A super guide for Interrail and Eurail travelersAll you need to know before doing Europe by train
I’ll try to address the most common questions and some other issues and doubts I’ve seem people experience along the way. If you have any questions after this post, feel free to ask me in the comments below.
Between some minor details, what you need to remember is basically that and the fact that Interrail is valid for a whole month and Eurail pass gives you 15 travel days to be used within 2 months.
How much luggage you can carry
Even though you don’t have restrictions on weight or size of your luggage, be smart. Choose a comfy backpack and pack light!
Remember that the more you have it with you, the more you’ll carry everywhere. Besides, a compact luggage can be easier to keep close to you inside the train, avoiding getting something lost or stolen.
How to by your Interrail or Eurrail pass?
Interrail and Eurail users can either buy a pass for a single country or purchase a Global Pass. Eurail users also have the option of 2, 3 or 4 countries passes but the Global Pass is valid only for 28 countries. Interrail users don’t have the option for 2, 3 or 4 countries, but they have UK and Macedonia added to the list.
To buy your passes you gotta do it online following the links below. They ship the passes to your house for free in most cases and buying online can grant you advantages like free travel days and discounts:
List of valid countries:
Luxembourg, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland (north and south), Wales, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Slovakia, Netherlands, “Greece Plus” (incl. ferry Greece – Italy), Italy, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Spain, Switzerland, FYR Macedonia, Turkey, Serbia and Slovenia.
What’s the deal with those passes?
If you’re looking for an unique adventure this year, an Interrail or Eurail pass could be the answer to your prayers. Having spent two months roaming around Europe, I can assure you that those passes are cool. With just one ticket, you can travel freely on Europe’s trains. Makes your life easier and your travel plans way more relaxed.
You can visit all the cities you want, extraordinary beaches and tiny towns clinging to mountain sides. All that without worrying too much about your luggage being over 15 or 20kilos. And that my friend, is the definition of peace of mind.
You can see the incredible Alps in Austria, see the outstanding coast of Italy and experience the French cuisine on trains that run smooth. You can visit your old friends and make new ones without having to arrive 1 or 2 hours earlier to the airport. And you’ll arrive in the city center, not in a far away airport that will make you spend more money on a taxi or shuttle bus.
If you’re not a planner, you can just hop on and jump off on the train as you go. If you see something interesting you stay, if you don’t, hop on the next one. For those that can’t find a hostel, the passes are valid for night trains. Some demands reservation but if you see an empty spot, it is yours at 0 extra cost.
See, told you it was worth it.
Things to do before you go on this journey
Before any trip, it is important to do some things, learn some stuff and do a bit of research. Make sure you know at least a bit about the countries you’re going, gather material about the destinations, the weather conditions. You need to know the basic at least.
One of the worst feelings for a traveler is to invest time and money to go somewhere and read later that it’s where they have the world’s best cake or that unique museum. Or even that your favorite band was playing there on those days! I still remember how memorable was to catch one of my favorite musicians, Chelsea Wolfe, playing in Vienna while I was there for as little as 10€.
Besides that, remember that you’ll go through several different languages zones, which for some can be a bit frightening. Memorize a few basic words and sentences for each language, ok? This is super helpful, trust me. It is beyond frustrating to try to ask something simple and loose 15 minutes of your day because of that.
English is widely accepted in most European countries but you must remember that the smaller the town, the harder it gets. In Poland I could only talk to people from 25~30 years or less, France it was even harder. In Bratislava even the main castle had almost nothing in English.
Here are some of my suggestions on what you need to know
- Do you speak English?
- Numbers from 1 to 10, depending on how many people are with you.
- How to say your favorite food and drink. Ex: Beer, coffee, tea, fries, salad, bread.
- To ask for vegan or vegetarian options in case you’re a vegan or a vegetarian.
- How much is it?
- Where’s the bathroom?
- Where’s the bar?
If you want to only learn one word in each language, I would go with “thanks”. Because if you wanna sound like a stupid tourist, at least sound like a mannerly and civilized stupid tourist.
Currency, cards, money and more
You can have your own likes and dislikes about the Euro, but you can’t deny that: it does make travel life easier.
My advice here is to get a prepaid card or get an account on Revolut. Just remember that your prepaid card must give you the option of withdraw money. For example in Berlin, you can’t use credit card in 80% of the places. Things in Europe sometimes works different than the rest of the world.
In London a friend of mine paid different currency exchange rates on the same day taking money out of different ATMs. Crazy but it happens! Revolut eliminates most of these problems.
For Interrail, take a debit card too and check your bank’s partners abroad. Nobody wants to pay 7 or 10€ fee each time you go to an ATM, right?
How much money should you bring?
This is a tricky question. As a rule of thumb here in Europe, the more to the east and south you go, the cheaper it gets.
Here in Berlin I tell people that, without accommodation, they’ll spend something between 20~50€ per day with food and drink. In Poznan I think you need 40% less than that and in London or you’ll need 2x this amount.
As a rough guide, if you’re camping or staying in hostels with kitchen, you can get by on less than a 20-30€ a day in most cities. But to be honest, I rather bring more money and have to take it back than to end up screwed somewhere along the way, right?
How does Interrail Works?
Your Interrail pass grants you permission to hop on and off on most Europe’s trains for free (with a couple of exceptions). Fast trains, local trains, public trains and some private trains are valid with Interrail.
Some trains are super busy you might need to reserve your sit. For that you’ll need to pay a bit extra. Night trains most times you gotta reserve but I’ve heard from different travelers that if you find your empty spot, no biggies. But this is only valid for normal sits, sleeping carriages with bunk beds or stuff like this is extra. Ask before you get on to avoid nasty surprises.
All Interrail passes are personal and non-transferable. In other words means that you and only you can use it, ok? And most times you may have to prove you’re you. Keep your passport with you at all times.
An important notice: Interrail travelers are not permitted to travel with their pass in their own country of residence. So if you’re German you can’t travel in Germany. But some discounted rail tickets are available if you present your pass when purchasing a rail ticket.
How does Eurail Works?
Basically the same as Interrail when we’re talking about reservations and where it’s valid. The main difference is that you’ll entitled of 15 travel days within 2 months. So for example, between 1st of June and the end of August, you can take 15 travel days.
This does not mean that you can only take 15 trains, ok? It means that you’ll have 15 valid days to use the rail service, even it this means 20 hours taking different trains.
We did Berlin to Torino with our Eurail pass and it took us almost 24 hours of travel because we had a stop over Zurich to write this post here.
Since we hopped on the train around 4 or 5am and arrived in Torino almost midnight, counted as 1 travel-day. We took 3 trains in total. Berlin to Zurich, Zurich to Milan and Milan to Torino.
It is more than enough for a super complete Eurotrip, even though for some, 15 is a small amount of travel days. Keep in mind you’ll stay some days in 1 location to explore everything.
I’m always up for doing less cities with more time in each one, than as many as I can. When I hear stories of travelers doing 10 or 15 countries in less than 3 weeks, I ask myself: “Why people do that?”
Using Berlin again as an example: you need 1 week for day time Berlin and 1 week for night time Berlin at the very minimum. Huge cities like Paris, Rome and London demands way more.
How safe are the trains?
When you’re doing Europe by train, please keep your valuables in a money-belt around your waist and under your clothes. And please don’t forget to use a lock to secure your backpack to your seat or the luggage rack. Get one of those cable-locks for bikes and you’re ready to go.
And please don’t think that just because you’re not going through airport security you can relax. Most times you don’t even notice when you’re crossing a border and the border police can – and some times will – check the passengers inside. Keep your passport ready with you at all times and don’t carry anything illegal.
Landscape: truths and myths
One of the arguments that you’ll always hear and read about traveling by train is “The landscape is beautiful! You’ll see so much more if you take the train”.
In my experience, I have to say that this is truth but life isn’t that amazing. As a professional photographer for over a decade and since I work with travel photography for at least 3 years now, my advice is: check the routes and check the weather.
There are many parts of Europe’s railroads that you can’t see a thing because of the fog, there are many tunnels, many ugly scenarios and so on. But, when it is beautiful is the most incredible thing ever.
Sleeping on the train
Before you get too comfortable, make sure you won’t have to pay for this privilege. Like I mentioned earlier, ask before.
Actual Actual beds inside the sleeping cabins are generally not included in your pass; if you want to sleep in one of these, you’ll most probably need to pay a extra. However, most night trains will have empty seats that you can sleep on for free.
Another pro tip here: pack your sweatshirt and your jacket close to the surface of your backpack. Night trains can be a bit cold even during summer times. Use your sweatshirt as a pillow with this folding technique here.
Another cool thing to keep in mind is to have a bottle of water and your tooth brush ready for the morning.
Hostels and hotels
The favorite option by many backpackers, hostels are a great place to meet people and save money. Hostels can give you many levels of privacy with the options of private rooms or shared dorms. Besides, in Europe hostels can be super stylish and modern. Some even have infinite pools, saunas and much more.
A great way to check the cheaper hotels is to use Booking.com since shows you hotel and hostels. If you’re already a fan, book your nights here in this blog. It will have no extra cost and can help us quite a lot.
Pro tip for every trip: Write down the name of your hotel or hostel, its phone number and address in a piece of paper and take it with you everywhere. Please trust me on this one, you don’t want to get lost at night in London or Paris for hours looking for your bed. Been there, done that, don’t recommend.
What if you find yourself without a place to sleep?
You haven’t booked anything in advance and you’ve arrived in a town where everything is full? Don’t panic! I’d never find myself in this situation but I can assure it is not the end of the world.
First thing you must do is to ask if the train station is open all night or find yourself a 24hrs cafe and get your name on the slowest coffee drinker’s wall of fame.
I know that none of those solutions are safe but they were tested at one time or another by friends and acquaintances.
Remember to arrive early if you’re not a planner. By doing that, you’ll have plenty of time to find yourself a bed or change cities if it gets to this point.
Interrail and Eurail are great option for a memorable trip. It is more flexible, easy and comfortable than doing Europe with low cost airlines. You can travel with your bike if you want, you can carry 2 pieces luggage, not worry about exceeding the maximum weight and you leave and arrive from the middle of your destination.
On the other hand, can be way more expansive than doing everything with buses and cheap flights, but you it is the price you pay for a bit of your freedom, right?