Someone asked me the other day what interrailing is. Yet another icon of my youth has bitten the dust, I thought to myself. When I were a lad, if you were under 26 you could pay £120 and buy this ticket that gave you free rail travel for a month all over Europe (which in those days excluded Eastern Europe). Most people I knew did it at least once; I did it two and a half times. First in the summer of 1986 with my then girlfriend, just before we both started at college, taking in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium; then a half-ticket (where you could only travel on ten of the days within the month) in 1990 to go to Finland with my sister, though I took a detour down to Austria to touch base with my (relatively recently acquired) girlfriend; and finally, just before I got too old for it, with same girlfriend (subsequently my wife) in spring of 1992, this time striking as far east as newly reunified Berlin and as far west as Portugal. Living in Belfast the trick was to buy it in Dublin, as it only got you a 50% discount in the country you bought it but free travel everywhere else.

Well, turns out interrailing hasn’t completely bitten the dust, though it has become a lot more costly. According to the ropy English of the official website, Europe (now expanded to everywhere except the former Soviet Union, Serbia or Albania, but including Morocco) is split into eight zones; you can get a 16-day ticket for one zone for €210, a 22-day ticket for two zones for €289, or a month-long ticket for all eight zones for €399 – that’s if you’re under 26; we old folks pay 40% more. Strikes me as rather expensive, when you can have a week in the Canaries for a third of that. The two-zone ticket seems like the best value though.

For Americans there are various alternative options including the Eurail pass which is staggeringly expensive, even with the cheap dollar of today, and doesn’t even cover Eastern Europe – or the UK. No wonder it’s got less popular.

I do a certain amount of train travel even now – often by Thalys to Paris (and once to Cologne), sometimes by Eurostar to London, and last year overnight to Berlin and back. It always brings me back to those days of juggling the potential discomfort of yet another night on the train versus the cost of a night in a youth hostel. And of course the thrill of travelling with your girlfriend – “Did the train move for you, dear?” as we used to joke. But enough of that.

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