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Budget Travel Tips, Europe: InterRail

See Europe by train! Photo by Beth Green

Since the Industrial Revolution the epitome of a great journey in Europe is a train trip. From the turn of the 20th century, intrepid travelers have been buying rail tickets and setting off to the thrilling sound of a train’s whistle.

I recently began watching the wonderful documentary from the BBC on the Golden Age of train travel, Great Continental Railway Journeys. (It’s available on YouTube, and is a guaranteed dose of travel inspiration!) The presenter, Michael Portillo, follows a 100-year-old guidebook to visit some of the most sumptuous destinations on the continent and pay homage to the tradition of train travel.

However much I’d love to stay in some of the Belle Époque hotels the show visits and do so via First Class train cabins, frankly that kind of trip is mostly out of my price range. This doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t attempt to recreate some of Portillo’s trips (I’m especially intrigued by the Drachensticht dragon-fighting festival in Germany that he features!), I’ll just do so with a mind to more travel, less spending.

My solution to this budgetary problem?  InterRailing.

What was once a student’s or gap year activity is now more mainstream than it’s ever been, and it’s a fantastic way to explore Europe by land, rather than relying on catching cheap flights.

What is InterRail?

InterRail is an inexpensive train travel pass that allows holders to hop on and off trains all over Europe. If you are a citizen of one of the InterRail community countries (see the list), or have been a resident of one of these countries for at least 6 months before the date of travel, you are eligible to purchase an InterRail pass. There are several different kinds of InterRail pass, from the Global Pass, which is valid in 30 countries, to the One Country Pass, which allows you flexi-travel in the European country of your choice.  If you are not a resident of a European country, you can buy a Eurail pass, which is slightly more expensive than the InterRail, but still a better deal than paying full-fare on extensive train travel.

The perk is of course that you get to view the passing scenery, and in the case of crossing borders, you will see huge diversity and differences between countries. Where you go is up to you, and you can buy many different packages and passes that will make the whole thing easier.

My first InterRail adventure took me from France to Turkey, to Sweden and all over the middle of Europe in just 30 days. It was a fantastic way to get a first taste of cities in Europe that I’d later go back and explore more in depth. For my next adventure, I plan on bringing a tent to further save on accommodation costs.

Budget Travelers’ Tips

How else can you save money traveling? Here’s what one InterRail traveler we asked does:

Cutting costs before you travel will give you more scope to travel further during your InterRailing adventure, so be sure to take advantage of them. For instance, I never book airport taxis or use expensive public transport to get to the airport, and instead I drive myself and book my parking spot through Airparks. I do this because it means the control is firmly in my hands, and I save money along the way. I would highly recommend this for anyone travelling, regardless of the type of holiday. I am a regular booker of Gatwick parking, but this is a service available to all, so nobody misses out on the major advantages.

Another traveler advises:

You don’t have to start and end your InterRail adventure in the same place. And in fact, you aren’t eligible to use the InterRail pass in your own country of residence. To avoid doubling back on your train routes, hop a cheap flight either to your starting point or back home when you’re out of time. To get the best flight deals within Europe, either book more than two months in advance or book at the very last minute. Budget airlines within Europe typically charge baggage fees, so to save the most money pack carefully and lightly—a carry-on bag saves you money, time at the airport, and will also be easier to lug on and off the trains while you’re InterRailing.

Another good tip if you’re looking into the idea of travelling around Europe by rail, is to plan your journey beforehand. Don’t box yourself in with a rigid plan, but giving yourself a rough route to follow will mean you won’t veer off and overspend, while still making it to the places you have always wanted to see. Generally, a guideline will come in handy—and help you stick to your travel budget.

What other tips do you have for traveling on a budget in Europe?

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Beth Green

Beth Green is an American freelance writer who has lived in Europe and Asia since 2003. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, still enjoys a peripatetic life. She writes blogs, articles and suspense about travel, expatriate living, and many other topics. A social media addict, she’d love to hear from you about your favorite travel experiences.
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