If you have a few weeks spare and you want to see a few places in Europe, then you could consider buying yourself an InterRail ticket.
InterRail is what happened when the national rail networks in Europe got together and decided to offer people under 26 the chance to travel across Europe in a month with just one ticket, bought for one fixed price. It's since been expanded to cover those travellers over 26, although the price is slightly higher. There are also different pass durations, so you can travel for a month, but also choose 22 or 16 day passes too, depending on the number of zones in which you wish to travel (see below for more details on zones).
Once you buy the pass, you can just hop on and off most services, although some you do have a pay a small premium. These are usually high speed services such as the TGV in France, ICE in Germany or the Pendolino in Italy. You can pay the extra charge, or supplement, if you want to, or you can find an alternative route on slower, local services.
For the purposes of InterRail, Europe is split up into several zones taking in 29 countries. These are as follows:
- Zone A - Rep of Ireland and the UK
- Zone B - Finland, Norway and Sweden
- Zone C - Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland
- Zone D - Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia
- Zone E - France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg
- Zone F - Morocco, Spain and Portugal
- Zone G - Greece, Slovenia, Turkey, Italy
- Zone H - Romania, Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Bulgaria
To qualify for an InterRail Pass, you must be normally resident in one of these participating European countries for a period of at least six months before the date the pass starts. There are other options if you aren't resident in these countries, such as Eurail. You can also specify the start date of your pass up to three months in advance, or you could even buy it the day before. The pass is not valid in the country in which you buy it.
It's entirely up to you how many zones you want to go through, depending on budget and what you want to see, as well as the time of year you want to travel. The fantastic thing about InterRailing is, you hop on a train in the middle of one city, and you get off in the middle of another. There's no hassle with getting from an airport terminal and going to collect your baggage.
If you do choose to take the TGV in France then there is an obligatory reservation fee that is best purchased at the train station rather than from the conductor. In Spain there is a supplement for using the high speed AVE link between Madrid, Cordoba and Seville, though if the train is more than five minutes late you get a full refund. In Italy the luxurious Pendolino trains carry a high supplement and they run mainly between Milan and Rome, though the network is expanding. There is a small supplement for making reservations on the tilting Swiss trains and in Germany all trains with the exception of the basic local services carry a small supplement.
You might also find it helpful to take a night train, or couchette. This allows you to save on the cost of accommodation. Some people have concerns about security, but on the whole it should be safe. There may be a small supplement for InterRailers. There are also some free and discounted ferry services that you can take advantage of, such as between Greece and Italy.
InterRailers often stay in youth hostels or budget accommodation where it's usually guaranteed you will find a small community of fellow travellers that you can share tips and advice with, and maybe even find a travelling partner for a short while.
Useful LinksOfficial InterRail site
The Global Voyage InterRail site
BBC Crime Backpacking advice