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From Berlin to Bled: My interrailing experience

Niamh McCarthy tells us about her interrailing experience, offering her highlights and some tips to others who wish to try it.

How many law students does it take to screw in a lightbulb? I couldn’t tell you, but I know it takes four to organise an Interrailing trip.

Interrailing has almost become a rite of passage for college students. As the name suggests, the idea is to travel around to various European cities by train. I went in the summer of 2016, with a group of newly acquainted college friends. I would recommend that everyone tries it, but there are some things I wish I knew in advance.

In my opinion, interrailing is done best when organised well in advance. You can’t compare it to a last-minute city-break or trip to Galway; it involves a lot of budgeting and saving in the months coming up to your trip. Interrail passes are flexible in the sense that you only write your destination on your pass the day of travel; so for those of you more spontaneous than I, you can chop and change where you want to go as your trip goes on. However, knowing your route before you go means you can book hostels in advance. Hostelworld.com was our go-to, which was cheaper and gave us more selection on the hostels we stayed in.

“If you check out times in advance, you can take more than one train within one day, and it will only count as one day of travel on your pass.”

The passes range in value from €208 to €305, depending on how many ‘days of travel’ you want. My pass cost me €255, this meant I could take seven journeys to visit eight cities. Some places have no direct route to get there, for example, travelling from Lake Bled in Slovenia to Split in Croatia. If you check out times in advance, you can take more than one train within one day, and it will only count as one day of travel on your pass. The process seems convoluted, and it takes some getting used to, but trust me, by the time you hit the German border you’ll have a fair idea of what you’re at. I had to learn the hard way that having an Interrail pass does not necessarily guarantee you a seat on a train; make sure to book them online beforehand once you’ve decided what time you’re departing.

”Lake Bled is a seriously underrated location and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”

My route was standard; Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Vienna, Budapest, Lake Bled, Split. You’ll find that the price of a pint slowly depreciates the farther east you travel, so try to ration your time in western cities to the bare minimum if you want to keep things as cheap as possible. My whole group would attest to the fact that Vienna was disappointing and expensive. It was a beautiful city, but when you’re just off an 8-hour train from Budapest, and the main attractions are Mozart’s and Beethoven’s graves, you might regret booking into your hostel for three nights.

Berlin is great for nightlife and it offers some spectacular sights and museums, with most of them free entry. Berlin’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains around the city can also be used for free with your interrail pass. Prague was also a highlight. It was cheap and cheerful, very accessible and the pub crawls were some of the best we encountered. Lake Bled is a seriously underrated location and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Canyoning there is a must for any thrill-seeker. You abseil, slide down natural rock slides and jump off cliffs into plunge pools. Not for the faint-hearted but 100% worth it!

For the sake of your sanity, make sure there aren’t too many people travelling in your group. Large groups tend to end in disagreements and can end up separating before the trip is over. I went with a group of four, a good number considering a lot of hostels tend to offer rooms with four bunks, meaning we only had to share rooms in a couple of places. The idea of communal living may seem fun and adventurous at the beginning, but trust me, when it’s 4 am in Prague, you’ll really wish you hadn’t booked to share a 12-bed dorm with a stag party from Birmingham.

Interrailing is a fantastic experience. For a lot of people, it’s their first proper trip away as an adult. It’s just a matter of making sure you do it right; spend your money in the right places and it’ll only leave you wanting more.