If you’ve been looking into doing a tour of Europe, chances are you’ve come across the term “InterRailing”, but what exactly is it, and why should you do it? Here, we’ll look at some of the pros and cons of InterRailing, and why you should consider getting an InterRail ticket for your next long trip in Europe.
What’s the difference between the InterRail and the Eurail pass?
If you’ve already started researching your trip, you’ve come across these two terms. So what’s the difference? Both systems are jointly owned by the participating railway companies, and while they effectively do the same thing, the major difference between them is who they’re for. The InterRail pass is only for EU citizens, while the Eurail pass is for people from outside of Europe.
The only other major thing to note is that even though the InterRail pass covers all participating countries, it doesn’t give the holder free or discounted travel in their own country even if that country is a member of the InterRail scheme, though you do get a discount on travel to and from the border.
Tickets can then be purchased to cover travel for different lengths of time, for example, allowing you to travel on 10 days within a two month period, or even unlimited daily travel each day for three months. There is also the option of more limited tickets to save money, for example travel in a single country or by limiting the amount of border crossings.
There are additional costs on top of the pass itself that you may need to take into account, however. Some trains – mainly express routes – require you to book a seat, which can be done through the InterRail company or at the train station. In most countries these are very cheap at about €3 per seat, but in France it can be €20-30 for TGV high speed trains. Price conscious travellers can usually get by without reserving seats and avoiding the expensive TGV routes.
There’s also a supplement to pay if you want to travel on a night train which varies by route and level of comfort you’re after. However the flip side is that the night train can allow you to see more in a shorter space of time – why waste time and money paying for a hotel and travelling during the day? Think of it as a hotel on wheels. The cost of a bed or a compartment on a night train varies, but it most cases its good value and can help you get the most from your InterRail trip.
You can find out more about the individual tickets at the official InterRail and Eurail websites, as there are too many permutations of ticket types that can be described here – plus the information may get out of date. From here on, we’ll refer to both types of tickets as InterRail tickets, since they effectively do the same thing.
Why it’s the best choice for travelling around Europe
InterRailing is a great way to tour Europe for several reasons. The first and arguably most important is that it can actually help you get around much cheaper and faster than flying. Airports are seldom located close to city centres, so you’d need to factor in travel to the airport and getting there up to two hours early for check-in and security.
Meanwhile, the train will take you from city-centre to city-centre without any hassle. Because Europe is quite small geographically compared to other continents, it means that the total travel time is often less when taking the train, verses short haul flights.
This makes InterRailing ideal, as you’ll want to make multiple stops in various cities along your route. The result is you can spend less of your time in transit and more of it exploring and enjoying the cities and destinations along the way!
Many people also find train travel less stressful than flying, too. There’s no need for customs checks if you’re travelling within the Schengen area, which covers most of mainland Europe. Plus, there’s no annoying liquids ban, so you can take your own food and drink aboard to enjoy while you watch the countryside whizz by.
Should you just book individual trains?
So, you’re set on taking the train, but is the InterRail or Eurail pass the right way to go? Some people can get by with booking individual trains, rather than a pass to take them anywhere. It all depends on how flexible you can be.
If you’re travelling for a short time, maybe one to two weeks, only want to go to three or four cities, and have planned your route in advance, you may find it’s cheaper to buy individual train tickets. That’s may be more likely if you’re 28 or over, when you no longer qualify for a youth ticket, and are finally regarded as a fully blown adult (with increased prices to match).
If you’re going for longer, then an InterRail pass is probably best, as it will give you more flexibility. If you’re travelling for a month or more and haven’t booked your accommodation yet, who knows whether you may want to stay longer in a city that you really connect with?
Or what if you hear about an event you urgently want to get to? On my last trip to Krakow, I told a guy about the Spa Party I went to in Budapest a few days before. Once he heard about how amazing it was, he immediately changed his plans and booked the next train to Budapest the following day so he could be there for the next SPArty. That’s one of the great benefits of the InterRail pass – you don’t have to pay to change your plans last minute, and provided you don’t need to book a seat, it’s completely free to do so!
The InterRail pass also comes with some other great benefits, such as discounted entry to attractions and travel passes for other modes of transport (think boats, busses, metros and trams), in selected cities in participating countries. The InterRail company offer a handy Rail Planner app that details all these extra benefits.
Flexibility or low cost travel?
Ultimately, the InterRail and Eurail passes offer the most flexibility for tourists and world travellers wanting to tour Europe, so if you want the option to change your plans on the day, this will be the best choice. When it comes to price, this comes down to how organised you are and how rigid your schedule is. If you’re prepared to plan everything out, booking hostels, hotels and events in advance, for example if you’re only travelling for a short time and want to make the most of it, it may be cheaper to book individual trains – especially if you don’t qualify for a youth ticket. If this is you, try costing out both options.
Just remember that this doesn’t work, for all countries just yet – not all train companies, particularly countries east of Germany, don’t let you buy tickets or in some cases even check prices online. The Deutsche Bahn website is always the best place to start for finding prices, as they are able to sell tickets and show prices for many routes outside of Germany. Seat61.com is also a great resource for finding popular routes and rough prices if you can’t find the official fares and just want a rough idea of what to budget for.
Next, check the Rail Planner app, to see if there’s any additional extras in the cities you’ll be visiting. These discounts can help you get more from your train pass and may tip the balance when it comes to value for money.
Work out the difference in price, and you’ll know what the best option for your needs is!
Have you travelled with an InterRail or Eurail pass? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!