Sophie's Gap Year Diary – A Guide to Interrailing in Europe
Last week I returned from a very enjoyable month spent interrailing Europe. Eight countries, twelve cities and one very heavy rucksack later and I’m feeling just about experienced enough to compile a little whistle-stop guide for you all, just in case you think you might fancy giving interrailing a go yourself.
1. Don’t over plan
Turning up in a city with no real idea of where to go or what to see is half the fun. It’s so easy to get recommendations from hostels or people that you meet in each place that it’s really not worth worrying about beforehand.
We booked our trains and hostels before we went, but I would almost be tempted to recommend not booking the trains in advance, just because it allows that much more flexibility while you’re away. If you decide you like a city, stay. If you want to leave, go.
2. Don't cram too much in, take your time
I would recommend spending a longer amount of time in fewer places than trying to cram too much in at once. For a few days in the middle of the trip we were only spending one night in each city, and we were so tired that we probably missed out on quite a bit in each. Don’t underestimate how inexplicably tiring travelling is. An extra night or two in each location goes a long way. That being said, get out of there before you're bored, always better to leave with fond memories.
3. Travel light
This one is fairly self-explanatory. I shudder to think at the number of innocent bystanders walloped by my 12 stone rucksack. Trust me, travel light! There's a surprising amount of walking involved, and doing laundry on the road is way easier than you'd think, most hostels cater for this. And if you're worrying about re-wearing clothes, no need, your fellow backpackers will be doing the same, and usually you'll have moved on to another city or country before the time comes.
4. Choose your company wisely
Luckily I get on really well with the friend I travelled with, so we ended up finishing each other’s sentences rather than at each other’s throats – but don’t underestimate the amount of time you will be spending with your fellow nomad. Sounds harsh, but pick an easier going friend and make sure you're flexible too, sometimes the conflict will have been caused by you. If this fails and it gets too much, take the afternoon off from each other, if you're brave enough go it alone for a couple of days – you'll be back to normal in no time.
5. Eat, drink and be merry
I would be lying if I claimed that the food wasn’t the highlight of my trip. Eat and drink as well as your budget allows. Embrace the inevitable weight gain safe in the knowledge that with strudel in Germany, schnitzel in Austria, gelato in Italy and chocolate in Switzerland, it was well worth it. Food and drink is a staple of human culture and you're in another country, see how our continental friends do it.
6. Talk to people
Whether you’re travelling on your own or not, seize the opportunity. Hostels are the perfect place to meet people; everyone is amazingly friendly (they're all in the same boat remember) and you have a ready-made conversation starter just discussing travel plans. Even talking to people on trains, or on the street, can strike up a friendship where you least expect it.
7. Don’t panic
It’s all too easy to get caught up in a delirious frenzy over missed trains and impossible connections, but bear in mind that worse things have probably happened and everything will turn out all right in the end. We had our fair share of bad luck, including a passport on a train to Germany while we remained in Amsterdam, but we made it back alive and well and still having enjoyed every second of it. And we can laugh about the passport now.
8. Don’t order coffee in Piazza San Marco, Venice
As you can imagine Venice is a bit of a tourist trap, and prices reflect that fact, but €9.50 for a coffee?