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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.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 30th, 2004 03:25 am (UTC)
Sounds like a lot of fun:D
May. 30th, 2004 08:25 am (UTC)
It was. I would say three times as much fun as a week in the Canaries, though also three times the cost...
May. 30th, 2004 03:35 am (UTC)
I went Interrailing when I was at college, and it was a fantastic experience. Given inflation, currency changes, and the larger area now covered, those prices don't sound that bad, but against cheap holidays now being offered, it's not hard to see how take-up is lower.
May. 30th, 2004 08:31 am (UTC)
I was dubious about the inflation argument, but it turns out you're absolutely right. Prices (according to the UK consumer price index) are 80% higher now than they were in 1986, so £120 turns into £220 which is €330; so if anything the price is cheaper now than it was then, with more countries covered. What has happened of course is that air fares are now competitive with trains; indeed flying from here to London the train is slightly more costly (but so much more comfortable and convenient).
May. 30th, 2004 08:39 am (UTC)
On second thoughts €330 is cheaper than the present price of €399, so in fact it's more than just inflation. (The extra countries no doubt make a difference, as you note.)
May. 30th, 2004 03:48 am (UTC)
I've done the US equivalent of this twice. There's a six-week Amtrak pass that, though it's much more restricted in how many places you can officially stop than the Eurails, with a bit of creativity will take you pretty much anyplace you want to go. The first time I went from New York to Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Austin, back to Chicago and home. The second time I decided to look over the Northwest -- Cleveland to Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Los Angeles (had to go there, there was a family bat mitzvah), up the coast to Oregon, Seattle, then across to Whitefish Montana, South Dakota, down to Chicago (every train in the country runs through Chicago, except the coastal runs), Pittsburgh, and back to Cleveland.

Since I've already done the midwest in varying ways, and I lived in the northeast for most of my life, that leaves the southeast, which I am afraid I won't be able to do by train. Train service to the American southeast has been lousy since General Sherman tore up the tracks.
May. 30th, 2004 08:36 am (UTC)
Hmm, checked out the Amtrak website and it is indeed pretty good value - too often I have been stung by the huge fares on the NY-DC route, perhaps this might be a way around it!
May. 30th, 2004 08:54 am (UTC)
The catch is really that the long distance routes are three day trips or more. This can be tough in a coach seat. My first several-week trip I took on a plain coach ticket and slept on the floor under the seats, but I was 23 then. The second one I was 33, and I tried to do the same thing and found my old bones wouldn't tolerate it, so I switched halfway through to sleeper cars, which cost more. Though they are a wonderfully grand way to see the country if one can afford them.
May. 30th, 2004 03:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, agreed about the "old bones" thing! When I first went to college I thought nothing of doing the trip from Cambridge to Ireland by bus. Gradually over the years I graduated to the train and then eventually to flying. Before I turned 23, I'm sorry to sy.
May. 30th, 2004 04:15 am (UTC)

In a box of treasured ephemera somewhere in this house is my Interrail pass, from the summer of 1983.

Of course, the then-proto-dear_hubby and I also travelled after my Interrail days, I should really write down some of those adventures. Not as outrageous as some, but surreal nonetheless.

Crazy(Intoned by an East German border guard/visa dispenser, solemnly yet smiling, at 2 a.m.:"Eine Amerikanische und einer Niederlander, die zusamen reisen!" As if we were lion and lamb...)Soph
May. 30th, 2004 08:39 am (UTC)
Of course, you could always write down said adventures in livejournal but backdate them to the correct date and year - might give you the farthest back entries on lj!

East Germans of course loved to get a rise out of the capitalist world. A coping mechanism...
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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