In May of 2023, we spent a month travelling around Europe with an Interrail pass. Mr Fluskey was there for some of it too but had to work a bit. We had Global Passes with unlimited travel days so their most flexible and wide ranging pass. After a month of travel, I have compiled a list of the pros and cons of Interrail and Eurail to help you decide if it is for you.
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Travel planning is exciting!
Well, I think it is anyway. Scanning through your possible destinations are lousy, the joy of research and discovery. You may start with a plan to see all the big hitters, London, Paris, Berlin, etc, but instead find a list of gorgeous underrated spots that sparks your wanderlust. Perhaps you decide to take an Instagram Odyssey with photo shoots covering Venice and Prague. It could be that you find you would rather take the slow route, hopping off at local stations. You’ve never heard of just to see what’s there.
How exciting is that?!
It is true that Interrail can sometimes be a little more expensive than booking a bunch of advance tickets we ahead of time. However, these nice cheap tickets are normally non-flexible and non-refundable, meaning your itinerary is fixed. however, you can change your mind at a moments notice when you hold an interim past. Just add a new journey to your app and off you go.
There are two exceptions to this joyful, flexible travel:
- Travel Days – You can only travel on your “travel days”. Many passes have a certain number of these included (5 days in 30 for example). Once your travel has begun on any given, that is your day used up. You cannot change it once travel has started. (More on this on the cons section).
- Reservations – This one will only affect you if you’re planning to take popular routes or fast trains that need reservations. Changing your mind at the last minute could mean you can’t find a new seat and/or you will lose your reservation fee. (More on this on the cons section).
It’s Better for the Environment
Now, I cannot claim to be a sustainable travel addict. I work for an airline and we fly long haul on a semi regular basis . However, we don’t have a car and I am a big advocate for public transport so train travel is one if my favourite ways to travel. It is wonderful to know that, although you are covering hundreds of miles, you aren’t having a terrible impact on the environment. On my Interrail trip, I travelled almost 5000km and the Eurail app tells me I saved up to 90% on flying. I also popped it into a carbon calculator and it was a third of the same distance by car….which is nice.
No Designated Drivers
Now I don’t just mean after a night out. Travelling around Europe is exhausting. There is so much to see and do, meaning you will be out and about, walking all day and repeating that day after day. If you then add driving on to this, you will be knackered! A long train day means everyone can have a nice nap…plus, you can all have a drink whenever you fancy.
Leading on from that:
Well, visually impaired. This means, if I want o travel independently, I cannot drive. Sitting on a train requires no vision on my behalf so it is a great way to travel! If there is any reason you cannot drive, then catching the train is a great option for you too.
The Interrail past comes with a few little discounts that you wouldn’t get just travelling by train independently. Sam Hostel’s work with Interrail to offer people discounts on their beds, some cable, cars and vernaculars in Switzerland will give you up to 25% off, and even better if you are staying in Interlaken, Switzerland, you can take lake cruises completely free. One of the most useful and widely used discounts is 10% of anything on get your guide.com, discovers day, tours, food, activities, theme, parks, like Disneyland, Paris, and bottomless and boat trips in Budapest that leave you a little more than tipsy.
Trains vs Buses
One thing Europe blacks is seriously luxury coaches. I am sure they exist on the odd route, but for the main part, coaches in Europe, white standard with not that much legroom and not that much for Kline on your seat. This is one of the many reasons we’ve ever trains. Here are three more:
- You can easily hop up and use the bathroom. Sometimes you will have the bathrooms on a coach but they tend to be cramped and a bit mucky. Obviously train toilets aren’t ideal, but they are a little bigger, usually a little cleaner, and there is more than one.
- Trains can go slowly, obviously, but there is something a little less depressing about being delayed in some pretty countryside than on a motorway. In general, we think the views from the train are prettier than those on the road.
- In general, the ride is more comfortable. You are not stopping and starting like you are on the road, you can get up and stretch your legs whenever you like, you aren’t wearing a seatbelt, so you feel a little more relaxed, and if you have lots of seats and are exhausted, you can have a little snooze stretched out across the lot.
Trains vs Planes
Now, I work for an airline, and I do enjoy flying, but there is no doubt that some aspects of travel by train are much better than those in an aircraft.
You don’t have to deal with airports. Turning up three hours early, carrying teeny weeny liquids to comply with the rules, queuing, queuing, queuing, it is all the preserve of the airport. (It is worth saying that the Eurostar can feel a bit like this at the terminals but it still isn’t as bad). Train stations are usually in European city centres so once you disembark, you are right there in the thick of it. Over multiple stops, this really saves you a lot of time. Plus, the views from a plane are nice but they can’t beat those at ground level for interest.
Finding trains was so easy with the app. To find a journey, you pop in your origin and destination, date and time and it will bring up all the options. You can filter search results by “No Reservations” or “No Changes” etc. I really enjoyed playing around to see different choices. My last few days of travel weren’t confirmed until we were already on the road….or is that rails….and I spent a happy hour or two looking at all the different ways to get back to London. Where I could stop, how long the different ways would cost and how long they would take!
Yes, the app can be glitchy too. My pass kept timing out strangely, meaning I had to deactivate it every time an inspector came around. This could be a few times with trains that crossed borders and it was a bit stressful when it wasn’t cooperating.
Overall, if you are going on a big adventure then the Interrail is a great option. If you are looking at the one country, minimum travel day passes then I am not sure it is worth it.
It is also worth checking where you want to use it. If you have a Global Pass but spend two weeks in Poland where train travel is really cheap, you probably aren’t getting value out of your pass. Whereas, it is a thousand percent worth it for travelling on Swiss trains.
You’ve bought your pass and then you are bombarded with a bunch of “Reservation Required” messages. This does remove a bit of the flexibility on your trip. You will find that during high season or public holidays, you will need to organise these reservations ahead of time as they will run out.
Most reservations cannot be made in the app, rather you will have to go to the Eurail website or the individual train operators website. This is a bit annoying. It is time consuming.
Now, trains can be delayed and this may mess up your onward reservations. If this is the case, when you reach your transfer station, hot foot it to the ticket office and they should change your reservation for free. It’s always good to be fast and get their ahead of the other people on your train so you can request a window/aisle/any free seat.
There are plenty of trains that require you to pay for a reservation fee on top of the ticket price you have already paid for, if you are taking lots of fast or long distance trains, you will rack up the costs very quickly, It is possible to avoid reservation fees in most places by taking slow locals trains with lots of changes but this may not be possible if you don’t have a long time to travel. It is also not possible when travelling from the U.K. to the continent. The Eurostar always requires a reservation and this is around £30.m each way.
In total, for fast trains through France, return Eurostar trains, Swiss reservations and a night train, I spent an extra £100 or so.
Being on a Schedule
Yes you can hop and off trains but realistically you are going to be travelling between big urban centres. There may only be one train a day that goes directly between those two places and so you are beholden to their schedule.
Travel Day Drama
This is not something we experienced personally as our pass had unlimited travel days. On many passes, you choose how many travel days you think you’ll need. You can only take journeys on these days. (Night trains will run into the next day but won’t use another day unless you change onto another train). Now, once you have commenced travel on one of these days, it will be used up no matter how plans change/fail. You can’t change your mind and reset so once you have set foot on your first train, you are committed! If for any reason, you have to travel on more days than you planned, you will just have to pay for the extra transport as there is no way to add days to the pass.
Choosing to travel around as independent travellers rather as part of a tour is having to deal with your own luggage 100% of the time. Running through a train station, lugging bags up and down stairs is a world away from getting them on and off your group’s coach.
City Transport Costs
The Interrail Pass doesn’t cover travel within cities in most places. You might get lucky if they have a mainline rail system that passes through but buses, metros, trams etc will need to be covered as an extra cost. This is one of those quirks that can catch people out so at least you are forewarned.
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of Interrail
We had a blast Interrailing in Europe and although I have listed a fair few cons, the the pros really outweighed them. It was a wonderful adventure and having the app really allowed us to travel with both a sense of control and a sense of freedom. If you can afford to Interrail then I cannot recommend it highly enough as an excellent way to see Europe.