Dear fellow travellers
Europe marks the half-centenary of the Interrail scheme this year. For eight months from 1 March 1972, any European resident up to 21 years old could buy a one-month Interrail pass valid in 21 countries. In that debut year, initially conceived as a one-off experiment, 87,000 passes were sold to young people who headed off to explore, along the way demonstrating an enviable ability to sleep almost anywhere. It was such a success that Interrail became a mainstream offer, still going strong after 50 years. These days, travelling with an Interrail pass is no longer a privilege of youth.
We know that many readers of hidden europe were quick off the mark in May this year when, to celebrate 50 years of Interrail, some passes were available for 50% off the list price. A superb offer that means that there are now thousands of people holding passes valid until next April but uncertain when and where to use them. The beauty of the mobile variant of the passes is that you don’t have to specify a start date at the time of purchase. Your pass can be activated anytime up to 11 months after purchase.
The discounted passes which were available in the sale allow travel for one, two or even three months. And, if you missed out on those May bargains, worry not! Even the regular prices are manageable. A one-month pass for an adult costs €670, with discounts for youths and seniors. Kids travel for free when accompanying an adult, and anyone aged 12 to 27 inclusive would pay just €503 for that one-month pass. Three-months passes run from €677 to €902 depending on the age of the traveller.
Few will really have the time or energy to spend three whole months exploring Europe by train, but with even just one month there is a rich range of possibilities. Our advice would be to focus on areas where you really can just travel spontaneously without any need for advance seat reservations. It’s an enormous privilege to be able to just hop-on-and-ride. Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Denmark, the Low Countries and Britain are among the countries where hardly any daytime trains require advance reservation, so there’s every chance to just travel on a whim. We have found that sticking to high-speed routes just becomes boring, and the greatest rewards await those travellers who take time to explore meandering rural railways.
Many years ago we featured in hidden europe magazine the story of a young Irishman who, armed with a one-month Interrail pass, visited 31 countries in 31 days. At the end of that epic, he vowed never to get on a train again.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how there was a time when excessive travel, trying to tick off half a dozen cities in a week, was something to brag about? How times have changed! These days there’s an emphasis on slow travel. That means taking time to enjoy the journey and not allowing that pleasure to be eclipsed by anticipation of arriving at your eventual destination. Indeed, some of the best journeys have no destination.
These are ideas we explored in our Manifesto for Slow Travel which was published in issue 25 of hidden europe way back in 2009. Now, it seems, slow travel is coming of age. Conscious travel, slowing down and treading lightly fit the mood of the moment. Meanwhile, Interrail provides the perfect way to venture out by rail, it being so well suited to rail journeys where the emphasis is on meandering rather than a fast dash to a distant destination.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)
You might also enjoy reading Nicky’s article on 50 years of Interrail published in The Guardian. It was the first article in a series, all by Nicky, called Rail Route of the Month.