David Erik

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Traveling Europe with an InterRail Global Pass

During the last two weeks, me and my friend Fredrik have been traveling through Europe. The main goals could be described as seeing Europe in general, Traveling Light, Working as a Digital Nomad, and Leaving the Comfort Zone. In short, the trip was useful in pursuing all of those. This post, however, will mostly discuss the way we chose to travel: using a special ticket, InterRail Global Pass, that gives unlimited train travel within a specific number of days.

Buying an InterRail-ticket has it’s pros and cons. The main concern is when you pay for this expensive ticket (260€) and then proceed to travel a specific route you had planned beforehand. This opens up the possibility that you could have saved money by booking just those specific tickets (tickets in eastern Europe, for example, are very cheap).

On the other hand, if you want to travel without a specific route in mind, and prefer to pick a destination based on weather, next upcoming train, or suddenly decides to stay additional days in your current location, InterRail offers this kind of freedom - which is also the way we chose to travel. Several times we arrived to the train station, just to find an appropriate departure within ten minutes. One morning, we woke up in Vienna with the intention of going to Bratislava, but found ourself on a train to Budapest just because it reduced the waiting time to zero.

Another argument against the InterRail is the fact that most high-speed train lines often requires a compulsory seat reservation - which could vary between a few Euros up to maybe 15€. However, after 14 days of train traveling through eleven countries, we only had to pay for seat reservation two times: Venice-Milano and Milano-Zürich (10€ each). Had we researched some more, we might have found some alternate travel routes for those trips as well, but we really wanted to leave Italy (a separate story).

A couchette for a night train usually requires a reservation fee (10-20€), but considering that you’ll sleep on the train that night instead of checking into a Hostel, you’ll still save some money considering that rooms usually cost even more. I don’t recommend sleeping in trains for too many consecutive nights though - the sleep you get on a train is not perfect. I also don’t recommend staying in Zürich at all, unless you’re rich. The cheapest place we could find still quickly drained our travel budget.

Traveling with an InterRail-ticket is scary at times. Instead of a ”real” ticket, you hand over a folded paper thingy with a stapled ticket within it. On this paper there are also place for you to note down all your trips (including departure/arrival-times and train numbers), something that according to the InterRail Information is mandatory for the ticket to be valid. Old croatian train conductors will look suspiciously at this mystical bundle of papers, but not once has there been any problems - instead my ticket is stamped, clipped and got random numbers written on it from train conductors all over Europe. Also note that we constantly forgot to write down our trips in the pass and only a few conductors mentioned this, so during our journey we apparently traveled four trips in Eastern Europe and no more. InterRail want you to send this information to them after the journey, for statistics and whatnot, and in exchange they send you a gift of some sorts. Due to my incredibly inefficiently documented journey, I probably won’t do that. Curious what the gift is, though.

Traveling without seat reservation will sometimes require you to NOT use a seat, if the entire train is reserved. However, this is rarely the case. When traveling with a night train from Ljubljana to Venice, the train was almost full, but we still managed to find two empty seats for the trip. A few other InterRail travelers we met on the station, however, did not and had to sit on the floor for five hours - i figure that could be uncomfortable. When we traveled through Croatia, we had literally an entire train for only four travelers (all InterRailers). Croatia, as a side note, is almost as beautiful to travel through as Switzerland. I strongly recommend you to travel those two countries during the day, the view is amazing.

When it comes to getting information from train personnel in Europe, most countries are decent english speakers. Older people in eastern Europe might not be so fluent talkers, but are often very willing to try to help anyways. To find out your upcoming train routes, simply ask at the information desks and mention that you travel with InterRail. They know almost everything and will inform you if there is any compulsory reservations needed. Some places are better than others, of course: Switzerland is known for their good service and well ordered train traffic management, and this turned out to be very true.

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This post turned out huge. A short summary: InterRail is a well working system for traveling through Europe. If you plan to visit a lot of countries in the west, say France, Italy and likewise, the seat reservation costs might add up to some money. But as a traveling tool for Europe in the whole, I give it two thumbs up.