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Student travel: should you go interrailing?

An Interrail pass will let you tick a few European cities off your list in one trip, but is it worth the money? And could you nab a free pass?

An Interrail pass lets you travel on the national railways - and some ferry lines - of 30 European countries. If you can't decide exactly where you want to go on your next holiday, interrailing could be the ticket.

An Interrail pass gives you loads of freedom, as there's no set agenda you need to stick to. Just pick a pass, and away you go.

What’s the best Interrail pass for me?

There's a range of passes to suit different travel plans and budgets. Prices for a 'Global' pass depend on your age (12-27 year-olds are eligible for a youth discount) and the number of days you'll be travelling for.

A Global pass is the one you want if you want to ride on trains in lots of different countries. But if you want to explore one country in depth, a one-country pass is better suited - prices vary for different countries.

If you have a very specific holiday already in mind, there might be an Interrail pass to cater to it. The Interrail Italy Plus Pass lets you travel around Italy and also gives you free ferry crossings to and from Greece.

For passes that give you a certain number of days to travel within a timeframe, you can go on as many trains as you like between midnight and midnight on that day. Travellers over 60 also get 10% off standard adult prices, and under-12s travel for free.

Is an Interrail ticket the cheapest way to see Europe?

Interrailing can be cheaper than flying or booking individual trains, especially if you're eligible for a youth ticket, but double check for any cheaper options first.

To do this, sketch out your route and compare the prices of buying single-journey tickets with the cost of your selected Interrail pass. The more days you're interrailing for, the cheaper it is - so we've worked out a per day cost below to compare:

If you buy a ‘continuous’ pass, the value per day will depend on how many days you use it.

If you're super-organised and able to buy in advance, it could be cheaper to buy single-journey tickets than using an Interrail Global pass - but more expensive if you leave it to the last minute. We ran some research on 5 June to test this out:
  • buying a same-day ticket between Prague and Berlin = £61.81.
  • buying a ticket for the same route, but booking ahead for August = £21.42 - which works out cheaper than any of the Interrail rates.
It all comes down to how far ahead you can plan and whether the savings stack up across the whole route. Time to get that calculator out...

Also bear in mind that some European train journeys require you to pay for a reserved seat, even if you have an Interrail pass - this is usually the case with high-speed trains. But there might be a slower route between the same two destinations which you don’t have to do this for.

What about Eurostar?

You can take the Eurostar with your Interrail pass (though not the new London-Amsterdam line). However, you still have to pay a £30 reservation fee.

Unless you manage to find super cheap tickets, though, it's usually more cost-effective to take the Eurostar with your Interrail pass. Back to our research on 5 June...
  • buying a next day London to Paris Eurostar ticket = £191.
  • buying an advanced London to Paris Eurostar ticket for travel on 13 August = £84 - still making it cheaper to opt for Interrail, even with that £30 seat reservation fee.

Will Brexit affect my interrailing trip?

In the short term, no. While the UK is still part of the European Union as of writing, you'll be able to use an Interrail pass to travel in Europe in exactly the same way you could before the referendum.

Travel rules may change when the terms for the UK’s exit from the EU are agreed, but it's unlikely that Brexit will mean you categorically can't go interrailing. It's already the case that those living in European countries not in the EU, like Switzerland or Turkey, can buy and use Interrail passes.

How to get a free Interrail pass

May 2019 update - In 2019, the EU is giving away 20,000 free Interrail tickets to 18-year-olds across European Union countries (which, of course, still includes the UK for now). This follows a similar scheme from last year.

If you were born between 2 July 2000 and 1 July 2001, you can apply for a ticket to travel for up to 30 days between August 2019 and January 2020. Successful applicants can use the ticket on train services mainly, as well as some bus and ferry services.

Online applications are open 2-16 May 2019, the passes are for between 1 and 30 days, and you'll be able to go to up to four different countries. You have to travel between July and September.

For more information, head to the DiscoverEU website. You make your application on the European Youth Portal.

Interrail route ideas

One idea is sticking to one area of Europe per trip. So, that could be:
  • Nordic: Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (not Iceland - there are no trains!).
  • Central: France, Germany and Italy.
  • Eastern Europe: Poland, Czechia and Slovakia.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) with an Interrail pass.

You might want to plan your trip around certain events that you want to go to. If you fancy going to the seven-day Sziget festival, for example, make sure you go to Budapest in August.

Similarly, if there's a big sporting event you've always wanted to go to, work it into your schedule.

Head to the Interrail website for a map and to download the Rail Planner app, which lets you look up trains without an internet connection.

Struggling for route ideas? Here's how YouTuber Jack Edwards planned for his trip (as well as some tips on saving money while you're away):

What if I want to change my travel plans?

It depends on the type of pass you have. For example, if you have a pass that lets you travel any seven days within a month, make sure your new plans fit in with that - unless you’re happy to pay extra for single train journeys, of course.

Bear in mind any cancellation fees for your accommodation, and that your spending money stretches to cover your detour. Plus, check your new route is covered by your travel insurance.

Sorting out accommodation and everything else

Once you've bought your Interrail pass and decided where you're going, you need to think about things like accommodation, travel insurance and travel money.

Next up: our holiday hacks guide covers student travel essentials on a shoestring budget...

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