The chance to travel is something many of us dream about, my friend and I were lucky enough to be able to travel this summer through an Interrailing pass funded by the European Commission.
I found out about the #DiscoverEU initiative through their advertisement of the scheme on social media and through word of mouth by people I knew from my time as a Member of UK Youth Parliament. The competition consisted of a 5 question quiz and a subsidiary question on your estimation of the number of applicants as there was only 15,000 Interrail tickets available. So when I received the email informing me that we had won 2 Interrailing tickets, my friend I couldn’t believe it and were ecstatic. The Interrailing pass would allow us 7 days of unlimited travel over the course of a month across all European countries to any European city or place.
It was only through this opportunity that our plan of travelling this summer was able to be fulfilled. This is because the DiscoverEU pass helped to subsidise a large portion of money which we would otherwise have had to fund ourselves. However, we both only had a week and a half of summer where we were both free and this time was later cut even shorter (to 5 days) due to difficulties of booking the Eurostar with little notice. With a limited amount of time we both decided to plan places to visit that were close to the UK and easy accessible so little time was wasted travelling. We decided on visiting 4 places and quickly booked our hostel beds online.
When it came to packing, because it was only a short trip, we only packed the essentials and had a quick check of the weather to make sure our clothes were appropriate. But the most important thing for us to pack was our Interrailing ticket and our passport!
The first place we decided to visit was Brussels, this was because it was direct accessible by the Eurostar from London. With all the places we visited we did little planning of what we would do when we were there and what we would see. We mainly used Maps on our phones to see where the main tourist spot were and made sure we visited them. Then, if available, we picked up a map from the hostel we were staying in which often contained interesting sites and places to eat recommended by locals. This made sure we were able to fully submerge ourselves in the culture of the country.
Following Brussels, we took a day trip to Bruges. We were able to book ourselves on a free walking tour, this took us around all the main spots in town and we were able to hear the amazing history behind Bruges.
After seeing majority of Bruges through the walking tour we decided we had time to quickly visit Antwerp too. We were able to visit Antwerp due to the flexibility of the Interrailing passes, so it meant that we could visit places last minute.
Our final destination was Berlin, this was the longest travelling time we had planned (other than the journey home, which was eventful and too long of a story to tell). After a change in Cologne Main Station we arrived in Berlin and we quickly checked in in our hostel. Fortunately, our hostel was close to majority of the main touristy sights so we were able to quickly walked around them.
Due to the Facebook that was made for all DiscoverEU participants, we were also added into a group chat with other DiscoverEU ambassadors who were also visiting Berlin at the same time as us. There was a meeting organised in this group chat which we attended allowing us to meet fellow ambassadors who were also on their travels. This was a exiting meeting where we were able to converse with people of similar age from different countries. I met someone from France, who was also a politics student, and we had topical discussions about the political system within France and in the UK. Then rest of the group joined in a conversation on the effects of Brexit and how young people, not just from the UK but from the rest of Europe feel about the issue. Another meeting was planned for the next evening and I can honestly say I have never spoken to so many people from so many countries. Through the two meetings I met and spoke to people from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Slovenia, Australia and even the UK! It was one of the most fulfilling experience I have ever had being able to converse so freely and openly with people from so many different places and learn so much from them about their education system, their thoughts on the current political climate in Europe and even simply what they do in their daily life. Some of us even went on a late night adventure in Berlin…
If you’re reading this article and are debating whether to go Interrailing or not, I would definitely recommend it! It allows you so much flexibility on places to go and it really shows you how there are so much of Europe which is left unexplored because going through places on the train allowed you to see all the places you pass by which isn’t always possible on the plane. And the one tip I would give any of you planning to travel is to approach people who are staying in hostels with you and strike up a conversation with them. You’ll be surprised how sociable they are and how much you can learn from just one person! Go explore, because this trip has truly taught me how much fun travelling can be and I’m so excited to (hopefully) do it again next summer!
Youth story written by Mun Wu, #DiscoverEU Ambassador