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A Beginners Guide to Interrailing

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Interrailing is quickly becoming a student rite of passage, heralded as the most student-friendly form of travel.

It's a great way for students to visit a plethora of destinations quickly, safely, and without making a huge dent in their student loans. However, for a first-time interrailer, the prospect of travelling through a foreign country via the rail can seem equally as daunting as it is exciting, especially when you know little about the culture and geography of your destination.

Deciding how to plan, where to visit, and what to take on your interrailing trip can take time, so here’s a round-up of top tips to get you started on your first interrailing trip.

1. Plan and print it out

Have you ever been on holiday with that one friend or family member who comes armed with a large folder of paperwork containing sheets and sheets of tickets, bookings, and directions. I’m not advising that you should pack a colour-coordinated, cross-referenced folder, but this group of people have the right idea.

Even packing an A3 water-proof folder with a few sheets of paper outlining the crucial dates, departure times, and check-out times will be a lifesaver when you’re rushing from the hostel to the train station or your phone has unluckily frozen mid-journey.

Keep the folder in your carry-on bag as opposed to your rucksack or luggage for swift access. Keeping to a strict, pre-booked schedule of trains will allow you to have the freedom to arrange your holiday around these guidelines. This way, the hard work and research is completed before you depart and there’s less risk of bad timekeeping and stress interfering with your plans.

2. Think safety first

Safety is paramount to all holidays, whether you’re embarking on a cruise or an interrailing trip.

I’m sure it’s been drilled into your head to never risk traveling without insurance but safety should also be at the forefront of other crucial decisions. When booking trains, avoid travelling at night especially where there are long exchanges in smaller train stations which are likely to be less secure and less busy.

When planning where to stay, research which neighbourhoods are well-lit, friendly, and busy. Needless to say, travelling in larger groups as opposed to in pairs or independently is safer and leaves you less vulnerable to theft or harassment.

3. Pack smart

There are plenty of lists of backpacking essentials sprawled across the internet, but smart packing really comes down to common sense.

Pack clothes and shoes based on weather predictions but try not be too optimistic; even the hottest countries are prone to the occasional thunderstorm.

Essentials for any country and any weather include: first-aid kit, plastic cutlery for food-on-the-go and self-catering, and plastic bags to separate wet clothes or leak-prone liquids from other luggage.

4. Download some useful apps

One of the most useful apps to download for a multi-country interrailing trip is a currency converter such as Currency Converter Plus. It operates without internet access and is key to helping you interpret which restaurants are pricier than others by converting the local currency to the one you are used to dealing with.

The Interrail Rail Planner app is also essential for those travelling with an interrail pass (the cheapest and most convenient option in most cases). The official app does not require internet access and provides an up-to-date schedule of train times relevant to your pass.

5. Always book your accommodation in advance

Risking booking accommodation on the day makes you more vulnerable to scams and over-priced accommodation as well as wasting precious time.

Booking accommodation in advance on reliable websites such as Hostelworld.com, Airbnb, or Booking.com is cheaper, reliable, and time-saving. If you’re planning on camping, be sure to research campsites and laws on where you can legally set-up camp. You can’t simply pick any beach as your romping ground.

7. Don't hop on the wrong train

Some trains require an extra reservation fee on top of an interrail pass, particularly high-speed services. If you’re caught on such a train without a pre-paid reservation, you can be handed a devastating line on the spot.

Searches for trains on The Interrail Rail Planner app can be filtered to no reservation required and will always alert you if your desired train requires a reservation. Never jump on a train without consulting the app: only the trains on the app are covered by your pass.

7. Bag a window seat

If you’re feeling extra clever, research your route to find out which side of the train has the best views.

8. Budget realistically

It’s all very well planning to spend ten pounds a day, but realistically this is going to be impossible to stick to. A sure safe method of saving money is booking accommodation with access to kitchen facilities, whether this is a hostel or B&B with communal kitchen areas.

Keep your eyes peeled for cheap hotel rooms that are equipped with a small fridge. This allows you to buy food such as spreads, bread, yoghurt, and milk from a cheap supermarket to make your own breakfast and on-the-go sandwiches. In the long run, this can save you up to twenty pounds a day that would otherwise be spent on restaurant-food.

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