The beauty of travel in Europe is the proximity of one amazing country to another, creating a beautiful over-lapse of cultures, accents, languages, foods and experiences in easy travelling distance. This, for me at least, makes Europe (probably) the easiest and most exciting continent in the world.
InterRailing – for those aliens?! who haven’t heard of it – offers train tickets that cover most of Europe for a set period of time. These can be done either as ‘x’ number of train journeys over ‘x’ amount of days, or as many as you want in, again, a set period of time. Ranging from £159 for five days travel over a period of ten days, to £382 for continuous travel over the course of one month, InterRail aim to provide a more convenient, cost effective way and, I guess, ‘peace of mind approach’ to travel and backpacking.
For first time travellers or anyone on a budget, this sounds ideal. All the work is seemingly done for you, a huge chunk of your travel costs will be covered before you even get there, and you’re guaranteed to meet like minded people in the countries you’ve always wanted to visit. Great stuff. More precious time and money to be invested else where… like that crazy night in Berlin, that ridiculously overpriced coffee in Milan or even the incredible day tour of some Mediterranean island that you didn’t think you’d have enough money to fund. Hurrah, hurrah!
But. But but but. Is InterRailing all it’s cracked up to be? Is it that much cheaper/easier/better than organising your trip as and when you like, on the day, in the country? Or does it merely offer an illusionary superdeal distracting the excited backpacker on a budget with its easy click-a-button-and-you-trip-is-sorted! ethos?
My problem with InterRailing is exactly this. This illusion that doing it yourself will be 178 times more expensive, time consuming and frustrating. Train travel is easy in Europe. Turn up at the station, use Google translate if needs be to make your little enquiries, book a ticket. Voila. All done. This revolutionary method also stands for buses. And trams. And the metro. And every. Other. Type. Of. Public. Transport. Often this actually works out cheaper than many of the InterRail tickets. My trip from Hungary through Slovenia to Italy over the course of five weeks cost me around £200 altogether – £182 cheaper and one week longer than the InterRail ticket.
The misconception of just how sorted you are with the purchase of your tickets spills over into the travel itself. The aforementioned £200 figure included ferries, buses, the metro and, ultimately, trains that are not included on the InterRail ticket. The lack of inclusion of certain routes means that that £382 that looked so appealing isn’t quite so perfect after all. When considering that on some routes you are required to reserve a seat – and pay for the privilege – then the hidden costs really do pile up, and you might just be cancelling that island tour after all.
Irrespective of money, time is another issue. Unless you’re lucky enough to be on an indefinite hiatus in life, there’s always going to be an issue of time simply running out. That clock ticking in the back of your head seems to be vastly intensified to deafening proportions on those smaller trips. To only have 30 days to complete your travel route is something that would fill me with an uncomfortable concoction of anxiety and stress and worry and pressure. Overwhelming pressure to get there, see the sights, move on. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the chance of finding that hidden gem of a place where you just want to spend all of your time until you’re ready to move on? InterRail removes the freedom of falling in love with travel, in my opinion.
One of my favourite travel memories was being whisked away to the Honduras countryside to chill in the family farm of a girl I had met only the previous day in a bar. I spent an unplanned extra three days in an amazing place which I would not have got to see if I had a set itinerary that I would feel guilty deterring too much from.
All this being said, InterRailing is a good concept. I know a lot of people who have done it and had an absolute blast… a few complaints related to the flaws mentioned throughout, but aside from that, an overall great time. But InterRailing isn’t the only option. Sometimes taking it upon yourself to get from A to B and back again is half the adventure – and that’s what travel is about after all, right?