The Interrail Code: Busting the Myth

by jonnywhitlam

The best way to go?

Interrailing (Eurail to my non-European friends) has long been a popular method for backpackers travelling in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. The program started in 1972, and since the fall of The Wall in 1989 it has expanded to include large swathes of Central and Eastern Europe (lesson learnt – never call a Hungarian Eastern European!).

So what’s the verdict on Interrailing in a wider Europe? Read on for more.

Riding the rails.

Getting an Interrail pass is more than just an expensive train ticket, it’s an investment in an unforgettable journey, it can take you from arctic Tromsø to sunny Rome, romantic errr…Brussels to magical Krakow. It allows you to make these journeys largely worry-free, letting you to just turn up at the train station and jump on – sometimes just for the price of booking a seat.

Catching the train... lurid disgusting sunglasses optional.

So if the Interrail ticket is so good, why is it I don’t recommend one for your next trip to Europe? Well, it does depend on where you want to go, if you want to go from Amsterdam to Milan via Paris and Barcelona, then it’s probably a good thing. The ticket definitely gets its value in the West. But as backpackers we’re often a bit strapped for cash, which draws us to the cheaper East. A beer in the Slovakian capital Bratislava will cost you roughly one half of what it does only one (extremely pleasant) hour away in Vienna.

By taking the bus from Stockholm to Berlin instead I got to spend a couple of hours in Copenhagen, and take the ferry over the surprisingly warm and sunny Baltic sea.

But the costs don’t only extend to a quick drink, the train lines in the east tend to be slower, sure, but they’re so much cheaper. Especially when compared to my native UK. In Budapest for example, you can rock up at Keleti or Nyugati station, ask for the next train to Romania or Slovakia in impressively broken guide-book Hungarian, and be there either on the same day or overnight for less than €15.

Caught somewhere in Poland.

However going Interrail-free is much more than saving a few bob on a train ticket, it’s a world of freedom. Sure the Europe-wide pass lets you go where you want when you want… for 22 days or 1 month. You have to rush to make the ticket worth it. Without this pressure you can arrive somewhere you love, and stay there for an extra few days if you feel like it. Meet that special someone? Got to go to just one more museum? Desperate for another pub crawl? Stick around, no pressure.

In some places, the train isn’t really the best way to get around. The ever-useful told me that trying to get from the Bulgarian coast to Istanbul would take nearly 16 hours, with a change. The bus was only about 8, and dirt cheap. Similarly trying to get around Croatia by any means other than bus is seemingly futile. Everyone I met in Zagreb insisted the best way to Split was relaxing on an air-conditioned coach.

From Bucharest to Varna

Hey, if you’re feeling even more adventurous you can combine couch-surfing and hitchhiking to try and get around as cheap as possible. So while I love getting around by train, there’s no need to limit yourself – think it through, where do you want to go, how long do you want to stay, and is the train really the best way?