When you plan to travel in Europe by train, the first thing you think about are the InterRail passes. But are they always essential?
What is InterRail?
The brand is self-advertised as backpackers-friendly and offers several passes that allow you to travel in all of Europe by train. Buy your pass and then, take any train without paying anything (except the price of the reservation when it’s required – for high-speed trains, for example).
There are global passes that allow crossing borders and visiting different countries by train and there are also one-country passes, which are limited to only one country. Ferry crossings and some other benefits are also included, depending on the country.
- What’s the point?
A form of freedom: once your trip planed and your pass bought, you don’t have to care about the train tickets (except if a reservation is required). You just have to show your pass when tickets are checked on board.
- The limits
A paradoxical lack of flexibility: for each pass, you have to determine in advance on which days you want to travel exactly during your trip (example: five days on ten for the first global pass).
The price: there are two several rates according your age (before 26 years old and… After, when you are a very old person). So, when you are more than 26, it suddenly gets quite expensive (264€ for the first global pass)! Therefore, it’s more than necessary to determine precisely the cost of your journeys in Europe: is the juice worth the squeeze?
This summer that is how I chose to travel to four capitals of Central Europe by train: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Prague.
First reflex: browse the websites of the national railway companies to have an idea of the rates of my journeys. All these websites are also in English, just select the language you want. When the information is missing (rates for international journeys are sometimes not online), don’t hesitate to contact them, write emails, etc. There are always email addresses somewhere on these websites. For example, I wrote an email in my best English (you know what I mean…) to the Slovak national railway company and I received a very prompt and efficient reply. So, it’s not always a message in a bottle!
Second reflex: browse forums (those of the Routard community, in French, are, for example, very dynamic) to confirm the first informations. You are hardly ever the first person to ask yourself this or that question. Spending a lot of time on search engines is also a
time-consuming efficient, option, as well as visiting specialized websites: Raildude.com, for example, sells train tickets online and gives you information about the railway networks in Europe.
Third reflex: for those who are located in France or even in Europe, check out the offers of the SNCF (the French national railway company) in Europe.
You could discover that the SNCF sells European train tickets at very interesting rates thanks to its partnerships in Europe. Besides, the owners of the French ‘Carte Jeune’ sold by the SNCF (only for people aged from 12 to 27) get 25 % discount on European train tickets to around thirty countries members of RailPlus.
Results: only a few day before my departure, I had bought all my tickets for 159€ (in comparison with 264€ for the first adult global pass) : a Vienna – Bratislava, a Bratislava – Budapest, a Budapest – Prague and a Prague – Vienna. Put it another way: I was sure to have a seat for all my journeys and I didn’t have anything more to pay, except if I had changed or cancelled my plans.
Only trouble: you have to choose your train schedules in advance. Personally, it wasn’t a problem; indeed, you can change your tickets on the site, if they are exchangeable and/or refundable. I once exchanged a Genoa – Turin – Paris for a Genoa – Milan – Basel – Strasbourg – Nancy the day before the departure, directly from Italy.
So, the InterRail passes still remain interesting in certain cases: a lot of day trips on a long period, for example, and especially if you are under 26. I have already traveled three years ago with a one country pass in Italy but I had under 26 and I was in a country where travelling by train is quite expensive. Add the price of the reservation (usually 10€ by high-speed journey)… Watch out for the transport budget!
If you are 26 years old or more, don’t hesitate to compare in detail; the global price of all your journeys can be less expensive than an InterRail pass. Prices in Central Europe are still very competitive, with real services: Hungarian and Czech dining-cars will make you rediscover what a real on-board restaurant is… You might have forgotten, with the French SNCF!
So, have a nice eurotrip!