Interrailing Made Easy

SUZANNE BURLTON offers her Interrailing pearls of wisdom, minimising the organisation you need to do independently.

Amsterdam Avignon Boots Borat Brothels Europe Euros Florence Interrail Interrailing Italy Milan paris Red Light District Suzanne Burlton Train

I have recently returned from an Interrailing trip with three friends: B, C and M. I somehow got myself into being Chief Organiser and I have learnt many lessons, the wisdom of which I intend now to pass on to you so that you too might benefit from our many and varied mistakes…

The Route: Paris, Avignon, Nice, Milan, four nights in Florence and then went to Rome before flying home.

Pearl of Wisdom Number One: Organise.

Tempting as it is to posture as bohemian, you are at the mercy of the rigours of the European train network – and timetable, and a bit of pre-planning would not go amiss. Check out a European timetable here and save this link if you are heading out on the railways.

Making a pack with transport times, hotel/hostel locations and maps clearly laid out will serve two purposes: firstly, and importantly, it will show your parents how organised and responsible you are and persuade them to let you go and maybe even lend you some money. You’re not being profligate, it’s all in the pack. For example, is a good website with reviews by travellers themselves, rather than hostel-owner propaganda.

Secondly, if you’ve done your research you will not exit your hotel, walk a little way down the street and notice a sex shop. Then a lap dancing club. Then another sex shop. Then realise you’ve pitched up right in the middle of the city’s red light district and refuse to walk the streets after dark, severely limiting your opportunities for exploration although possibly increasing your chances of having to master, “Where is the nearest clinic?” in Dutch.

Staying in Amsterdam’s Red Light District could be noisy to say the least

Pearl of Wisdom Number Two: Budget.

One can only do so much on holiday and one can only get so much out of a limited budget. Simple economics. It is therefore important to prioritise, both for budget and time. Do you want to eat well? If so, stay in cheap hotels. Do you want to do a lot of sightseeing? Then you won’t have much time for shopping and you’ll have to stay close to the sights unless you’re ready to travel a lot. We initially spent a lot of time sightseeing but then half of our party got serious gallery fatigue – suffering a surfeit of world-famous art or very expensive pieces of religious tat.

Pearl of Wisdom Number Three: Choose Your Friends Wisely. Very Wisely.

Some of us got gallery fatigue sooner than others and this is the perfect demonstration of why one should choose one’s companions carefully. Make sure your visions of the holiday are aligned. Thankfully just as my interest in ‘culture’ was seriously flagging, so was M’s. We therefore sent B and C, still – mystifyingly – fascinated, to churches and galleries while we tripped around happily going shopping and sitting in chic cafes.

Pearl of Wisdom Number Four: The Locals.

It is vital to be able to communicate with the charming ‘locals’. Our train was delayed for several hours on our way to Nice so we arrived at this tiny hotel in a deserted street at two o’clock in the morning. Thankfully A level French did – eventually – come in useful and we were soon able to sort things out, get our rooms and collapse therein.

However, in our last hotel in Rome, we were rudely awakened on the last day of our holiday to find an irate cleaning lady shouting at us. None of us could understand a word. The receptionist claimed to speak English but clearly didn’t. It was only with much distress and effort and embarrassing visits to reception in a state of undress that we realised we were supposed to have checked out half an hour ago. Bummer.

The Brady Bunch: German League

Bring at least a phrasebook cum dictionary and a few memorised pleasantries, especially if you’re staying in cheap hotels where, contrary to popular belief, not everyone speaks English, and not everyone is receptive to speaking slowly and loudly (and increasingly slow), as is the British wont.

Pearl of Wisdom Number Five: Keep it tasteful.

Some countries are more religious than others – be respectful. Don’t trot up to the Vatican wearing a backless and largely frontless number. Furthermore, just because you are on holiday, please do not revert to a disastrous ‘holiday wardrobe’. Don’t let your mother pack for you and don’t pack anything your mother would approve of (and probably bought for you). C was forced to bring a college fleece suitable for practically sub-zero temperatures on this trip to Europe in a heatwave. It took up an enormous amount of space in his suitcase and nearly pushed him over the Ryanair baggage limit.

Pearl of Wisdom Number Six: If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

Boots sell refillable travel-size bottles and jars for cosmetics. Buy a sprayer for perfume but instead fill it with water and carry it in order to spray yourself cool during the hotter hours. As M said, “It’s like sweating but without the hassle.”

It sounds simple, but keep out of the heat as much as possible. After a marathon session in the Uffizi, B got heatstroke and missed out on a delightful meal consisting of calzone that looked like dead sea monsters still breathing hot air out into your face. This is one time when you possibly should concede defeat to parental wisdom – drink plenty of water, wear a hat and take a siesta.

Pearl of Wisdom Number Seven: Travel.

One final note particular to train travel: if you possibly can, book out a sleeper cabin entirely. They come for either four or six and if you are three or five, just suck it up and pay for the extra bed. We didn’t and entered our cabin to find a strange man in there reading quietly. We immediately fell silent and hardly spoke another word until we got off. It was a long night during which we slept in our clothes because we were too embarrassed to change into our pyjamas in from of a stranger. Our English sense of awkwardness was absolutely tested to the limit.

We returned home exhausted from travelling and astonished that we had survived. We didn’t miss a single train and managed to find every hotel – although sometimes it was close. I’m not sure I’d go interrailing again, as I dislike too much the enforced whistlestop nature of the tour, but I’m glad I did. We’re already planning next year’s holiday. After all, now our rose-tinted glasses are beginning to descend, this one went so well…

Book your own Interrail ticket here.

Follow other Tab writers on their summer adventures with The Tab‘s summer blogs: Ollie Kay and Michael O’Halloran are on the SE Asia ‘Gap Yah’ trail and Abi Bennett and George Osborne are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe with The Movement’s Dr Faustus.