Two years ago I was accepted into an expat study abroad programme in the Czech Republic. My father was Czech and it was a chance to learn more about him and his culture which I guess is actually mine too. It was amazing and I made many friends, drank a lot of beer and explored various parts of the Czech Republic in the summer of 2015. Just before I went, I decided it was about time that I explored the rest of Europe too seeing as I have an EU passport and an immense wanderlust.
Initially I chatted to my boyfriend who had done a Contiki a number of years prior. It seemed like it would be pretty easy; a great way to make friends and party non-stop, but somehow that didn’t appeal to me. I was going to be on my own and am not the biggest party animal so I began exploring other options. There were various holiday package deals and tours but none of them stuck out. Eventually my friend recommended Interrailing Packages as an alternative and I began my research.
Interrailingpackages.com is a UK based tour operator that offers hotel, hostel and custom packages to travelers wishing to explore Europe. The main tour packages are immediately available to EU passport holders, anyone from non-EU countries has to purchase the Eurrail ticket which comes at an additional cost.
The Interrail was ideal for someone like me who didn’t have time or the knowledge to look for and book lodging in the various cities but rather, would choose to pay for the entire package which included accommodation usually with one meal, train tickets to each city and discounts off of various sights and meals.
It is also possible to book just the Eurail ticket for the train that travels across Europe but you would then have to plan and book for all of your own accommodation.
As I said, without the time or knowledge, it made more sense for me to take the entire package and have everything planned out for me. They even offer extensive info on each city that you travel to as well as comprehensive directions get from each train station to your hostel/hotel. This was much needed for me because once I got lost in Amsterdam for 10 hours.
A selfie whilst lost in Amsterdam
The Interrailing Packages are easy to choose from, with a number of destinations and options to available, you can choose between two, three and four week trips. Once you select your package, you pay and provide an address for them to send your ticket to and your journey can begin. If you live outside of the first city on your trip then you have to make you way there. Flights are not included.
Blurry photo of me with my Interrailing pass
There are pros and cons to doing the Interrail, particularly on your own, but perhaps let’s not say cons, rather there are things you need to be aware of. That being said, I would still choose to do the Interrail every time around because it was one of the greatest adventures of my life.
For anyone considering it, here are a few of the lessons I learnt on my journey:
PRO – You get to view sights when you want. You can choose what you want to see, in fact your entire trip is bespoke. If you want to go to Amsterdam and check out the Red Light District but give the Anne Frank house a miss, that decision is entirely yours. If you aren’t into museums and want to view the Catacombs instead of The Louvre in Paris, then so be it. You are in charge of your trip.
LESSON – Although it is all up to you, sometimes it is tough to be motivated to go out and view all the sites. You also don’t have a permanent tour guide explaining what everything is. I walked through Berlin past many buildings not knowing what they were because I had not researched enough. I do also know that some Contiki tours are able to get into tourist sites more easily whereas when you are on your own, you have to wait in queues with everyone else. My advice would be to book as much online as possible and be sure to get to the main ones early. And if you are really keen on the history then be sure to fork out a little extra for the audio guides because it is the best way to get more info. Most hostels do offer info on walking tours which are generally in close proximity so do take advantage of those.
Friends I made on a walking tour in Amsterdam
Building I couldn't identify in Berlin
PRO – You are entirely autonomous. You can make new friends at every hostel that you check into and meet people from all over the world. Contiki means you are stuck with the same group for the duration of the trip which I assume would suck if there was someone you found painful, the Interrail has none of that. I made friends in every destination and am still friends with a number of them to this day.
LESSON – You are entirely autonomous. You have to make sure that your train tickets are in order because sometimes, you need to book seats for your next trip. You need to ensure that you are at the correct train station at the right time. You need to watch for your stop and make sure you do the correct line changes. Travel days were always stressful for me because I would nap a little on the train but always be wary of missing my stop. An incredibly helpful app that I downloaded was called Rail Planner. This saved my butt a number of times because although the Interrailing offices give you a list of stops and times for the trains, in real life, there are delays and problems that they can’t account for. This app allows you to see every single stop that the train is going to make along with the names of each station. This was particularly useful when I was headed to Budapest because there were severe delays and problems with the train tracks. We had to take a bus at one point and were delayed by a number of hours. If it was not for the app, I wouldn’t have been able to track my journey and make sure I was getting off at the right stop.
PRO - You get to meet new people at every destination. It is just constant interaction and partying (if you want) with people you keep meeting. Your party vibe can also be as hard or as soft as you want it. You can go out every night and drink if you want or every now and again if you prefer. It is entirely up to you.
LESSON – If you are doing the Interrail alone then you don’t get to have a group of close friends who will watch over you all the time. It is not recommended that you get completely blotto out of your mind, particularly as a girl because you are usually partying with people you just met. I went out a couple of times but I was always wary as a South African female on my own. So if you are looking for a reckless party vibe I would suggest a partner in crime because no one wants to be lost and drunk alone in Rome at 2am. For more tips on traveling as a lone female check out my post.
Dressed up all French in Paris
I waited two hours in the blazing sun to see the statue of David
PRO – You can shop as much as you like, when you like, for as long as you like. I went to Europe with one LARGE bag and came back with three. I never stopped shopping. It was amazing.
LESSON – You have to lug your own bags across Europe. I remember that my desire to look pretty while trekking across the European continent soon turned to bitterness and resentment toward the enormous bag that I had to pick up, carry and stuff onto trains. It was too big to fit in the compartments that are by the doors so often it would be just me and my bag, taking up four chairs while people were forced to find seating elsewhere. My final trip to the airport had to be in an Uber because I had no way of carrying three heavy bags to different public transport platforms.
At the end of the day (or Interrail) everyone’s journey is their own and everyone’s experiences will be unique and different to what mine was. I can say that I came back from the Interrail a very different person. It taught me things about myself that I wouldn’t have learnt otherwise. I discovered patience and the power of observation, independence and self-awareness. The Interrail changed my life and it was an experience that I would recommend to anyone planning on visiting Europe.
It is still pretty warm in Europe, in fact this was the exact time that I did my Interrail trip two years ago. So if you are looking for an adventure of the life changing kind, I would suggest that you book yourself in on the Interrail and explore an entire continent at your own pace!