Interrail was founded in 1972 to help young Europeans explore the continent. Nowadays, the service is open to people of all ages. Thirty-one countries are now covered by Interrail, meaning that a Global Pass covers travel from northern Norway down into Turkey, and from Portugal across to Romania.
A summer Interrail tour allowed me to travel from my home in northern England to eastern Germany and back again. I stopped at several destinations along the way, including Rotterdam, Hannover and Berlin.
Here’s a look at why an Interrail Global Pass is a great way to see Europe, and why you should consider travelling by train.
1. Interrailing isn’t just for youngsters
When Interrail was founded, back in the early 1970s, tickets were sold only to those up to the age of 21. Things changed in 1998, when Interrail became available to people of all ages. Discounted Youth passes are available for people aged from 12 to 27, while Senior passes are valid for those aged 60 and over.
In the early years of Interrail, when passes were valid in 21 countries, the usual month-long journeys across Europe were seen as a rite of passage experience.
Nowadays, gap years featuring international air travel to distant continents have become the modern equivalent.
Whatever your age, overland journeys by train remain a great way of meeting people and discovering new places.
2. Rail travel is environmentally friendly
Compared with other forms of transport, rail travel is a relatively environmentally friendly method for travelling long distances.
Interested in estimating your journey’s carbon emissions? You can find a handful of carbon footprint calculators online. You can type in the city you’re going to, the airport code or the distance you’re travelling, and you’ll be given an estimate of the carbon emissions produced by your choice of transport.
As an example, if you were travelling to Lisbon from London, Eco Passenger estimates that the carbon dioxide emissions produced for the journey would be 197.8kg by car, 145.8kg when flying and only 53.4kg via rail.
3. Children travel free-of-charge
Parents with young children make up one of the fastest growing groups of Interrail users. Up to two children can travel free-of-charge with each adult pass holder.
4. A relaxed journey
There’s often a concern about entertainment during journeys. But watching the ever-changing scenery out the window can be fascinating for all ages, and a great break from screen time or reading.
It can be easier to get up and stretch your legs on trains, with train carriages offering more room while travelling than a car or plane.
5. Flexibility while you travel
Several Interrail passes are available, ranging from three days of travel in a month, to three months of continuous travel.
Each time you travel you simply have to write the date, starting point and end point of your journey on a log inside the pass, which conductors check and stamp along the way.
On my journey, most of the time I didn’t have to commit to travelling on pre-booked trains. This gave me the freedom to spend extra time in cities that I found most interesting.
Seat reservations were necessary for my first and last journeys within the UK. Reservations are needed for travel on high-speed trains, some overnight services and certain scenic routes, including Glacier Express and Bernina Express.
Though seat reservations are recommended during the summer and Christmas holiday seasons, I didn’t have any problem finding a place to sit. But if you’re travelling as a group, it may be worth reserving seats to make sure you’re all sat together for the journey.
6. Treat yourself to First Class
My first Interrail tour was as a cash-strapped student several years ago. I stayed in hostels, tents and when possible, travelled overnight to save on accommodation.
That initial Interrail journey ignited a lifelong passion for travel. Travelling with Interrail gave me the opportunity to drink beer in Munich’s Hofbräuhaus, steep in the thermal water of Budapest’s Szechenyi Baths and stare up at the artwork of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
Now that I’ve upgraded from a backpack to a suitcase, I opted to travel First Class. Doing so gave me a bit more room and comfort while sitting back and enjoying the journey.
7. Meeting new people
One of the things I enjoy about travel is meeting people and striking up a conversation. Conversations often provide insight into destinations that I don’t know well.
I find rail travel conducive to chatting, as you can face the other person across a table and engage with them.