A Quick Guide to Interrailing on a Budget
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Many students go travelling either during the summer or during a gap year, and a great way to travel and experience several countries in a affordable way is interrail.
There are several tricks to interrailling, which you should be aware of, especially if you want to save some money along the way, so here are some of the best tips for a fantastic trip:
First of all, if you are not travelling alone, make sure you are travelling with people you get along with and who you can have a good time with. You will be spending several hours on trains, in hostels and in different towns with your travel buddies, so make sure you go with people who you enjoy spending time with.
The interrail ticket system is quite efficient, as it gives you great discounts on the biggest railways systems in Europe, but the system can also be a bit confusing. Basically you buy a certain amount of travelling days within a certain amount of travelling time, for example, you might have 10 travelling days to use within 3 weeks. This means that you have to write down which days you are using as your travelling days in your interrail pass. It is very important that you keep your interrail pass updated, as they will most likely get checked by train conductors on the longer journeys. Depending on your route and how long you want to stay in the different countries, it would be wisest and cheapest to use your travelling days on the days, where you cross borders, instead of on days when you're just exploring a capital. If you're just travelling within one city, you might as well get a one day ticket, as most of the European countries have cheaper train and bus fares than the UK. You will have to check the prices of the various interrail passes at your local train station.
It is disputable whether planning your route or just making it up as you go along makes for a better trip, but planning your route before going certainly decreases the possibility of disputes within your group along the way, and a preplanned route can also help you save both time and money. First of all, the further East in Europe you go, the cheaper everything is. You can find good hostels for less than £4 per person per night in Prague, and you can get cocktails for less than £1.50 in Budapest. Furthermore, if you do some research from home you will be able to find low-cost hostels and trains. For example, if you would like to take a night train you might have to pre-book, to have a guaranteed seat. This is because if a volcano suddenly decides to erupt ash, you do not want to spend your trip standing in a full train for six whole hours!
As mentioned above, research from home! It is a very vital step before any trip, such as comparing prices, distance from town centres and the train station as well as the actual town the hostel is situated at and any reviews you may be able to search from previous guests. If you are able to find a safe and affordable hostel, which is close by to necessary ammenities, you will save yourself a lot of hassle, when you return home at 4 in the morning. However, if you are not too fussy, an alternate idea is to book dormitory rooms. Yes, you will live with strangers, but it is a lot cheaper and you will not be spending a whole lot of time in your room anyway. Besides, you might even be lucky enough to share a dormitory with some people you can go out with or who can give you some information and advice about the city you are in.
First rule of going out is that NO ONE goes out or goes home alone. Always be with at least two people together - most thieves can spot a tourist half a mile away. Ask some of the locals or other tourists where you can find a good bar or club, or once again do some research from home: you probably only have a few nights in whatever town you're in, you do not want to spend it searching for a good bar.
The cheapest food is the food you cook yourself. Most hostels have small kitchens, where you can prepare and eat meals and depending on the size of your travel group, you should be able to find something at the local supermarket, which is inexpensive and can last. You should also check out local food markets, as they usually have some good offers and are reduced in price. It is also a good idea to bring some basic cutlery from home, in case the hostel does not have any for you to use. Even though it is cheaper to cook your food yourself, you can also work in some nights for eating out into your budget, so that you can get a break from cooking and taste some of the local cuisine.
It is wise to carry your passport on you, as when you are in cities close to borders or in a country where the police is strict, you may require it. If you really want to visit a certain city, which is quite expensive to spend the night in - like Venice - take a night train into the city, leave your luggage in a storage room (make sure it locks!) at the station, spend the day in town and then take an evening or night train to your next destination. If you are awakened from a nap on a train by a big dog, do not panic - it is quite common for the police to check trains crossing in or out of the country thoroughly with the aid of detection dogs. And finally, make sure to always keep an eye on your valuables, as some of those pick pockets are a lot more sneaky than you might expect.
Last but not least: have a great and safe trip!