High-speed train crossing a viaduct in Aragon, Spain (Shutterstock)
Article Words : Amy Horsfield | 11 April

10 things you'll learn about life when you're interrailing

Interrailing has always been a rite of passage for travellers – for many, it's a first foray into backpacking. These tips will save you time and money... and a few blushes

1. There's always an organised one

When inter-railing with a group, something you will learn before you've even left the country is that there is always an organised one. This person is essential to the enjoyment of your trip. Whether they're navigating you through complex streets, ensuring you never miss your train, or getting much needed directions from the locals (those who've learned the local language deserve a standing ovation), they should be present on every inter-rail adventure.

If you are the organised one, please go easy on those of us who don't possess your impeccable skills. Know that we appreciate everything you do, and we really are trying to help in any way we can. Even if it just feels like we're a liability.

2. It's alright to feel a bit out of your depth

Whether its your first time inter-railing or your tenth, there are always moments where you feel a little out of your depth. The experience can be overwhelming at times, and when you're constantly on the move, carrying your world on your back, you may catch yourself dreaming of buying a one-way ticket home.

But don't despair. If you don't fall victim to this at least once when inter-railing, you're doing it wrong. Everything from being surrounded by a completely different culture to not knowing the language can be intimidating. You will soon settle in – and those scary moments will probably become your favourite anecdotes when you return home.

Glacier Express, Switzerland (Shutterstock)
Glacier Express, Switzerland (Shutterstock)

3. Knowing a bit of local lingo goes a long way

You don't have to be fluent in the local language, but just knowing a few basic phrases and useful questions can make your travelling so much easier. Whether you're in need of directions, looking for somewhere to spend the night, or simply ordering food at a restaurant, knowing a few phrases not only impresses the locals but makes your trip a little less complex.

4. It's OK to ask for advice

When travelling in a foreign country, local people are your new best friends. Unlike you, they know the place you are visiting inside out, which means they will know any useful tips and undiscovered places that often turn out to be the highlight of your trip.

When my friends and I were travelling in Rome, we were given a great bit of local insight by our hotel manager. When visiting the Colosseum, buy your tickets for the palace gardens (which includes a ticket to the Colosseum) first. A wait in this line takes about 40 minutes in peak season. After admiring the palace ruins, we then bypassed a four-hour queue in the sweltering summer heat and walked straight into the Colosseum. Lesson learned: befriend every local person you can.

Travelling by train (Shutterstock)
Travelling by train (Shutterstock)

5. A little planning ahead always helps...

Pre-booking transport and hostels saves money and time – and avoids the stress of trying to find a place to sleep at 2am. It can also help you avoid queues at popular sightseeing spots.

6. …But don't plan too much!

Over-planning is the downfall of all inter-rails. For those of us who like to have a plan from day-to-day, it can be difficult to let go of this routine. But remember: a bit of spontaneity might land you in one of the most exciting places you've ever visited.

Train station in Cologne, Germany (Shutterstock)
Train station in Cologne, Germany (Shutterstock)

7. Always keep an eye on your belongings

As I learned the hard way, keeping an eye on your belongings is essential. It isn't always in the cities you're warned about where you fall prey to thieves. Before I went inter-railing across Italy, I was bombarded with warnings about Naples – but it was in Rome, just moments after stepping off the train, that my phone was snatched out of my pocket.

8. Sometimes it's best to leave the map behind

During the two days I spent in Venice, the best thing I did was ditch the map and literally get lost. Wandering through Venice's alleyways, I stumbled across quirky shops, a cafe that served the most delicious ice cream I've ever tasted, and gloriously empty streets. I then turned a corner and found myself standing outside Saint Mark's Cathedral, and could hardly move for all the tourists. 

Getting lost is a great way to experience the culture of the country you have travelled so far to visit – and isn't that what inter-railing is all about?

Eating a train picnic (Shutterstock)
Eating a train picnic (Shutterstock)

9. Only buy snacks from the supermarket

Eating at stations and buying snacks on trains is expensive (and not always very tasty), so try stocking up on food at convenience stores. You'll save lots of money and be the envy of other passengers.

If you're travelling in a hot climate, it is essential to remain hydrated. Carry an empty bottle that you can fill up at your hostel, water fountains or a cafe.

10. Don't expect lovely loos

When you're inter-railing you'll come across some rather disturbing toilets. On most trains they leave a lot to be desired – and they're not much better in stations, either.

Be prepared! Carry your own hand sanitiser and loo roll with you at all times. If you can get away with it, see if you can use the first-class toilets – even if you don't have a first-class ticket. They are often located at the ends of carriages, so who will know?

Main image: High-speed train crossing a viaduct in Aragon, Spain (Shutterstock)