriend (Rob) and three of our friends. If you are thinking of doing it I would 100% encourage you to save up, grab your friends, your partner or do it solo then hit the tracks to see the best of Europe.
When we were planning our inter-railing trip I found it stressful to organise and I could find no recommendations regarding how to go about it all, because I am a control freak I had to do it all and would not let my friends do anything (sorry guys!). I thought I would do this little series to give you my recommendations and tell you how I did it all!
First of all you need to decide your dates of travel and what cities/countries you would like to visit. We thought three weeks of travelling would be enough for us. You don’t need to be 100% certain on your choices or have everything planned down to a T, you can just have a rough idea of what you would like, see where the wind takes you and go from there, but for us as group it suited us to have a plan and to know where we wanted to go and when. We decided we would like to visit Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Vienna, Budapest, Lake Bled, and Split. So, we knew we would have 7 travel days over the trip. It is important to know this when you are purchasing your inter-rail ticket. I would definitely recommend purchasing your inter-rail ticket before booking or purchasing anything else. We purchased ours through interrail.eu and chose the 2nd class Global Pass with 7 days of travel within 1 month. A Global Pass means you can travel between all countries, there are also One Country Passes which are for rail travel in one country only over a certain period of time.
Once we had our inter-rail passes and an idea of where we wanted to go, we had to decide where we wanted to start our adventure and where we wanted it to end. In order to do this we had to figure out a rough inter-rail route including the cities we wanted to visit. This can seem a bit overwhelming at the start but there are route maps on the interrail.eu site to help you with this (see the map here). The route we decided on was the one above (Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Vienna, Budapest, Lake Bled, and Split). We had the choice of starting off the trip in either the city closest to or furthest from Ireland, we thought it would be best to start in the city closest to Ireland, this being Amsterdam, and work our way though Europe to finish the trip in Split and have a bit of a sun/beach holiday there.
We knew where we were starting our trip, so the next step was was to book our flights outta Ireland! Flights to most European countries are very inexpensive and if you book them far enough in advance you can get them for €20ish (not including any checked in bags), which is less than a meal out. We used skyscanner.ie to find the price and flight times that suited us best, which is super easy to do using their site. We booked flights to Amsterdam with Ryanair and flights home from Split with Aer Lingus. Don’t forget to add a checked in bag to your bookings, a 10kg carry on will not do you for 3 weeks or maybe it will if you are a savvy packer!
Most European city hostels and accommodations sell out quite quickly during the summer with other inter-railers. I heard of somebody who went inter-railing and didn’t book any accommodation in one of there destinations prior to arriving there and low and behold when they got there they had no where to stay! So, personally I think it is best to lock in some sort of accommodation in each of your destinations as soon as possible. In order to book your accommodations you need to decide how long you want to spend in each location. On average, 2-3 days is plenty of time to spend sightseeing and soaking up the culture in a European city. You will need to factor in your travel days when making your decisions, for example, if you want to spend 2 days in Berlin and you are travelling from Amsterdam to Berlin you don’t just want to book 2 nights accommodation because you will only really get one day in Berlin then as the first day or half of the day was spent travelling, to have 2 full days in Berlin it’s best to book 3 nights accommodation (I hope that makes sense?). So, majority of the accommodation you will be booking will be for 3 nights (2 full days) or 4 nights (3 full days). When inter-railing it is best to book hostels, they are well suited for large groups or lone travellers, they super clean and have great facilities, and they are really cheap which is what you want when you are a poor student travelling through Europe! Hostels also provide a great opportunity to make some new friends, meet other solo travellers, and to receive tips from other inter-railers on the best things to do in the city you are in or the others you are travelling to. We booked all of our inter-railing accommodation through booking.com. On this site there is often an option to book now pay later with free cancellation, this means you can lock in accommodation but not pay a penny until you arrive there on the day, or cancel it (most of the time up until the day before arrival) free of charge. Having this option while inter-railing is ideal as your plans can often change last minute. I would highly recommend booking.com for booking all trips not just inter-railing
When inter-railing some train routes require you to reserve seats, as we were travelling as a group we thought we would reserve seats on all of our trains so we could guarantee that we would be sitting together for our journeys. Seat reservation does require an extra fee of about €5 per person, it is not included in your ticket price. You will need to know the routes you would like to take and your travel days in order to reserve your seats. Some of your routes will require change overs and this is perfectly normal there aren’t direct routes between all cities. When I was looking into our routes and realised that there can be multiple change overs I got very confused with the 7 travel days within 1 month, I wasn’t sure if it was 7 train journeys in 1 month or 7 days of travelling getting as many trains as you want in that one day for 1 month, of course it was the latter but paranoid me had to look it up on several different websites before I was confident that it was 7 days of travelling getting as many trains as you want in that one day for 1 month. We used the interail.eu reservation service to reserve our seats. This service makes it really easy to figure out your route, what trains you need to get where and when, all change overs and how to get from A to B. All you have to do is input your starting point, your destination, your date of departure, and your preferred travel time, the system does the rest. I would recommend using this service even if you don’t want to reserve seats (if you don’t actually go through with the purchase you don’t pay any extra fees), it will give you a clear timetable of your train choices, all change overs, and train times, it honestly makes the whole process so easy! When looking into train times and reserving your seats you might find that travelling to one of your desired destinations is not feasible within your time frame. This happened to us when we looked into getting from Budapest to Lake Bled and we had to scratch Lake Bled off out list and replace it with Zagreb, this is where the free cancellation option with our accommodation came in handy.
It is important to fill out your inter-rail passes correctly as ticket checkers often ask to see your pass on the trains. On the official paper ticket you just fill in your travel dates (if you are travelling on a night train your date of departure is your date of travel). You fill out all of your train dates, times, and station names on the fold out portion of your ticket. There is guidance on fill out your ticket on interrail.eu. I would recommend waiting until the day of travel to fill out your pass, as I said before your plans can easily change when inter-railing, you must fill out your ticket in pen and the use of ‘tippex’ on the ticket is not accepted, so once you write on that ticket it’s final. On that note always make sure you have a pen with you!
So, now that you have your trip planned, all accommodation booked, and any required seat reservations made, you are ready to set out on your trip of a lifetime!
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Let me know if you are heading off inter-railing anytime soon and if you found this post anyway helpful in the comments below! As I said, I found the whole process very stressful when I was booking it all and I would have loved something like this to refer to. Make sure to tune into my next blog post of the inter-railing series to see how we got on in Amsterdam 🙂
Until next time,