How Not to Sleep Rough or Die Hungry; Tips on Europe by Rail

A month after two friends and I left to travel Europe by train, we were out of pocket, numb from uncomfortable seats, and generally fed up of each other, but it was a great adventure never the less. If you’ve got the Europe bug, hopefully this summary of short-comings and successes will help you avoid our pitfalls and make the most of your trip.


Consider your travel options

We travelled by InterRail, an international rail-card giving discounted fares across Europe. You still buy individual tickets, but it’s a lot cheaper (around 15 Euros in 2007). The National Express from London to Paris was inexpensive, and a flight was easy for getting home.


Plan a route, but be flexible

You’ll have up to ten separate journeys if travelling by InterRail, so think where you’d like to start. We travelled clockwise until Barcelona, but you could fly to the east, such as Bulgaria, or start in Portugal and head out through Spain. I’d advise to be flexible with destinations and consider smaller or less known towns and cities as the capitals became a bit samey for us.


Budget, and don’t splash all your cash upfront

Make sure you’ve got a realistic amount and don’t spend it all on fancy food and beers right away. A meal out at each destination worked for us, and in a pinch, bread and honey made a nice lunch!


Don’t bother with travellers cheques

If you’d rather the security then go ahead, but for me, travellers cheques have always been a burden, and even in Europe I had trouble exchanging them. I find it easier to take some currency and top up with a few debit card withdrawals, as Natwest have only ever charged a small fee in both Europe and the States.


Learn a language

Although I’m no linguist, it can give you more flexibility to learn a language or brush up on your skills. I had my basic French in Paris, but we couldn’t communicate with a bus driver in Spain and were lucky when a passenger came to help.


Book a hostel in advance

We had to settle for a grotty room in Amsterdam as we didn’t book ahead and all the hostels in our guides were full. Even if you only know your next stop a few days in advance, don’t chance it. It can reduce walking time and give you more security.


Some travel ideas

With several floors of techno and the feel of an underground nightclub, Berlin’s Berghain is a must for anyone who likes clubbing.

Stay outside the centre in Prague where the beer is (or at least was) much cheaper, and consider the Plus Prague Hostel for nice rooms and cheap rates.

Go to the Xtracold ice bar in Amsterdam, and if you’re feeling brave, hire some bikes and pedal the beautiful parks and busy cycle lanes.

Consider a trip to the Alps out of season and you might get a free upgrade on your room. We did in Bad Gastein, Austria, and had great fun hiking and white water rafting.

Try sudden death beer at A La Mort Subite in Brussels and walk cobbled streets to the chocolatiers, though if you’re planning a trip to Belgium, we heard Bruges has more to offer.


Have fun, and don’t kill each other

It can be hard travelling all day with a heavy pack and spending a month stuck with the same company can lead to tension, but remember, it’s an adventure, so get chased out of bars, stay in dodgy hostels, and live off of bread, just make sure you enjoy it as you do.

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