A long time ago in Lisbon, on what I thought would be my final Interrail trip, I celebrated my 26th birthday. According to my diary, the hostel wardens gave me a beer and a group of Australians bought me a glass of port wine.
Back then the month-long Interrail pass was limited to youngsters. Not any more! And now you can buy a pass limited to specific countries and lengths of time. You can even get Interrail to plan your trip for you, including accommodation.
But I’ve always dreamed of returning to the freedom of a ‘global’ pass that’s valid across Europe. This year, celebrating 50 years of Interrail, the global Interrail pass was briefly discounted to half price. And adding a second month cost a mere £22 extra for a senior!
Two months of rail travel gave me the freedom to visit new places as well as embark on a memory trip. As well as interrailing in my youth, I’d also worked as a travel guide/ski rep in Europe. I used the rail pass to revisit a few places I continue to dream about some 30-odd years later.
The second month was used to revisit Poland 50+ years after my Polish father drove us there for holidays.
10 tips for smooth Interrailing
Here are some practical tips that I picked up for using the mobile pass (the next post gives a brief guide to the first month’s route). Some people swear by using the old paper Interrail pass, but I’m a fan of the mobile pass, which uses the Rail Planner app.
- On the Rail Planner app, the Planner tab is where you experiment with destinations and trains. See Seat 61 for ways to enter a trip manually (it’s an excellent guide to using Interrail).
- The My Trip tab is where you store your individual saved journeys. You only make a journey live when you’re ready to board, so you can save many more journeys than you actually take.
- With the mobile app you don’t get an overall ticket/QR code for the pass. Instead, you get a daily ticket/QR code that includes all of that day’s trains (ie those that you’ve made live by toggling the journey to orange). The My Pass tab is where you’ll find an option to Show Ticket. It’s a QR code that includes all the trains you’ve made live for that day, and that’s what you show the ticket inspector. If you change any journeys, it simply generates a new ticket.
- There’s a chance you might be asked for photo ID when your pass is checked. This only happened to me in Switzerland and Poland, but be prepared.
- You can plan all the stages well in advance but do check the route on the day you travel. Sometimes shorter connections appeared that hadn’t popped up before.
- Occasionally the ticket won’t load when the phone signal is weak, which is inconvenient when a ticket inspector is hovering over you! One way to force it to load is to put the phone on flight mode. I’d also recommend taking a screen shot of the day’s ticket, as you can show the photo to the ticket inspector if the pass doesn’t load.
- Newbie failure: when you want to make a saved journey live, you toggle that journey’s button from left to right. Don’t waste time trying to drag the button on the screen; simply tap it and it moves across.
- Be prepared for delays and cancellations, and how they might impact your travels. In Germany, every train I took was either seriously delayed or cancelled. Other travellers have confirmed similar issues. For that reason I avoided starting and ending my visit in Germany, and stayed in Belgium instead.
- www.seat61.com is excellent for explaining Interrail. There’s also a set of links for making seat reservations in different countries.
- Many trains don’t need a seat reservation, but if your chosen train requires it, you can do them via Interrail at cost. However it can be cheaper to make the reservation elsewhere. For example, I made my UK outward/inward reservations for free at GWR. You can also make UK seat reservations at acprail.com. For Poland, all the fast trains require a reservation. I recommend opening an account at PKP Intercity and making the reservations online, as it costs just a few pence. The Seat 61 website explains how to do this.
Below you’ll see just how flexible the pass is. On the left are two trains for the same journey, both saved to My Trip as I wasn’t sure whether I’d get the earlier connection. In the end I didn’t, so it was the later train from Koblenz that I made live (tap the circle so it turns orange). Only that train will be shown on the ticket/QR code, which you access via the Show Ticket button in My Pass.
I travelled fairly light, with a backpack that I could carry across a city and just about lift onto an overhead rack. Accommodation was booked via Airbnb and Booking.com. See the next post for an outline of the first month’s trip with stopovers in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
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