If you are planning a trip to Europe this summer, how will you decide where to visit? Europe has so much to offer the tourist and there are so many cities and countries offering sightseeing opportunities. If you have a travel bucket list featuring some of the countries Europe has to offer, you could tick quite a few off by planning a road trip around Europe, interrailing or eurorailing. What could be nicer than boarding a train, wondering what your next destination will have to offer?
Exploring Europe by train can make a holiday of a lifetime. If you choose to travel by Eurorail it is possible to visit up to 28 countries in order to experience the many sights, cultures and cuisine. Travelling by rail is a comfortable experience and it is possible to fall asleep in one country, only to waken the next morning in a totally new destination!
To get the most out of your trip around Europe it is important to plan your trip carefully. There are many tried and tested routes to choose from which will enable you to meet up with like minded travellers, be aware that the summer months can get busy, so it’s best to book your tickets and accommodation, although half the fun of interrailing is that it is flexible.
Here are some ideas to help plan your trip.
Plan where you would like to visit
Draw up a list of your own personal “must see” destinations. Perhaps you have always wanted to see the delights of Paris or you have recently read an Amsterdam guide highlighting Amsterdam’s hidden secrets. Once you have compiled your list, consult google maps to see which destinations are possible to combine into a route. Try to include a diverse mix of destinations. Rather than just including the hot tourist spots, try to mix it up with coastal towns, villages and countryside, this will allow you to see the “real” culture of a country as well as the tourist “must sees”.
For inspiration you could read travel blogs, guides and look at Pinterest. You will find out the best time of year to travel, the best restaurants and accommodation. Some destinations will warrant more nights being spent there, try to allow yourself plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere of different cities and try not to fit too much into a short length of time.
Once you have decided on your route, download the apps available from interrail and Eurorail which will allow you to view train timetables and length of train journey between destinations. You can opt to reserve seats (sometimes a fee is involved) or opt for a train journey where no reservation is required, which gives a higher degree of flexibility.
Buy your interrail/eurorail pass
A pass will allow you to travel on most trains in around 28 different countries in Europe. You will need to book seats on some of the more popular routes, however some routes offer the opportunity to hop and off trains whenever and wherever you wish. Getting a pass will save you money and you can choose the length of time the pass covers. It is possible to get a pass for 7 days of travel in a month, 15 days or one month continuous travel.
For residents of Europe the interrail pass offers the best value, if you are travelling from outside of Europe Eurorail offers the best option and time periods can cover up to three months. Prices depend on your age and whether you wish to travel 2nd or first class. If you have planned your trip early enough, it’s worth buying your pass early as there are discounts available.
If you add up the cost of individual train tickets for your route a pass is likely to save lots of money. If you are intending on using other forms of transport and you are only going to travel on train on a few occasions your best and cheapest option would be to pay for the tickets individually.
Your choice of accommodation will very much depend on your budget. You could opt to camp, stay in hostels of book a hotel room. You could opt for a combination of all three! If you are only planning on staying for one night in a destination book accommodation close to the train station to allow as much time as possible for exploring. Hostels and camping will offer the opportunity to meet other interrailers, which definitely enhances the experience. You will be able to swap notes and maybe travel some of the way with new found friends.
Ensure you book rooms in advance if you are travelling at a busy time. Websites such as booking.com and airbnb offer great value and you may be able to secure a good deal on cancellations.
Another option would be to travel at night by booking a sleeper car on the night train. Night trains often work out more expensive than a hostel though, but if time is tight it’s a good option especially if you only do it a few times on your route.
If money is tight camping will offer a much cheaper accommodation option. You are less likely to have to book ahead and often some of the busy sites offer free bus shuttles into city centres.
What to pack
As you are going to be carrying your luggage with you wherever you go, it will be important to travel light. Firstly pack your essential items which may include your rail pass, passport, itinerary, hotel reservation information, medication, money, first aid items and emergency telephone numbers. If there is any room left, make sure you pack easy to care for clothes, suncream, toiletries (in travel size amounts), travel wash, camera, phone and charger. Pack everything into a sturdy rucksack which offers straps to protect your back and you’re good to go!
You will be travelling into unknown territory and possibly at night on occasions. Although you are essentially on holiday, it is important to keep your wits about you. Travel with a friend or in a group as there is safety in numbers. Some of the popular tourist cities in Europe have an issue with pickpockets who work in gangs. It is a good idea to keep valuables such as money and phones in a money belt. Pickpockets target tourists who often have expensive camera on view as well as unsecured handbags.
Travelling by train also offers pickpockets opportunity especially at busy train stations. As you will be travelling across the borders of countries by train, you may come across border control police who will want to look at your passport and they may ask to search your bags.
Make sure you inform people of your itinerary and where you will be throughout your journey. This will allow good communication and the ability to be found should anything untoward occurs. If you are sensible the trip should be perfectly safe.
Finally, have fun and make lots of memories. Take lots of photos and consider writing a journal or travel blog documenting your adventures.
Immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy the many different cuisines. Every European offers different experiences it will be hard to judge your favourite on your return. You could consider joining internet forums dedicated to travelling in Europe and you will meets lots of people of from different nationalities. You could plan a return trip and a reunion!