Photograph credits: Olasubomi Tolu-Ogunpolu
It’s been a while since I last posted, which I totally apologise for (I’ve been adjusting to university, whoop whoop!), but I wanted to update you guys on the last instalment of the InterRail series. The earlier posts focused on preparing for your InterRail trip and now that I’ve finally experienced it for myself, I thought I’d share with you some things that I wish I knew before the journey (some of which I learned the hard way!)
1. Book your train reservations in advance!
Everyone always says this and it’s one of the first things the InterRail site tells you to do, but don’t think 3 months in advance is too early; we waited until a couple of weeks to book our Eurostar reservation (from London to Brussels) and unfortunately, there were no tickets for that day or the next! We ended having to shuffle up our trip to make it work.
2. Write down your route ON PAPER!
I get it, really, I do. In the age of smartphones and inclusive data plans, it’s easy to want to store all your plans on your phone- especially when InterRail offers a killer Rail Planner app that makes on the go plans that much easier. You might argue that planning everything takes the fun out of the exploring, but I’m begging you- just scrawl a daily plan of your routes down on a sheet of paper. Doing this made our lives so much easier as we travelled and if we ran out of battery (not every train has a charging port), we still had an idea of where we needed to catch our trains. Try to have a Plan B for every step of the way (if you can) to avoid getting stranded. By giving yourself different options, you can factor in any curveballs such as train delays (taking the pressure off you and your travel buddy!)
Also, having a sheet of paper allows you to ask for help without needing to wave your phone in people’s faces, so it’s a win-win situation.
3. Google Maps is your best friend
You heard me. If you’re not familiar with Google Maps, get to it quick. When used in partnership with the Rail Planner app, you’ll have nothing to fear. Google Maps shows you the timetable for trains going to a certain place and also the platforms that you’ll catch your trains from. This means that before you leave, you know exactly where you’re going and won’t spend valuable minutes looking like a tourist way out of their depth.
A word of warning, it can be a little tricky to navigate with Google Maps when walking I’m not usually bad at directions but we spent over two hours lugging our bags around Bern at night in an attempt to find our hotel in what should have been a 30 minute walk. Practice in a familiar neighbourhood before taking the leap to avoid pulling a stunt like ours.
4. Do your research
Before the trip, my sister and I were aware that Switzerland is a relatively expensive country, and so we thought we were prepared to part with money – key word here is thought. Switzerland was shockingly expensive to our young, fresh out of school selves and we ended up having to severely ration out our finances in order to strike a balance between feeding ourselves and sightseeing. Of course, grocery stores and supermarkets are the best places to shop for food, but these were still so expensive. A better option is to pack a lot of food and snacks with you; that way, you can spend more on other things.
5. Go easy on yourself
Initially, my sister and I attempted to learn some phrases in German and French to help with our travels (we’re of the opinion that it’s a little obnoxious to put no effort into languages when you’re travelling). Unfortunately, we forgot that Switzerland has 4 very different languages spoken across the regions; French, German, Italian and Romansh. And the languages were not strictly divided into regions either; in a place where German is commonly spoken, someone might speak French instead. What we did find, however, was that any one of these languages were okay – we were generally understood and people were always very pleasant if you just gave them a friendly smile.
6. It’s a lot less difficult than it seems
I’ll be the first to admit it, an InterRail adventure can be so difficult to plan and with all the anxieties of being in a foreign country, it’s very easy to have a lot of nervousness about what to expect. As human beings, most of us are a lot better at adapting to new situations and environments than we give ourselves credit for. The most important thing to do is to try to stay calm and take each day as it comes. Ask for help whenever you need it; most people aren’t jerks and everyone we interacted with was incredibly pleasant, from the gentleman who helped me lift my bags on the train to Basel, to the lady and her son who gave us some tips on our way to Thun. It’s difficult to do, but have a little faith in humanity’s decency.
That’s all for now! I can definitely say that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience InterRailing and every lesson learned was translatable to my life back home. I gained so much confidence after the journey, and it was the perfect taste of independence before the big move to university. If you’ve ever been InterRailing or even just travelling, what’s the one thing you wish you’d known before departure?