I’ve just finished an Interrail trip with my adult children (all students). We started in Amsterdam, then we moved on to Stuttgart, then Prague, Salzburg and finally Venice. We stopped off briefly in Mannheim and Vienna along the way.

Interrailing is the way to go if you want an adventure rather than just a holiday. It’s a vacation that requires you to make spot decisions all the time, and not all of those decisions will be the right ones. Murphy’s Law applies: multiple things can and will go wrong. Each day, you are going to experience something new and different, and each day you are creating memories that will last a lifetime.

I did my first Interrail in 1988, and my second one in 1990. 32 years have passed before embarking on Interrail Number Three. Many things have changed in the meantime: the internet, children, that kind of thing. So this trip was very different to my first two trips in so many ways.

Here are a few tips that might help if you are planning a similar Interrail.

Plan Early

For me, much of the fun of Interrailing is the advance planning, and the build up of anticipation that accompanies a well planned trip.

The first question I asked myself was where we would go. This was a surprisingly easy decision. Cork, where I live, has limited connections to Europe, so we placed Amsterdam as our first destination, and Venice our last. Both cities have direct flights to Cork.

It was then just a matter of filling in cities along the way. I lived in Prague for a few months in the 1990s and I still have a good friend there, so this was pencilled in immediately. I also have family members living near Stuttgart, so that went into the book. The last destination was a matter of geography: what’s a good place to stay between Prague and Venice? Oh, look: Salzburg.


Limit your destinations

Depending on how much time you have overall, ideally you should spend about three nights in each place. Long distance travelling is tiring, so you will need to give yourself at least a day to travel, a day to explore and a day to take it easy. Packing all of Europe into a two or three week vacation would not be much fun, so choose a limited number of cities and make the most of your stays while you are there.


Pre-book your accommodation

I have bad memories of seeking accommodation when I arrived into new cities on my earlier Interrails . With tools like booking.com and Airbnb, these days are gone. Book your accommodation in advance and be done with it. This alone will remove the single biggest source of stress from your holiday.

I used a combination of booking.com and Airbnb for the trip. In all cases the accommodation was great: in Prague we ended up close to Charles Bridge and our apartments in Venice and Salzburg were less than 10 minutes from the main train stations: a blessing after a long journey. Both places came well recommended.

Choosing accommodation early also allows you to better manage your cash flow when you are travelling: some of the biggest expenses will already have been cared for.

With AirBnB you can change your mind quite close to the travel date. This is a real plus, avoiding you from being caught with a no-refund booking if plans need to change.


Plan for contingencies

The nature of Interrail is that not everything will go right, so plan for contingencies. In these post-pandemic times, you need to have good travel insurance. There are other things you can do, such as booking extra luggage if you are flying there, increasing the number of travel days on your Interrail ticket, and bringing along a small first aid kid, tissues and over-the-counter painkillers. Think about how you might handle one of your party getting sick or coming down with Covid: these are real possibilities that need to be considered.

On our trip, one of my sons got a bit too much sun one day. He was sick for a few hours. He then had a few unannounced nosebleeds during the remainder of the trip. He needed a pack of tissues at the ready when it happened.


Pack light

I think one of our biggest mistakes was to pack too much. One of my sons brought a big 20kg bag, that we aptly named ‘Gigantopithicus’ due to its ungainliness. Because many Airbnbs had their own washing machines, we were able to wash our clothes regularly. We only needed a few days worth of underwear, tops and shorts. One small 10kg bag and another 10kg backpack was more than enough.

Because we were travelling during the height of the summer, I packed no warm clothes; I depended on a very light rain jacket if things got a bit chilly at night.

A good pair of comfortable light walking shoes is very important. We walked well over 130km during our trip. You should also bring charging cables, adaptors and power packs for additional charging during the day.

Along with my 10kg backpack, I brought with me another very small backpack to carry water bottles, cameras, sun cream and sunglasses during the day – whatever I needed during my walk around each city.

I also wore light mountaineering trousers that could be quickly converted into shorts if needed. It had additional pockets for my phone, my passport and my wallet.


Find local supermarkets

Unless you are made of money, dining out for breakfast, lunch and dinner will cost you an arm and a leg. So, finding a local supermarket is absolutely essential. A supermarket shop will help greatly to reduce your travel costs. Alcohol in particular is way cheaper in the supermarkets, and you can quickly add bread, butter, cheese, cooked meat and milk to your shop – and even bring these along to your further destinations. The local grocery foods are wonderful – they are well provisioned with lots of local specialties. They are also much more likely to take cards instead of cash, still a problem for some restaurants.


Manage your data

When abroad, there is a limit to how much broadband you can use, so keep an eye on your mobile data. You don’t have to turn it off completely as the broadband limit is quite generous, but you should selectively turn off mobile data for apps you don’t need to use, thus giving you some control. It’s possible to see how much of your allowance you have used. In the end we had plenty of unused data: it would have been more of a concern if we were downloading lots of movies, gaming, navigating extensively or using lots of data heavy mobile apps while out and about.


Create online spaces for yourselves

For our trip, we set up joint picture sharing. We encouraged each other to take plenty of pictures and videos and we regularly uploaded these to our shared account. One of my sons now has the daunting task of creating a somewhat coherent account of our trip, but we can now enjoy both edited and non-edited versions of our trip.

We also created a shared account for messaging, so we could share documents and locations quickly, and communicate with each other if we were apart.

Finally we all shared our locations with each other, allowing us to find each other without much fuss, should we need to do so.

I found the whole experience of being online like this really helpful. A quick shared link helped to avoid lots of conversation and haggling. It also took the pressure off me to organise everything and it allowed for a second or third set of eyes and ears should I make a mistake.