Hi, I’m Kieren, a 27-year-old from Wales with a love of exploring new places and making new friends along the way. In the summer of 2015, I took my first interrail trip through Europe and have loved to travel ever since.
For me, travel is as much about the people you meet along the way as the places themselves. Even though I enjoy travelling solo, I love to get to know local people and culture as well as meeting other like-minded travellers to share experiences with. As a budget backpacker I usually stay in hostels and find ways to save money wherever possible, and I try to be environmentally sustainable.
I love to write about my experiences and share tips and recommendations with other travellers. Reading blogs is hugely helpful for me during my adventures so I hope that I can return the favour!
Explore Europe by rail
Travelling by train is my favourite way to explore Europe. It’s cheaper and less stressful than air travel and more comfortable and convenient than buses. Whether you’re travelling for one week, a month or a year, I highly recommend making use of Europe’s extensive rail network.
If you’re planning to travel long distances by train, it’s worth investing in an Interrail global pass. It is valid on most lines in Europe and will bring the average cost per trip down significantly. Not to mention the extra flexibility as you don’t need to book tickets in advance. And great news for 18-year-olds: you can apply for a DiscoverEU travel pass and get it for free!
Here are my best tips for interrailing through Europe on a budget.
1. Choose your destinations carefully
The destinations you decide to visit will have a huge impact on the cost of your trip so think about this from the outset. Generally speaking, Western Europe and the Nordic countries are the most expensive to visit whilst Central and Eastern Europe are cheaper. When plotting your route, keep in mind the day to day costs of each destination.
2. Travel in shoulder season
As well as considering where you’ll go, consider when you go. ‘Shoulder season’ refers to the period between peak and off-peak. Peak season in Europe is July - August, when cities are at their busiest, and prices can be higher. Travel during May – June or September – October to take advantage of great weather and cheaper prices.
That’s not to say that you can’t visit Europe at other times of year. There are incredible Christmas markets, and the Nordic countries or the Alps offer great winter activities.
3. Pick the right pass and make the most of it
Make sure you’re choosing the most economical pass for your journey. A flexi-pass is cheaper than a continuous pass because it limits the number of days you can travel. This is the best option for most people as you’ll likely be spending a few days in each destination before your next journey.
As well as cheaper train travel, interrail passes come with a raft of other benefits to help save money during your trip. You can get discount on hostel stays, tours, bike hire, buses and ferries so check the pass benefits for the countries you’re visiting beforehand.
4. Stay in hostels
Not only are hostels a savvy choice that will keep costs down, they provide a friendly and sociable atmosphere that will help you mingle with fellow travellers. You’ll make new friends that could last a lifetime.
Staying in hostel dorm rooms is usually about half the cost of staying in a hotel in the same city. The hostel scene in Europe is well established with some of the best hostels in the world. You’ll have to forego a small amount of privacy compared to a private room, but often you’ll find privacy curtains on each bed and female-only dorms to help you feel more comfortable.
5. Pack the essentials
If you’re staying in hostels, make sure you’ve got a padlock and towel. You’ll need a padlock for keeping your bag safe and hostels generally don’t provide towels. Whilst these will be available to borrow, there is usually a small charge so be prepared and take your own.
You’ll also want to ensure you have the right plug adapters if the countries you visit are different to your home country. Check my full interrail packing list to ensure you don’t miss anything else.
If you have a student card or a European Youth Card, take this with you as it many attractions offer discounted entry for students.
6. Cycle instead of using public transport
Interrail passes don’t usually cover travel within cities such as metros or local buses so this can be a big expense, especially in larger cities.
As an alternative, consider hiring a bike. As well as being environmentally friendly they’re also a great budget transport option. Remember to lock your bike securely when not in use and ideally bring it inside overnight.
7. Free walking tours, free museums, free audio or self-guided tours!
You’ll be surprised at the number of things you can do for free in popular European cities. Look out for free museums, art galleries and walking tours.
Having a guide show you around a local attraction can be significantly better than exploring on your own. They can give you an overview of the historical significance and point out features or facts that you might have otherwise missed. Tour guides can be expensive; however there are alternative options that can be just as informative without breaking the bank.
Free walking tours are the best way to orient yourself in a new destination. And yes, they’re often free. However, if you really enjoy your tour then you may want to leave a tip (say, 5-10 euro) as this is how the guides earn their living.
Many attractions have their own audio guides, or you can download them online.
8. Avoid reservations
Some high speed or overnight trains will require a reservation which you have to pay extra for. For most of these routes there are alternative local trains. Although this might take a little longer, you’ll save on the reservation cost.
I recommend using the interrail app to find out the information you need about reservations on particular lines.
9. Take night trains
If you’re making a longer journey between two cities, taking a night train can save you time and money. Not only will you arrive in your destination early in the morning, giving you the whole day to explore, but you’ll save on a night’s accommodation by sleeping on the train instead.
Most night trains can be used with an interrail pass, but you’ll usually need a reservation for a bed.
My top tip for anyone booking a night train is to ensure you are wearing warm clothes and buy food in advance. An eye mask is a great addition to your packing list if you plan on using many night trains.
10. Consider eating in
When you’re away from home, it can easily become a habit to eat all your meals in restaurants or cafes: the cost can quickly mount up. I’d recommend checking if your hostel has kitchen facilities. You can cut your costs by buying ingredients from a local store and using your culinary skills to the max.
Of course, you’ll still want to visit restaurants and enjoy local food prepared by a real chef, but having a nice mix of eating in and eating out is a savvy way to travel.
I hope this list has been helpful. Bon voyage!
This guide was written by Kieren from Got My Backpack. After interrailing through Europe on several occasions, Kieren has plenty of interrailing tips and tricks to share with first timers.
Are you 18 years old? Are you up for an adventure? If yes, get ready to explore other countries by applying for DiscoverEU, a European initiative giving young people the opportunity to travel.