How to budget for an Interrail trip of a lifetime
We dedicate this article, not to the person who found it by chance but to the real go-getter who urgently typed into Google ‘how much does interrailing cost?’ after realising at 2 am that they want to see more of the world. Maybe you’ve just been fired (your boss was an idiot) or you’ve just come out of a sticky breakup (they didn’t deserve you anyway) and you’ve just come to the very logical conclusion that, travelling by train and stopping off in of your favourite countries is a dream that you just can’t ignore any longer (we don’t blame you).
Seeing 30 different countries in the space of four weeks, posing for photos and exploring the trendiest cities is all fun and games until you arrive home, check your bank balance, and end up living off stale toast and cheese for the rest of the month (yeah, it’s a no from us). Contrary to popular belief, an interrail trip needn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you budget properly, research thoroughly and follow these tips, your trip should be silky smooth. We can’t say the same for some of the train journeys, but that’s another story.
In no particular order, here is all the info you need to work out how much an interrail trip will cost and how to interrail on a budget.
*Disclaimer* First check if you need an Interrail or Eurail pass. Luckily the hard work is all done for you on Interrail’s website. Just pop the location of where your passport was issued and where you’re living and voilà, the pass you need will appear. From there, you can decide what type of pass is best suited to you and your future endeavours.
1. Buy an Interrail pass
An Interrail pass gives you tons of discounts on accommodation, eating out, sightseeing, and hitting the shops. With one magical ticket, you can travel freely on Europe’s trains for up to a month. You’ll have a certain number of travel days within that month so if you really want to budget, save these days for the long expensive trips and pay for the shorter trips yourself.
2. Choose whether to go for the global pass or single country ticket
Choose either a single country ticket, which starts at €47 or a global pass, which starts at €189, and lets you ride on trains in 30 different countries, including France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. One of the cheapest options is to use this pass on 5 days over 2 weeks which costs €208 for under 27s. If you need more from your pass, you can pick to travel on 15 days in a month which will only set you back €376 and works out cheaper as you’re tripling your number of travel days. It’s worth mentioning that on your travel days you can hop on as many trains as you like. If you can stomach a 12-hour train journey through the bumpy Bosnian wilderness then more power to you.
3. Be aware of the reservation fee
Interrail (and Eurail) passes are accepted on most trains throughout Europe, but you’ll need to reserve a seat on most high speed or international trains: this costs money. The reservation fee can be as little as €0.30 euros for a train trip around Bulgaria or as much as €20 euros for a HGV trip through France. You can have a full look at the fees for each country and decide which option suits you best.
4. Make the most of your transport options
Research alternative routes to the popular ones whilst interrailing. Yes, everyone else might be hopping on a high-speed train- with a fancy tea and coffee station – straight to Paris, but if you use a domestic train and arrive at a station just outside of the city centre, you can save yourself a small fortune. Regional trains take longer but there’s no reservation fee and they often travel through some awe-inspiring country landscape. Also, bear in mind that night trains, although they do have reservation fees, are a great way of saving on accommodation. Now, who wouldn’t want that?
5. Research your interrailing destination
Choose the places you want to explore carefully so that you can plan your budget. Sure, happiness is the journey and not the destination, but nothing wipes the smile off your face like realising you’ve paid far too much for your stay. Pick places that are ‘up and coming’. Poland is always a good option, with Slovakia and the Czech Republic also letting you live the high life for less. If you can, try and avoid the most popular times to travel, when kids are running wild between June and August. You can book the same trip in October and find that many hotels have cut their prices by up to 80%. Yep, now is the perfect time to switch your mid-summer holiday to the autumn months.
6. Choose cheap accommodation
It may seem obvious but it’s important: you aren’t doing much budgeting if you’re spending all of your hard-earned cash on a bed for the night. Hotels can be expensive and who cares if they have frangipani scented hand wash in the bathroom? Wouldn’t you rather spend that money ticking another country off your bucket list? Thought so. Staying in hostels will not only save you money on food as they have kitchens where you can cook tasty meals with your new hostel-mates, but you’ll also save a tone on accommodation. Most hostels in Europe offer a variety of room types including private rooms and dorm options, where you’ll get the most for your buck. You’ll also find hostels that offer female-only dorms. Not to mention other perks such as games rooms – to dominate at foosball and pub crawls – to you know, explore the local beer culture whilst mingling with your new hostel buddies.
7. Be smart with your sightseeing
Granted, we all want to visit that city museum and take photos for the ‘gram but the fact is, if you’re smart about it, you can do this on the cheap and even for free. If you’re heading to a museum, check online and see the best day and time to go. Many European cities let you walk around their art galleries and cultural institutions for free during the last hour before closing or on a specific day during the week. When you’re travelling from one city hotspot to another, go on foot rather than paying for a guided tour or a tourist bus. You’ll burn off that extra slice of pizza, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper, win-win.
8. Don’t eat out for every meal
You’ll be shocked at how much you can save by not eating out for every meal. Plenty of hostels will give you breakfast included in the room price so that gives you lunch and dinner to scope out. A picnic is a great budget option. If you really want to eat out, why not opt for a cheap pizza slice in a European square or a sandwich from a local side-street bakery? Look for menus without English, venture off the tourist strips to find cafés where the locals go, and, if you see a man standing outside a restaurant telling you he’ll give you the best discount in town, run a mile.
Right, off you go now. Let the planning, packing and adventures begin! Once you’ve got your ticket, don’t forget to book your European hostels