For the current generation embarking on their first holiday without their family in tow, the InterRail pass is less of an institution than it was for our parents. We live in the time of Ryanair and Easyjet. This is a shame - the summer interrailing trip deserves to climb back up there among our most celebrated rites of passage. Or, if you're no fan of grandiose accolades, it's worth remembering just how lovely it is to travel by train in Europe. What's more, people have come to realize that interrailing isn't just for giddy groups of 18-year-olds. We should be recommending the pass to our parents and grandparents - they would be joining a steady stream of proper grown-ups opting for the over-26 pass to set off on a European adventure. If you still need convincing, here are a few reasons why you should go interrailing this summer:
- It's just so much more enjoyable than flying
- It's a greener alternative
- It doesn't have to be dingy
- It's a unique way to see Europe
Undoubtedly, the biggest threat to the interrailing tradition has been the rise of low-cost airlines that will fly you anywhere at perhaps a third of the price of a train ticket, and sometimes at an even smaller fraction of the time it would take to get there on rails. For a young person on a budget, it can be hard to justify not picking that £15 Ryanair ticket. In the end, however, the budget airlines might not always actually be getting you the best value. We all know the added costs that come with flying cheaply, such as luggage fees and extra transport costs to get to the further-off airports that serve these airlines. Going by train, you go from centre to centre, and you can bring as much luggage as you can carry. It's also not always a given that flying will save you time, since it requires you to spend more time at the airport pre- and post-departure. It's true that some train routes may require some cumbersome and time-consuming transfers, but the same is true of flying. Usually, just jumping on a train going straight from the city centre of Berlin to that of Vienna, or opting for a sleeper train, will take just as long, if not shorter, than a plane ride would. You are also guaranteed a much more exciting view from your window during your journey.
Related to the last point, it's easy to see how interrailing is a smarter choice for the climate-conscious traveller. A return trip by airplane from London to Barcelona emits about 300 kilograms of CO2 per passenger - a third of the annual 'personal allowance' of CO2 emissions that is in line with global goals of limiting the impact of global warming. The same journey by train would emit only 27 kilograms of CO2. It becomes a mathematical impossibility for all of us to see the world by flying over it if we want future generations to still have a world to see. We should all be thinking about how to make better choices with our travel, and choosing the train over the plane could be one of them.
Granted, there's a certain romance to the stereotypical InterRail experience of sleeping in train stations, going three weeks without washing your clothes, and running out of money on day 10, but most travellers prefer a smoother experience. An interrailing experience can offer you all the security and peace of mind of a more conventional holiday, while still remaining an adventure. In fact, many who went interrailing in the 80s are surprised at how organised today's young interrailers tend to be, booking accommodation and planning itineraries months in advance. It's just more reassuring to yourself, your travelling companions, and your wallet if you do a bit of preparation. Accommodation is definitely the biggest issue, but it's quite easy to find high-quality hostels for bargain prices in most places if you start looking early enough. Comprehensive travel insurance is another must, as is the EHIC card - incidents do happen. The FCO's Know Before You Go pages are a good starting point to sort out all the practicalities that will keep your interrailing adventure on track. It's also worth keeping up-to-date with @FCOTravel to make sure you're in the know about any events or issues taking place in your chosen countries.
Europe is a small continent, but packs a constantly changing firework display within its square miles. There are few places better suited to experience out of the window of a train. The scenery, the languages, the food, the people - all of it can be viewed through a whole new lens when you're seeing it snapshot by snapshot, as you work your way from station to station. You run into fellow travellers when your itineraries intersect and become friends for a night, sharing tips and horror stories. Someone might be fresh from the beaches of Costa del Sol, another from seeing Auschwitz. You can wander your way through centuries of history, touching the walls you read about in textbooks, learning how different countries describe the same events. At the very least, you can experience with growing frustration how prices unfailingly go up the further north you go. If you call any corner of Europe home, you're lucky to live on a continent where you can see so many different countries with a 22-day train pass.
It's saddening that train prices in Europe are so steep without the InterRail pass. Otherwise, many of us wouldn't travel any other way. Luckily, there's no limit to how many times you can go interrailing (even if it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience) - so open a map and start tracing the tracks you'd like to follow for your next adventure.