Choosing to travel by interrail is one of the most exhilarating yet cost effective ways of seeing the world. If you’re planning your trip right now, you can make your funds stretch even further as you get ready for the excitement of exploring Europe by train.
To mark the date and because I know a lot of people, like I did, will currently be planning their trip, here’s my guide on making an interrail budget and making it work for you:
(This only makes me a little bit nostalgic!)
How much money do you have?
First things first, check your bank account and find out how much you have for your trip. This is really important as it effects how long you can go for, the accommodation you can research and also which countries you can visit; Norway is a lot more expensive than Romania for example. As money will change your route, bite the bullet before you daydream about unrealistic destinations.
Once you have a figure, write a list of essentials for interrail, such as the euro pass ticket, backpack and any injections you need before you go that aren’t covered by the NHS. You ideally want to end up with a spending figure for your days abroad. You can see my personal budget detailed in an earlier post.
I recommend doing all of this in a Google spreadsheet or in Excel as all the maths is done for you and you can also update it while you’re away using all the free-wifi (I didn’t do this but it can be a good way of preventing overspend).
Book accommodation in advance
As I said, you want to end up with a spending figure for your travel days so you can invest in attraction fees, nights out and trying the best local cuisine you can find. Before you go – but after you’ve got your pass as then you know you’re not backing out! – find accommodation for at least the first three or four destinations. This will give you some grounding as well as a general idea of overall cost. If you have a solid route and can plan ahead for all destinations, and don’t mind the commitment*, this is even better.
Personally, I booked everything in advance because I didn’t want to worry as a solo female traveller about having nowhere to stay, or being left with the dregs of unbooked accommodation that’s typically available for a reason!
Avoid train reservations and extra fees
During your research you’ll hear about services that book your reservations on trains for you, for a fee. It really isn’t needed. The trains rarely ever get full and you can reserve your seat up until the train leaves the platform! It’s actually a lot like buying a standard ticket in the UK, but you’re required to sit in an allocated seat; this is always checked.
Now, something I realised in my second month away when my interrail pass ran out was that it’s worth going up to train staff at the ticket office rather than using the machines. The machines only offer the standard pricing but the officer has access to discounts and can tell you about cheaper times to travel. When I left Venice I spent about twenty minutes going through the remainder of my journey through Italy and must have saved around 60 Euros, just by talking to a person. Just ensure your tickets are validated to avoid fines.
Aside from travel, watch out in restaurants for forced service charges and ‘freebies’ before a meal or drink. I spent most of my time grabbing food on the go from vendors, which was a great and tasty way to by-pass this issue!
One final tip, you can book attractions online and usually save on fees. I booked in advance for the Colosseum and also got a queue jump included. If you know you definitely want to go, it’s worth that little bit of organisation.
Set a daily or weekly budget
It doesn’t sound remotely in the spirit of travel and being a free spirit exploring the world, but it makes sense to give yourself some time limits for expenditure. If daily seems too rigid, and I think I agree, set a weekly amount separate from accommodation and train costs. You won’t look at it every day, maybe only twice a week, but it gives you that reality check and tells you when to step back and find something free to enjoy, like a city walking tour, which I can’t vouch for enough. Honestly. I did seven.
Which brings me to…
Free events and attractions!
It doesn’t cost the Earth to see the world (coined by Get Jaunty, 6th June 2016). Lots of museums and interesting buildings such as Cathedrals are free to enter, there are free city walking tours which can last several wonderful hours and particularly in Eastern Europe, food is very affordable.
Sometimes, you will need to pause and consider. If you think you’re paying too much for something, you probably are, but check online. Also make sure you know which country you’re in, which currency is correct and what the conversion rate is! It’s actually easy to forget when you’re going from one country to the other, believe me. This happened to me in Belgrade and I had to hang onto the notes until my return. Not very safe to carry around.
If all else fails and you really can’t spend much for a couple of days, just sit in the hostel bar and make new friends. It’s a great way to end a day.
Consider the value of experience
When it comes down to it, do not miss a once in a lifetime experience because you think you don’t have the money or are worried. If you can work around it – stay somewhere cheaper next time, grab food in supermarkets etc – then do it. If I ever doubted the cost of something, I asked myself what I thought the value of that experience was to me. That made it much easier to part with money.
In fact, I guarantee that when you come back you won’t even remember checking your budget or missing out on one activity for another, more important, event. You’ll have done so much that the sum of the journey will outweigh any cost. That being said, do plan, do save, do budget and do check!
As always, send me any questions! I spent so much time planning my interrail trip that it would be good to get some of the information out of my brain again…
*On booking.com most hotels/hostels/b&b’s have no charge for cancellation up to 24 hours before your arrival date. I made the most of this and booked different properties nearer the time and saved money on last minute deals.