In the 80’s you could buy an Interrail ticket for £160 and travel across Western Europe for a month taking sleeper trains and sleeping on beaches and camping in between. Trips from Norway to Greece, or circuits from the Benelux and France, through Germany and Italy and down to very hot Southern Spain and across to Morocco were possible in a month.
But what can you do now?
Tickets are now split into the Interrail Global Pass and the Interrail One Country pass. Unlike the 80’s, now everyone can Interrail – youth, adult, senior and family. Tickets can be 1st class or 2nd class, and you can choose from 5 days, 7 days, 10 days, 15 days, 22 days or 1 month continuous.
A 1 month pass for youth – the equivalent of the 80’s ticket is now ~£370, but this is if you are travelling every day. A more reasonable price is for 15 days in 1 month which is £261. That’s like 3 trips from Leeds to London except you can travel right across 30 countries in Europe.
The 15 day pass for an adult is ~£350 – still reasonable for the distance you can go, and children go free.
There are fewer sleeper trains now, especially in countries like France – the TGV’s are so fast now that journey times have been greatly reduced – so unless you were travelling from the far north of Europe to the south you wouldn’t be on the train that long.
Another major change is in booking where to stay. In the 80’s you just rocked up at whatever city or location you were heading to, and found a cheap room or headed to a youth hostel or campsite. Now with the smartphone you can book ahead at the last minute so you know where you are going to stay every night before you get there. You’ve seen pictures, read all about it, know the quality of the wifi etc.
You still need to watch out for trains that have additional reservation fee’s or supplements and some high speed trains can’t be taken with the Interrail e.g. in Spain or some of the German ‘Metropolitan’ trains – check the small print and check with a guard before getting on a train.
Also your country of origin didn’t used to be covered by the Interrail ticket – so if you were coming from the UK you would have to get to one of the Channel ferries and pay for the ferry on top of the ticket albeit at reduced price. Now, while you would still pay for the ferry, you are allowed one outbound journey from your country of residence and one inbound. Not sure if Euro tunnel would qualify, but it’s worth checking.
Another option is the one country pass. If you are happy flying out to one country and then travelling round it in depth, you can now do this for 23 countries. Prices vary for different countries, from ~£30 in Macedonia up to ~£120 for France, Germany and the UK. £118 in France would give you 3 days travel by train, which if you fly into Paris, would allow you to travel to the alps, then to the Med, then back to Paris – the ‘city, sea and mountains’ tour. If you want more flexibility there are tickets with more days travelling for a higher price.
So these are the logistics, the experience though is still much the same, except the trains are more advanced, and the headache of finding accommodation as mentioned is much reduced.
Being able to travel from Scandanavia as far as Turkey or Southern Spain for a reasonable price is still amazing. Now you can go into many more countries. Eastern Europe has opened up, it’s not just a quick trip into West Berlin or a beeline down through Yugoslavia to Greece. Many of the countries of Eastern Europe can be explored in depth.
If it’s your first time in Europe, that taste of the many and varied cultures of the different European countries condensed into one month, setting you up for further trips to the countries you liked the most.
The amazing experience of one day being in a capital city of one country, the next day being in the capital of its neighbour, then if you need some country time heading next to a national park, or the alps, or the beach is still there. And you can decide this pretty much on the fly, as you meet people they may suggest places you never heard of and you can make a side trip out there.
Interrail is still an amazing trip for anyone wanting to explore Europe. True, air travel is much cheaper these days, but for an on the ground experience, Interrail is still great. For the young – finding their way through Europe, or for older people wishing to do it all again, it’s still to be recommended, and the options now are wider than they were back then. Eastern Europe here I come…