Is interrailing worth it?

An interrail pass is a travel pass that allows you to travel all around Europe for a set number of travel days or travel period, without booking individual train tickets. It’s a single pass that can be used on most trains throughout Europe, the Eurostar and some ferries. The pass offers travellers flexibility and the opportunity to travel cheaply. A great way of visiting many countries in just a few days or weeks!

I have been interrailing twice (blog post about that to follow shortly). The first time I interrailed, I travelled alone for two weeks around Europe. The second time was for a week with a friend. Was it worth it? Definitely! Interrailing is a very unique experience and a great way of seeing many places in a short space of time.

Liechtenstein, April 2016

I would definitely recommend everyone to try interrailing at least once. However, it’s not suited to all trip types. Whether interrailing is worth it for you really depends on what sort of trip you are planning, where you want to go and how much you want to spend.

Here are my top reasons for why you should consider interrailing around Europe:

An interrail pass can work out to be cheaper than flying to multiple countries or buying individual train tickets
An interrail pass will cost a few hundred euros, depending on the type of pass you buy. Considering you can then use this pass on all trains in European countries, it saves you the cost of buying individual tickets for expensive train routes. I travelled to seven countries in 2 weeks during my first interrailing experience, really making full use of the pass.

You can visit many countries in a short space of time
The interrailing pass can be used on night trains and long distance trains between countries. This allows you to cross country borders very quickly. One day you’re in Salzburg, the next morning you wake up in Vienna. This is the magic of the pass. As a bonus, taking a night train doesn’t use up two travel days since you started your travel the day before.

You’ll meet a lot of cool people
When travelling by train, you’ll meet many interesting people who may also be backpacking around Europe. Before you know it, you’ll have new connections all over the continent which means more people to share travel tips with!

You’ll learn to travel minimally
When I interrailed, I took a 35L backpack with me and nothing else. I suffered a little since I didn’t take any moisturiser or enough warm clothes – I travelled in January and it was freezing! But this was certainly a character building experience. It taught me what is essential and what I could leave behind.

You’ll learn about the history and culture of different countries
I’ve met a few people from outside of Europe who have been surprised to see how different the cultures and landscapes of different European countries are. There’s definitely a lot to learn when travelling and a lot to take in when seeing so many places.

You learn to appreciate the entire continent
When you fly to a country, you land and you leave. But train travel around Europe allows you to appreciate the connections between all the countries, learn more about the languages spoken in different areas and gain a better understanding of the geography of Europe. By the time you’ve finished planning your route and exploring Europe, you’ll definitely be wanting to return to see more!

Sarajevo, April 2016

Now here are some reasons why interrailing may not be suited to your trip, or just points to bare in mind if you do go interrailing:

Reservation fees
Once you’ve bought an interrail pass, you can jump onto most trains for free. However, there are some exceptions. For most night trains, you need to book a reservation. Reservations are also required for high speed trains in France and a lot of long distance trains in Italy. Reservation fees vary in price. It really depends on which route you’re taking. The interrailing rail planner app allows you to see which trains require reservations and allows you to avoid those routes if you’d prefer. You can also book your reservations through interrail.
For travelling to many different countries, an interrail pass is definitely worth it, even with the reservations. But if you’re just getting a one country pass, it would be worth checking how many reservations you would have to make and whether this takes away from the flexibility of the trip.

Fast paced
To make the most out of your pass and to see as much as possible, it’s likely you won’t be staying in each place for more than a day or two. For example, I only stayed in Amsterdam for one day before taking the night train to Berlin. This does mean that you don’t have enough time in each city to really experience everything you want. You may well just end up doing the obvious touristy things. But for a first time travelling to these countries, that might be OK for you. Interrailing gives you a flavour of many places and you can return in the future to stay in one place and explore it more.
Fast paced can also mean there’ll be a lot of walking. You’re constantly on the move, ready for your next destination.

Night trains
Night trains are a great way of saving travel days and getting to your next country quickly. However, experiences on these trains can vary. A lot of night trains I took when I interrailed felt a bit sketchy. Instead of booking a sleeper/couchette, I just reserved a seat on the train. Some of these seats recline. But sleeping on a seat in a train is not that comfortable. It was also quite cold. Sometimes I’d hear strange noises in the corridor which was quite scary when I was travelling by myself and sitting in a carriage alone. When crossing borders, the police sometimes come on board to check people’s ID. Trains sometimes stop for up to an hour on the border too. If you have to change trains at night, you might end up waiting for ages at a small station in the cold. Overall, it was very character building and I’m still glad I had all those experiences. Night trains with friends feel less sketchy though and if you pay extra for a couchette, you’ll definitely sleep better. I once took a night train from Krakow to Bratislava where I did book a couchette…and that felt perfectly safe and comfortable.

Limited train networks in some countries
Trains in Western and Central Europe are fantastic. When I travelled in the Balkans however, I found that the train network was more limited. To get from Zagreb to Sarajevo, I had to take a 6 hour bus. From Sarajevo to Split, I took another 6 hour bus. The buses were fairly cheap though. And the interrail pass still saved me the cost of individual train tickets from Switzerland to Austria to Hungary etc. It’s just worth checking beforehand what the train network in the countries you want to travel to is like. For the Balkans, I would definitely recommend getting around by bus or renting a car.

Going back to the original question, is interrailing worth it?

If you are adventurous and want to travel to many different countries in just a week or two, interrailing is definitely worth it. The global pass for interrailing will save you a lot of money and you’ll have plenty of unique experiences along the way. For single country travelling, it’s definitely worth checking how much reservation fees total up to and how good the train network is. I’m really glad I interrailed and the positives far outweigh the negatives. Yes some night trains felt a bit dodgy but when I woke up to see the sunrise in Venice or scenic mountainous landscapes, I was glad to have continued my travelling journey. And hey, I did end up interrailing twice so I must have enjoyed it!

Lake Bled, April 2016