Digital Editor Alex McDonald shares his top tips and an inclusive travel guide for a short break in ancient city of RomeWritten by Alex McDonald on 26th December 2017
Our Interrailing Experience 2017: Memorable Moments and Top Tips
Kat Smith and Elin Kaemmer-Bailey share their exciting interrailing experience and give their top tips, tricks and ideas for a hassle-free adventure
With a great desire to travel but an inability to commit to the rather overwhelming prospect of organising a gap year, interrailing Europe proved to be a wildly exhausting but utterly thrilling, bitesize alternative. This summer, my adventure began in Rome and, although my leg of the trip ended seventeen days later in Vienna, my two accompanying friends continued their route for a further two weeks. Ditching a basic level of personal hygiene and your daily quota of Tetley tea to explore the lively capitals of Europe is a daunting prospect which requires a great deal of organisation and commitment. However, it is undoubtedly the best way to consolidate your first year friendships, making a lifetime of memories (and perhaps becoming a little friendlier with your overdraft in the process!)
To best explain our adventures we have compiled a list of some amazing and memorable moments that we would highly recommend working into any interrail route:
Sunset Kayaking and Krka National Park in Split
Departing from the slightly less touristy Bene Beach, we kayaked for four hours along the idyllic Croatia coastline. We stopped amongst some rocks to snorkel, cliff dive and generally soak up our surroundings. The excursion was an investment costing approximately €37 per person but going during the sunset ensured a pay off in stunning scenery.
The next day we took a day trip to the Krka National Park to swim in its stunning series of seven waterfalls, a natural treasure.
St. John’s Fireworks in Florence
Our time in Florence coincided with a public holiday, St. John’s day, which featured parades through the city and historical battle re-enactments. In the evening there was a beautiful fireworks display over the city, a magical close to our brief time in Italy. When planning your travels, researching public holidays and special events to attend in advance can fantastically enrich your experience of the local culture.
Visiting the largest extermination camp of the Holocaust was not easy. It was a difficult, surreal and emotional day, but also a very important and memorable experience.
Reading about the Holocaust and its atrocities is one thing, but visiting a concentration camp and standing in a gas chamber is something else. I believe it’s a place everyone should go to if they have the chance.
Prague Castle and Swan Boats
Seeing the view of Prague from the top of the castle was definitely a highlight. It was a beautiful scene, particularly the cathedral, even if the wind was blowing us all over the place.
The swan boats along the river in Prague were so much fun. In spite of a few near-collisions the romantic atmosphere was enhanced when we witnessed a proposal whilst swanning (I had to) about in our boats. Overall, it was a cheap and cheerful activity that gave us a bit of exercise other than walking.
The Dresden Hostel
I know this is a very personal experience, but I believe that it is common thread amongst most interrailers. We met so many amazing people on our trip, from lots of different countries and backgrounds.
For me, the night that epitomises that on our trip was staying in Lollis Homestay in Dresden, Germany. We got a free dinner from the hostel and sat with other travellers in the common area (which is phone-free) and stayed up until one am just talking to them all.
It sounds simple, but it’s little moments like that which I’ll remember the most.
Ruin Bars and Street Food in Budapest
Karavan on Kazinczy in Budapest provided us with a weekend of budget-friendly but dead tasty street food. Burritos, pizza, vegan burgers, sushi, we were spoilt for choice! About two doors down from Karavan is the famous ruin bar Szimpla Kert. We spent a night in this spacious and ambient pub which featured a variety of mismatched rooms and bars to explore, with live music, beers and cocktails.
Train to Slovenia
Needless to say, a great deal of your time during an interrailing trip will be spent either on a train or waiting for one! It is easy for the actual process of travelling to become a weary chore. I kept reminding myself to enjoy the train journeys as part and parcel of the experience. After all, they’re probably the most expensive part! My favourite train journey was between Villach and Ljubljana, it departed at 5am and the train carried us through the most beautiful open landscapes in rural Slovenia. Watching the sun rise behind the magnificent mountain ranges is not an everyday experience, which made the early morning that little bit more bearable.
Opera in Vienna
We spontaneously visited the Opera House in Vienna and bought €15 standing tickets for the Mozart Orchestra that evening. It was an incredible experience and the no photography rule forced us to enjoy the moment instead of documenting it from behind a lens.
As pretentious as it may sound, I too frequently found myself obsessing over how to perfectly capture an experience in order to share it on social media, instead of concentrating on fully immersing myself in the moment. Even a heavy layer of everyone’s favourite filter (side note: Valencia is perfect for that candid glow), simply cannot do justice to some of the surreal and magical moments you will experience when travelling! Interrailing is a great way to enjoy life outside of the modern vacuum of social media.
Top Tips: Budgeting (by Kat Smith)
One of the most frequently asked questions was: so how much have you spent on this trip?
I don’t think there’s a set amount a month away from home costs or even should cost. Everyone’s experience is different and everyone has a different idea of what they’re comfortable spending and what on. Bearing this in mind, I thought I’d give some general advice about setting a budget and how to stick to it.
Setting a Budget
- Be flexible
Firstly, acknowledge that not every place is going to be the same price. We found that Krakow was seriously cheap and we were able to stick to £10 equivalent a day, with the exception of visiting Auschwitz. However, in places like Amsterdam and Split, we were having to spend closer to £25.
We set a daily budget for spending money (food, transport, admission to museums and excursions) but we soon learned that this would have to be considered as more of an average. If we spent too much one day, we’d try and cut it off the budget of another place.
- Be realistic
It’s easy to say in theory that you’re going to spend £10 a day on everything and it’s easy to plan to save up £3000 to have the holiday of a lifetime. Be realistic about how much you can save and how much you’re going to have to spend in order to do everything you want to do.
When you’re on such an amazing trip you don’t want to scrimp on experiences. However it’s also unrealistic to decide that you can afford to spend £40 a day for a whole month if you can’t save that much.
Set an amount of how much to save for the trip and then once you have booked trains, accommodation and flights (if needed), you can work out how much you’re able to spend per day on average.
Sticking to the Budget
- Write it down
At the end of each day we’d write down our spending. This meant that we had to think twice before making an unnecessary purchase (it didn’t always stop us, though) as we could see it eating into our overall budget. It also helped us to keep a record of our average spending so we could know how much leeway we had for other days.
- Be patient
It’s easy when you’re hungry or tired to just go for the first thing that comes your way. For example, the first restaurant you see may be in the touristy area you’re already in, and may cost €5 more than a place just around the corner. Look at menus and don’t just make a decision because your stomach’s grumbling.
- Do your research
Also, we found that searching around for our own transfers to the Krka National Park in Split ensured we weren’t mugged off by the bigger companies who charged massive prices and didn’t even offer entry.
Top Tips: Planning (by Kat Smith)
Admittedly, we’re the types of people that needed everything to be planned out otherwise we would’ve got pretty stressed. Before we left, we had everything sorted in terms of trains and accommodation.
However, we did meet some people who were being much more spontaneous than us. For example, they’d turn up at a train station and ask if they could get on a train or they’d book a hostel two nights in advance. It’s up to you how you want to do it, but if you’re like us and need it all sorted, here’s my advice:
- Don’t make our mistake
We naively booked quite a few of our hostels without thinking about the night trains. We then later had to pay cancellation fees in places like Split and Ljubljana when we realised we could get a night train and use that as our sleeping time.
- Get reservations for night trains
If you’re travelling through the night, the last thing you want to do is not have a bed.
Yes, the beds aren’t the comfiest or the most spacious but you’ll be thankful for those precious few hours’ sleep.
- Book early
We got a 15% discount on our interrail pass for buying in it 2016, six months before we were leaving. We also got hostels for much cheaper rates because we’d booked quite far in advance.
- Go off the beaten track
Everyone goes to places like Budapest and Prague, and while they’re amazing it’s a great opportunity to visit new places. We went to Ljubljana, Dresden, Antwerp and Krakow which aren’t exactly part of the usual interrail route but we loved them. You might find some hidden gems and have a slightly more unique experience.