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- Posted:Thursday, July 17, 2014
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The ultimate location for ease of travel and diverse cultures, the European continent is a dream to explore by rail. In just a few hours you can experience a whole new landscape, language and set of customs.
Using an InterRail pass (for EU residents) or a Eurail pass (for non-EU) is the perfect way to easily check off all the dreamy European destinations on your travel bucket list. Ride the rails like a pro with these five tips.
1. Pack light
Most European rail itineraries are pretty fast-paced. One night you could be in Paris and the next in Brussels. With so much movement, make sure to pack light. No one enjoys digging through endless pairs of shorts and t-shirts just to find their favorite trousers. Every time you change locations you’ll be packing up your bag again.
My favorite tip is to stay 'top-heavy'. This means packing more shirts than anything else. You should only need one pair of shorts (maybe a skirt, too) and one pair of pants since these items can be worn for a few days before needing a wash. If you're a woman (or otherwise dress-inclined), throw in a dress, and that’s all you need.
2. Don’t try to see too much
With so many destinations, setting an itinerary around Europe can be overwhelming. New travelers often try to see everything during one trip. Unfortunately, all the travel time and short stays lead to experiencing very little. Sacrifice a few destinations for the sake of spending more time in all the others.
Traveling is also exhausting. Give yourself at least two full days in bigger cities where there is no changing of locations involved. If you're planning on a busy itinerary, try to allow for an entire three or four days in one place towards the middle of the trip, in order to rest and regroup.
3. Take note of which countries are covered and which trains require reservations
Although an InterRail pass is an easy way to see Europe, it is important to take note of exactly which countries you have covered. For example, if you need to get from Budapest to Prague, you’ll need to travel through Slovakia. This may not be covered in your pass and the result will be extra charges.
Depending on the country, seat reservations will either be completely necessary or a pointless hassle which you can forgo. Do your research on each country before arrival to gauge the protocol. Unfortunately, many of these reservations require a booking fee which is not included when you buy the pass. It could become a pricey addition to an already costly ticket.
4. Take advantage of overnight trains
Overnight trains are good for a few reasons. Firstly, they save travel time. Instead of wasting a day en route to somewhere else, you can just wake up and be ready to explore. You’ll also save money on one night's accommodation.
To get a restful night’s sleep, look into the different berth options. While shoestring backpackers will just spread across a few empty seats, others choose the 'couchettes' for an extra fee. Couchettes are in a compartment with a few other people and include a pillow, a blanket, and a sheet. Remember though, that extra fee might no longer save you money on accommodation.
Also, don’t forget to double-check if your train has any connections. While a 30-minute connection halfway through the night may not be too much of a hassle, a three-hour wait from 2-5am could feel like a nightmare.
5. Make sure to schedule scenic routes during the day
While overnight journeys save time and sometimes money, there are certain daytime scenic trains which shouldn’t be missed. The Arlbergline in Austria runs from Innsbruck to Bludenz over bridges and viaducts with spectacular views of the Austrian Alps. The Black Forest Lines in Germany roll their way through storybook-like villages and forested mountains. You’d hate to be asleep for a train journey like that.
Jessica Wray is a Californian, an over-thinker, a spicy-food lover and a serial expat. She has studied and lived in Latin America, taught English in South Korea, backpacked Asia and now lives in Madrid, Spain. Follow along with her on her blog, Curiosity Travels, as she tackles her mid-twenties all while calling different parts of the world home.