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One taste and package holidays are forgotten
Member Name: Parisjetaime
Date: 03/09/01, updated on 03/09/01 (2429 review reads)
Advantages: Great people, low cost
Disadvantages: Night trains - urgh
I finished my first - but hopefully not my last - interrail trip last month, covering France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. Despite experiencing anger, frustration and despair like never before (have you ever tried to buy a French railway ticket?), I have to say it was the best trip of my life. So far. I want the next to be even better.
Firstly, some basics. The interrail pass allows unlimited travel for 30 days by rail through the countries that you have chosen. European countries (and Morroco and Turkey) are divided into zones - you choose which zones you want and the ticket price changes accordingly. The prices changes slightly each year, but at the time of writing a 3-zone pass (the most popular) costs £199. That might seem like a lot, but if you tried to travel without it your rail tickets would cost about 4 times as much, so it's really a bargain!
The pass doesn't cover travel in your home zone (i.e Britain and Ireland) but look out for special discounts. You get 50% off the Calais-Dover ferry crossing, for example, and 50% off rail travel in countries you have to pass through to reach the zones you paid for. Watch out for supplements - night trains cost extra (about £8), fast trains (e.g TGVs) cost extra (but not much) and in Italy, all trains except the slowest cost extra.
Your best weapon against the confusing station staff is to use the official websites to plan your route. All national rail lines should have a website with a timetable, and most have a translation button. Don't plan too far ahead; the websites aren't infallible. As soon as you know when you want to leave a place and where you want to go, trek down to the station and pick up a timetable. There is nothing more annoying than packing all your stuff, checking out of your hotel and then discovering that the next train to Barcelona is full and you'll have to wait til tomorrow for the next one.
Websites by hardened interrailers are also
extremely useful - they'll tell you where to go, where not to go, what to take and how to save money. Check out www.interrailers.com or just search for 'interrail'. Hostel sites are also very very useful. You can book places online and read people's recommendations. Good ones are www.hostelseurope.com , www.hostels.com/hostels/ and www.eurotrip.com .
All in all, you need at least £800 per person to make a decent trip. Yes, it's a lot. But it is for a month. The £800 should cover your ticket, accomodation at about £9-£10 a night, food (at about £5 per day) and sightseeing. You should also have enough for some partying. Of couse, you can save money by sleeping rough and not eating, but I don't recommend it! The best way to keep expenses low is to look around you - don't go for the first hotel, check the next street. Make sure you can convert the currency accurately. Don't buy from street vendors who want to rip off the tourists. Invest in a student card. Find some friends, buy some alcohol from an off-licence and go sit on a beach instead of a bar. Skip the metro tolls. Actually maybe not! (Although it is surprisingly easy in places like Rome.)
The essential backpack should be supportive and must, absolutely must, have a waist tie. Chances are you'll only be wearing it to walk to and from the station and hotel, so it's not really necessary to spend loads on it - mine came from Tesco, cost £25 and was absolutely fine. People will give you different advice on what to bring, but here's my list (in no logical order!):
1. Guidebooks - not too many (too heavy) but if you're in a group then spread them out between yourselves. You'll need them to get the most out of a place.
2. Plastic cutlery - so you can cut your bread, spread your marmite and eat your youghurt.
3. Marmite - if you're low on cash and can only afford bread, this turns it into a meal.
4. Photocopies of passport and insu
rance documents - very very necessary!!
5. Money belt - to avoid your credit card and passport being taken.
6. Travel wash - to wash clothes in the sink at your hostel.
7. Pack of cards - instant friend-maker!
8. Travel hairdryer - I find this necessary.
9. Plastic bags - in case stuff leaks and for putting your wet towel in.
10. Credit card - don't take travellers' cheques. Too much hassle and you'll get ripped off if you're in a hurry. Take a card and you can get money anywhere at good rates.
11. As many clothes as you can stuff in - so you don't need to wash too often. Backpackers are also big party animals so take an adequate supply of evening clothes and a pair of heels, too.
12. Language knowledge - not strictly an item. It helps soo much if you can speak a little bit of the language, so if you can't remember your GCSE French then take a phrasebook!
Now for the personal. Interrailing with a backpack is great because everyone else with a backpack on immediately relates. Even if you take the plunge and go alone don't expect to be in that state for long! If you're staying in youth hostels or pensiones, then chances are you'll meet people every night - one of the best perks of interrail. And you can swap experiences and learn some useful tips. So be friendly and make the most of it!
I hope I've inspired you a little. It took me several months of full-time work in a job I dislike to raise the money, and yes I did despair at moments, but I also saw, did and ate amazing things (Sistine chapel, Barcelona from the top of the Sagrada Familia, Venice in a gondola, Tunisian pizza, flashing at a station guard in Irun, the sweet smell of dope at 9am in Amsterdam, the Louvre, Madrileno prostitutes... the list could go on for ever). And everyone I know who's done the same has had experiences just as varied. I'll never take a package holiday again... next year, Eastern Europe!
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