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A Quick and Easy Guide to Inter-Railing Through Europe

Inter-railing is quite often seen as a rite of passage for teenagers and young adults fresh out of education and looking for adventure. Whilst others tend to take advantage of the cheap and easy flight options that are becoming available to them and exploring the cheap and exotic on other sides of the world, there's still a strong travel trend of younger generations using the rail network within Europe to explore what is on their doorstep.

Because inter-railing isn't heavily publicised - it isn't really run by a single company, plus you dictate where you stop and visit so there isn't really a selected demographic that advertisers could look market their product to, it would be like seeing adverts for buses - people who want to use the train to travel round Europe often don't know much about it other than other people's first-hand accounts.

How do I plan my inter-railing route?

The best thing about inter-railing is that you have the freedom to do whatever you want. Many people plan their route meticulously and to the hour, setting sights to see and making sure they can do everything they want to do, others take things as they come and completely blag their inter-railing journey, packing in tourist sights and activities when and where they can. You could decide before you buy a ticket where you want to travel - as this helps with costs. Or alternatively, buy a Global Pass ticket (and associated long term travel insurance policy) and go where the wind takes you. The Euro InterRail Pass covers the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.

How do I buy inter-railing tickets?

The inter-rail ticket system is really efficient, but it can be pretty confusing to someone who isn't familiar with the system. Basically, you buy a certain amount of travelling days (days spent on a train) within your travelling period (the total time you're away from home), for example, you could buy 10 days to use within a 3 week period. This means you have to log your travelling days in your inter-rail pass, and keep it updated so that it can be checked and validated by various train conductors. Depending on how you've planned your route, it's usually wisest to use your travelling days on full days, or days where you would cross borderlines, as opposed to days where you're just exploring a city and using the train to reach it (when a one-day ticket would be more useful, and cheaper in the long-run).

If you want as much freedom as possible in your travelling, an InterRail Global Pass is probably more suited to your type of trip, as it covers all of the thirty countries listed above for little more than £153. Alternatively, if you're sticking to a specific area of Europe, it would probably be best to buy one, or more depending on how many individual countries you plan on visiting, One Country InterRail passes which are about £32 each.

What do I need to pack for inter-railing?

What you pack inside your backpack is entirely up to you, but just make sure that it's light. You're going to spend most of your time with this on your back, travelling to and from train stations to hostels and tourist spots, so make sure it's wearable, comfortable, and not weighing you down like a pack-horse. Think carefully about what you include, try not to forgo the first aid kit for all seven editions of Harry Potter classics.

Packing things like ear plugs, for noisy hostels and busy night trains, and caffeine tablets like ProPlus for when your night train pulls into your destination station at 6am, places don't open 'til 9am and your hostel won't let you check-in 'til the afternoon. It's also a good idea to pack light, long-life snacks - although squashed cereal bars might not be the best in travelling cuisine, they'll get you through a lot of breakfasts and train rides. Padlocks are great to take with you too, although it's not ideal to pack them. Use them to secure your suitcase, keep things attached to the train luggage racks and keep things secure in your hostel room - just don't lose the key! Also, don't forget to pack and protect key travel documents including your travel insurance information and key contact numbers for any emergencies should they arise.

How do I budget if I don't have anything specific planned?

With an InterRail pass, this is easy. Although you might not have set your sights on or planned to visit any particular hotspots you still have to use your pass and a certain amount of travelling days within a certain period. So, once you know which InterRail pass you're going to buy, and how many travelling days you're going to have within your pass period you're set - it's just the freedom within the fine details that you have left to organise.

Where do I sleep whilst inter-railing?

Because they're always on the move, inter-railers have a huge amount of choice when it comes to finding a bed for the night.

Like most backpackers, you can settle down in budget-friendly hostels. Whether you sleep in a larger shared dorm or manage to book yourself a group, double, twin or single room, hostels are usually a great place to meet people your age, travelling the same places as you - you can even pick up a hint or two on where to go or what to do.

Campsites, similar to backpacker hostels, are everywhere. Buy a map or visit tourist information and find out where the local campsites are - you'll never be stuck for somewhere to stay. You can sleep on the train as you travel, too. If you sleep during the day in special sleeper cabins with bunks, you're likely to have to pay a supplement, but if you travel after 8pm or use night trains, you can sleep on seats for free, and they tend to tip back or unfold to make a relatively comfy bed.

Whether you're thinking of travelling round the one-off country using the trains, or travelling the length of Europe, inter-railing provides cheap and alternative ways of getting round. You can see different sights to the usual generic airport and hostel views that most backpackers would see, and step off your train straight into the local everyday life. If you have any tips of your own to share, let us know on our social media pages.

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