Fancy gallivanting around Europe by train? You need to know about interrailing – the all-you-can-ride experience that gets you (and your budget) that little bit further.
Interrailing has become a student rite of passage in recent years. If you haven’t stumbled your way around Europe with a rucksack too big to carry while staying in some dodgy hostels, have you really travelled at all?
Of course, the reason interrailing around Europe is so great is because the continent is densely packed with so many diverse cultures and landscapes.
You can visit the glistening shores of Croatia, the snow-capped mountains of Austria and the tulip fields of Holland without having to step foot on a pricey plane.
Plus it’s cheap, eco-friendly and gives you more flexibility than flying. This guide to interrailing for students will clue you in!
What is interrailing?
Technically, when we say interrailing we’re talking about the Interrail Pass: an all-you-can-ride ticket which lets you travel around Europe for a single, fixed price.
You’re not tied down to just one city for the whole of your holiday. So if you fancy a few days in Rome and a weekend in Istanbul, it’s up for grabs.
And, unlike plane tickets, you’re not stuck with iron-clad travel dates – you can change your plans and itinerary on the fly.
What’s the catch? Well, as you might expect from the name, it’s just for train journeys – although it is possible to use the pass on some ferry, local transport and special services (including Eurostar) as well.
If you’re up for cheap travel, flexible holidays and cleaner, greener gap years, riding the rails is for you!
Where to buy interrail passes
You’ll find passes for sale on a number of websites. As prices can vary, it’s worth checking out a couple and keeping an eye out for sales. If you’re travelling from the UK, start with:
Will Brexit affect interrailing?
Don’t panic – if you’re from the UK your Interrail Pass won’t be affected by Brexit. You’ll still be able to use it as normal no matter the outcome of negotiations.
Equally, if you’re from outside the United Kingdom you’ll still be able to travel there on your interrail trip as normal, regardless of Brexit.
How much does interrailing cost?
The Interrail Pass comes in more varieties than Skittles, and while that’s great for choice, it means we can’t pin down just one fare!
Prices range from £44 for a Poland One Country pass to £594 for the bumper month-long first class Global Pass. You’ll have to do a bit of shopping around to see which pass is right for you, and what your budget can stretch to.
What you need to know is that prices vary according to:
How long does an Interrail Pass last for?
There are a whole range of different options here depending on how long you want to travel for.
While the continuous pass gives you more flexibility in terms of when you travel, think about whether it’s likely you’re going to be travelling every day. If not, it might be best to do a bit of forward-planning and opt for the flexi pass option instead.
One Country Pass options:
Global Pass options:
One Country Pass
As it says on the tin, the One Country Pass is designed for travelling through just one country of your choice. You can buy passes for more than one country at a time, but if you want to visit more than two, a Global Pass will probably work out cheaper.
You can’t buy a One Country Pass for Bosnia-Herzegovina or Montenegro – you can only visit with a Global Pass.
The price of the One Country Pass depends on the length of travel you choose and which country you pick. As a rough guide, for three days second-class travel within one month, you could be paying £44 for Poland, or £143 for Germany.
There are too many countries and pass options for us to list them all here – but head over to the Interrail website to compare prices for each destination.
The Global Pass lets you travel in all 31 European countries in the scheme. That includes Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey just for starters. You also get one inward and outward train journey in your home country (i.e. to get to and from the airport or Eurostar terminal).
Interrailing pass prices 2019
If you don’t have a platinum credit card and a bottomless wallet, interrailing can help keep your holiday budget low. Once you’ve stumped up for an Interrail Pass, you can jump on and off as many trains as your pass allows.
The pass also comes with freebies and discounts on select ferries, local transport, accommodation and sight-seeing spots too, meaning potential savings on top.
Is an Interrail Pass worth the money?
If you plan on doing a lot of travelling, especially long distance or across borders, interrailing gets you decent value for money and saves you hassle along the way. As a rough guide, a month-long continuous pass works out at around £15/day if you travel every day.
If you’re not travelling much, or are sticking with a country which already has bargain rail fares, a pass may not save you heaps in the long run.
The best way to decide is to tot-up the cost of point-to-point train tickets before paying for a pass!
Don’t forget the Interrail Pass gives you access to free or discounted travel on some ferry and local transport services, plus money off some hotels and attractions (what’s up for grabs varies by country).
While the travel discounts can help you get that little bit further for less cash, the discounted attractions tend to be railway related and may not be that useful unless you really, really like trains…
Reserving seats when interrailing
Some train journeys are only available to pass holders with a reservation (i.e. sleeper, high speed or special services). But, while the Interrail Pass covers your train fares, it doesn’t include booking or reservation fees.
Some services also come with a limited number of seats for pass holders in peak season. Once they’re gone, the only way you can get on board is to buy a full-price ticket. The lesson is: if you’re set on travelling at certain dates and times, always check in advance and try and make a booking if you’re able to.
How to reserve seats on trains
You can make reservations at most train stations as you’re travelling around Europe. In some cases, particularly in Western Europe, you can make a reservation for a train from a different country, so there’s no need to be in your country of departure when you do it.
You can often also book reservations online, although this isn’t always the case.
Seat 61 has a great country-by-country guide to making train reservations across Europe. If you think you’ll need to reserve seats at any point on your trip, we’d recommend swotting up on the relevant countries before you go.
Are interrail tickets refundable?
If you order your pass directly with Interrail.eu, you can exchange it for another pass or an 85% refund if your plans change.
You just need to make your request within one month of the pass’ last day of validity, and have it endorsed as ‘Not Used’ by railway staff before or on the first day of validity.
Other fare info
How to use your Interrail Pass
The Interrail Pass comes with a travel journal (it may be called a travel diary, calendar or report), and you use it to note down the details of each journey you make before you get on the train.
What you’re doing is writing out your own ticket for each journey – so don’t lose your log! You might be asked to show your travel journal to conductors or ticket inspectors. Mistakes can even mean losing one of your travel days on a flexi pass, so definitely don’t dawdle on it either…
If your pass includes other forms of free transport, like ferries or metro train services, you’ll need to add the details to your travel diary each time (and, if you’re on a flexi pass, they’ll count towards your travel allowance).
Pass discounts for things like attractions and hotels don’t count towards your travel allowance, so you can use them any time your pass is valid, and they don’t need to be logged in your journal.
Is Eurostar covered by Interrail?
As of 2017, the Interrail Pass is valid on Eurostar services, just like any other train journey. That gives UK travellers an extra, low-cost way of getting to and from the continent.
To catch the Eurostar from London to Paris, for example, you’ll need a pass that’s valid in France. If you’ve got a Global Pass, however, you can also bundle your Eurostar trip in with your inward/outward UK train journeys.
So, if you time your UK, Eurostar and onward journeys right, you could get from home to hotel using just one day of your travel allowance, and without having to pay air or ferry fares.
But there’s a catch! As the Eurostar is a high-speed service, you’ll need a reservation (€30) before you can jump on board, and reservations have to be booked a few months in advance. Doing it via your Interrail Pass could save you cash and give you an excuse to do the chunnel, but size up the fares for yourself!
What is the 7pm rule?
If you’re on a flexi pass, make a note of this! If you catch a night train (or ferry), it would normally count as two days from your travel allowance.
However, the 7pm rule says that as long as your train leaves after 7pm and arrives at its destination after 4am, you only need to enter the date of arrival into your travel log. That means you only use one day from your travel allowance, leaving you an extra one in the bag. Bonus!
How to plan your interrail trip
Navigating train timetables
Trying to decipher European train timetables can be a bit of a nightmare, but sites like Seat 61 bring everything together in one place, making the process much easier.
Even if you want your tip to be more spontaneous, it’s best to at least have a vague idea of train times and how long journeys take before you go so you’re not caught out.
Think about how many countries you want to visit
When it comes to interrailing, Europe really is your oyster. However, it’s easy to get carried away and think you have to hoover up locations to get your money’s worth – or that you can nip round every city in Europe in a month. Well, trust us, you can’t!
Be realistic about how many places you’ll be able to reach, take into consideration travelling times, and remember that it won’t be fun if you try to cover too much ground – you’ll end up spending more time stuck on trains than getting stuck into Europe!
Don’t forget to budget
Different countries will vary drastically in cost. Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic will be much much cheaper than the likes of Italy and Spain.
If you’re worried about how you’re going to afford a month of continuous travelling, sticking to Eastern Europe is probably your best bet.
Can you go interrailing by yourself?
Travelling by yourself can seem scary, but solo travelling is a great way to see the world and make new friends with complete flexibility.
But, of course, your safety is paramount, so here are our top tips if you do fancy travelling by yourself:
But lastly, don’t let these tips put you off! Solo travelling can be a wonderful and liberating experience, and the tips above would apply to any traveller, not just those going it alone.
Where to stay when you’re interrailing
People like the idea of a completely spontaneous interrailing trip – just you, your mates and the railroad stretching out in front of you. However, the reality is that when you arrive in Berlin after a five-hour train journey, you’re not going to want to spend ages hunting for a bed.
So do some research and book accommodation ahead, even if it means restricting your flexibility slightly – plus it’s likely to be much cheaper than paying on the door.
Hostels, hotels and rooms
Hostels are a great place to meet other young travellers, which is why they’re a popular choice for students. In a hostel, you’ll typically have the choice of either a shared or private dorm, with a communal bathroom or en-suite if you’re lucky! Try HostelBookers and HostelWorld.
Sometimes one- or two-star hotels work out cheaper than a hostel, so if you have time, shop around – try Kayak to spy out prices across several sites at once.
Airbnb is also worth a look, with private or shared rooms giving you the chance to flat share with locals or bag a whole apartment to yourself. Plus, if you book somewhere with a kitchen you can save money by cooking your own meals!
STS reader Ailish shares her tips for keeping accommodation costs low:
Campsites are safe and cheap, so they’re worth considering. Carrying a tent around with you can be a major pain though, so only BYOT (bring your own tent!) if you’re sure you’ll use it.
Pitchup covers almost 8,000 campsites around the world. You can also search for campsites with lodges, caravans, wigwams and yurts for hire – so you can leave the tent at home!
Sleep on the train
If you don’t mind curling up in your seat, sleeping on the train (on overnight services) can be a big money and time saver.
Bear in mind that kipping in your seat isn’t the same as booking a sleeper train with cabins and bunks. If you want a bed, you’ll probably have to pay substantially more for it – although it can sometimes work out cheaper than hotel accommodation.
You’ll also be saving time wasted travelling during daylight hours, so there’s no harm in checking out prices!
What to pack for interrailing
When you envision a typical interrailer, you probably imagine them equipped with a huge rucksack.
However, you could arguably do just as well with a suitcase, especially if you’re worried you lack the fitness levels to carry everything yourself. Just make sure it’s small enough to fit in the train luggage compartments.
The main advice: travel light! You really don’t want to lug five pairs of shoes across Europe, and ditching them en route will sting almost as much as the bag straps cutting into your shoulders.
Plus, this is the one time you can get away with wearing the same shirt for a whole week. Take advantage!
No guide to interrailing would be complete without a packing list, so here are our suggestions:
10 top interrailing tips
- Think about who you’re travelling with. Interrailing isn’t always the most relaxing experience and can be difficult to coordinate, so travelling with more than 4-5 people is stressful
- Read up on the places you’re going to be visiting and work out the best time to go. It would totally suck if you booked to leave a country the day before a major festival, or arrived on a day when businesses and bars are closed! Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring can help you plot out the essentials and what to see along the way
- You could start your trip by flying out to your furthest destination and then interrailing your way back to the UK. If you can get cheap flights, this is a great time saver
- While it’s quite easy to get across Europe with English and a bit of pointing, learning some basic phrases before you go can help smooth your way. Plus it’s just a lot less embarrassing than miming ‘toilet’…
- Photocopy or scan your important documents (passport, rail tickets, plane tickets, insurance etc) and email them to yourself as back-up, or give an extra copy to a travel companion
- Get yourself an ISIC card (International Student Identity Card) for extra discounts on hotels, hostels, events and sight-seeing across Europe. You can now get a year’s free ISIC with the TOTUM/NUS Extra card, too
- With Google Translate on your phone you can photograph any signs you don’t understand and the app will tell you what they mean. Plus, type in your phrase and it will actually speak it in the language for you!
- Don’t forget that you’ll often have to buy tickets for public transport such as metros and trams – if you don’t, you could be stung with a hefty fine!
- You’re only human and you will inevitably get tired. Schedule in rest days and be aware that when you hit the cities towards the end of your trip, you’ll likely have a lot less energy than you did at the beginning
- Embrace the unexpected! You can’t plan for all eventualities, and things will inevitably go wrong, but that’s the fun of interrailing.
Looking for some more travel tips? This woman took a whopping 10 holidays in a year for just £1,700 – this is her secret.