Interrail is, without a doubt, the best way to discover Europe within a short period of time. It allows you to travel in up to 30 countries with just a single ticket and plan your adventure as it suits you best.
We are sure you know someone who has already enjoyed this experience. If you haven’t yet and would like to know more about this Interrail thing, keep reading!
We were travelling for 3 weeks and, if we learnt something, is that no matter how well you plan your trip, there will always be things that you cannot control. But that’s the interesting part, isn’t it? Getting out of your comfort zone and learning as you travel.
Apart from an amazing life experience and many souvenirs, we also brought home some useful tips for those of you who would like to know how Interrailing works. Here they are!
15 tips to make the most out of Interrail
1) Decide which countries you’d like to visit and plan your route
We know you want to visit all of them, but let’s divide that task into small parts. Some itineraries are more popular than others, so take that into account, as seats and night trains might sell out very quickly (especially if you’re planning to travel in summer).
We started in Berlin and finished in Budapest, going through Krakow, Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava. It is one of the most popular routes, as there is a lot to be seen in these cities and they’re connected historically. Judging by what our guides explained to us during their tours in each city, we recommend to visit these cities in this exact order. It is the best way to connect the historical dots.
2) Research what is to be visited in each city
You might want to spend some extra time in a city where there are tons of things to do, and take that time off another city. In our case, we only spent a day in Bratislava, since that’s more than enough to see the main attractions (you can easily go on a day-trip from Vienna). However, we spent four days in Krakow, so we had enough time to visit the city, but also Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Take into account that you’ll be continuously on the go and that’s exhausting, so give yourself time to rest too.
Some visits might need advanced reservation (palaces, exhibitions, government buildings,..), so try to book them as soon as you know your plans for each city.
3) Book your train tickets
Once you have decided which cities to visit and for how long, it’s time to book your train tickets. There are different options, depending on how many days you want to travel, the class you choose, and if you want to visit one country or more. Also, some trains require advanced seat reservation. Make sure you book them asap!
If you go on the official website for Interrail, you will find all the options and the price for each of them. They also have a seat reservation service, but they charge €8 per journey booked and then send you the tickets by post. If you’re running out of time or you just don’t want to be dealing with foreign train companies, use this option. Bear in mind that during high season it can take them more than a week to process your request. If on the contrary you have enough time to plan everything and book your tickets yourself, you’ll save money in the end.
First class or second class? This is the question. We read different blogs and they recommended first class, claiming that it’s quieter and there is more room for your luggage and your legs. We ended up choosing first class, but after all we wouldn’t recommend it, at least not for our route. Most of the trains only had second class. Also, it depends on how many people you’re travelling with. There were three of us, but there weren’t 3-people compartments on first-class night trains. Our only option would have been to stay on a 4-people one, sharing it with a stranger.
Sleeper or couchette? Sleeper compartments have proper beds with sheets and a pillow, and they normally have a washbasin. Couchettes are more basic and less comfortable, but if you have a sleeping bag with you it should be ok.
4) Book your accommodation
Depending on what your budget is, you might want to use CouchSurfing, or maybe stay in a hostel, Airbnb, or a hotel. We decided to stay in Airbnbs, since we wanted to get proper sleep and have access to a kitchen and a washing machine without spending too much money on it. Think that you’ll be travelling for a long time, so being able to wash your clothes at home is very handy. If this option appeals you, check our post on how to use Airbnb and get a discount when you register using our link.
5) Suitcase or backpack?
Another key question. After talking to some travellers and friends, we decided to bring a suitcase with us. We were staying in Airbnb accommodation, so we could leave our belongings there and go explore the city. The train stations are close to the city centre and there is public transport too. It’s not that you’re travelling in rural areas! The cities have pavements, so carrying your suitcase will be easy. Besides, most of you will be carrying some sort of school bag with water, snacks, maps, a camera or even a tripod, so give your back a break! Try to pack as light as possible.
6) Let your bank know you’re travelling
If you’re going to be using your card while travelling, let your bank know. Sometimes banks block your card if they notice someone is withdrawing money or paying with it in unusual locations.
7) Beware of the conversion rate offered on ATMs
They make it look official and according to European converters, but most of the time (if not always), their rate is a rip-off. We recommend declining the rate offered, and let your bank deal with the transaction from home. We ended up saving around €6 in every withdrawal.
8) Check the prices for ordinary things in each city before you travel
It will help you avoid tourist traps. Bottles of water will always be expensive, but some shops will increase their prices even more if they’re close to important monuments.
9) Find out how tipping works in each city
In some countries it’s considered rude to leave a tip, while in others you’re expected to leave at least 10% of the bill.
10) In restaurants, ask if the service is included in the price list
Some restaurants will automatically charge you 10-13% of the bill as service without letting you know in advance, specially if you’re a tourist. This should already count as a tip, there’s no need to leave extra money when you pay the bill.
11) Download the Interrail planner app
It’s very handy to check when trains are heading to your next destination. Some trains don’t need advanced seat reservation, so you can get on them whenever you want. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to change from one train to another, as they might be late and you could perfectly miss your next train.
One of our trains from Berlin to Poland was half an hour late, and we ended up missing our night train to Krakow. We had to wait in the train station for 6h, until the next train at 5am: a 9-hour train with no beds, no water, no food, and hot as hell. Dealing with (not gentle) employees that would only speak Polish while checking their Facebook page didn’t help us either. So, PLEASE, give yourself enough time.
12) Always carry water and snacks with you
There’s nothing worse than being thirsty or hungry and knowing that you still have a few hours left on the train.
13) Bring your essentials to make your journey easier
Think of plug adaptors, a travel pillow for those long train journeys, a power bank to charge your phone (you’ll be out most of the day), a poncho or waterproof jacket,…
14) Beware of pickpockets
This is a simple rule: the more tourists around, the more pickpockets there will be. We were fine during our trip, but some people told us they had problems with them. Keep your bag zipped and pay attention to your pockets, especially on public transport and crowded areas. If you have two cards, try to keep them separately. In case you lose one, you’d still have access to money with the second one.
15) Join a free walking tour on your first day in each destination
It will give you an idea of what the country is like, historical facts, tips on restaurants and bars, and places not to be missed during your stay. They are intense, but well worth it! You can find your tour here.
And this is it! I hope all this information will help you make the most out of your Interrailing experience. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll be glad to help you.