An increasingly popular way to see the European continent, Shane Hannon examines the InterRailing phenomenon and how to maximise your experience.
DO plan in advance. It’s not necessary to know for certain what cities/places you’ll be seeing beforehand, but having a fair idea of your route will make life much easier. Besides, being organised gives you the chance to figure out what you want to see or do in each destination.
DON’T over pack. A medium-sized rucksack brimming with socks, underwear, t-shirts, comfortable walking shoes and toiletries really is all you need. Don’t be that guy/girl dragging a suitcase the size of the RDS around behind you. If you’re badly stuck, cheap clothes are aplenty in flea markets – travelling light will also save you having to pay to check in a bag on your flight to your starting point and on your return.
DO travel with a person/people you get on well with. Surely there can be nothing worse than travelling across Europe with a person who is more annoying than the lovechild of Piers Morgan and the Crazy Frog. I shiver at the thought.
DON’T be afraid to act the tourist. The hipsters amongst you won’t like following the flock, but a visit to somewhere like Berlin is not complete without seeing the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. The outdoor thermal baths in Budapest are another must-do. Also, do the free tip-based walking tours in each city – they’re a great way of learning your way around whilst simultaneously taking in a bit of the city’s history and culture.
DO book a sleeping bunk for the longer night trains. Take it from me, sitting hungover in a tiny sweaty, mephitic* cabin with seven snoring people on a 9 hour train from Prague to Krakow is not fun. Pay the extra 10/15 yoyos and get yourself a bunk-bed. Book it a few days in advance at the departing train station to avoid disappointment.
DON’T be afraid to rely on the odd McDonalds when you’re stuck and craving a Big Mac. People will say you’re being really uncultured, but I just say I don’t like the food in some places. You’re never far from a Micky D’s when InterRailing, and he truly is a tasty, reliable corporate machine. The free Wi-Fi is handy for calling Mammy and Daddy on Viber too so they know you’re still alive.
DO the odd pub crawl. It’s a great way to meet people from your hostel and you can strike up friendships that last for a whole two days until your next train journey. Be aware however that you will be hungover the following day, so don’t go planning any travel or major excursions. A Prague pub crawl is highly recommended.
DON’T go over budget. Stick to your guns at all times and don’t exceed the daily financial limits you’ve set yourself. Fifty euro per day including hostel accommodation should suffice, unless you’re a proper D4 and only a night’s sleep in the ‘Shelbourne Hotel of Bratislava’ will do.
DO visit the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp if you find yourself in Krakow. A visit to any concentration camp is a powerful experience; standing in the place where the Nazis killed millions of innocent people is an experience you will never forget. You don’t need an interest in history either; a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau truly is an emotional, human undertaking that everyone should experience.
DON’T forget to finish up with relaxation and sun. Whether you find yourself on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, the shores of Lake Garda in Italy, the French Riviera or the Greek islands, you’ll be glad of the rest. All the travelling and sight-seeing tends to take it out of you, and four or five days just lying on a beach taking in all you’ve seen in the previous few weeks is a must. Just don’t forget the Factor 50.