Ever felt like cramming several years’ worth of city breaks in to a matter of weeks, with the added luxuries of sleep deprivation, theft of property and broken shoulders from lugging around a monstrous rucksack? So does everyone else too, according to your newsfeed!
There they are, gloating as they nearly knock down pedestrians in their Prague Segway tour selfie or risking contracting altitude sickness in the alps for the sake of a new profile picture.
You’re jealous and you want to give it a go. Having been there, done that (and cut the wristband off in shame) I feel qualified enough to offer a few packing and purchase tips to those of you wanting to whirl around the continent.
1. The Interrailing planner app
Gone are the days when everything had to be done by guidebook, and so the official interrailing planner app is the digital answer. With or without wifi, this little gem tells you the best trains to catch, their numbers and stops, whether they require reservation in advance (sadly this is still a thing on some trains, even after forking out for your pass) and it even runs a timer alongside your selected train journey that can show you what station you’re passing through and how long each stop is. Pretty handy, no? On top of this I’d advise visiting a ticket office at least a day before to double check that your proposed route is viable (it doesn’t take cancellations into account, for instance) and here you can reserve tickets if need be. The last thing you want is to hide in the toilet for eight hours from the train controller.
Whether it’s the itchiness, the echoing or the plain fact that wearing them makes you feel like your Grandma, earplugs aren’t what you’d call fun. However, when the fate of your good night’s sleep depends on whether your dorm mates turn in to snarling sheet monsters when curfew hits, earplugs are the only solution to drowning them out. Pack them.
3. a Padlock
I doubt you being able to find one interrailing article that doesn’t stress the advantages of buying your own lock, but seriously – buy your own lock! The number of hostels who will charge you for using theirs is quite a shocker and when it’s not wrapped around a locker it can be put to good use keeping bag zips together. Sure, no matter how expensive or mechanical a lock you buy, if somebody wants to steal your sweaty underwear then they’ll stop at nothing. For me and everyone else I met, locks were enough of a visual deterrent to keep our stuff from going walkabout.
4. a Travel Towel
Like with padlocks, not all hostels are benevolent enough to lend their Egyptian cotton out for free. When drying yourself can cost five euros a time, a travel towel (and by this I’m talking something half the size and weight of the beach towel you bought in Majorca when you were ten) from a specialist camping shop will be your hero. They dry ludicrously fast and weigh almost nothing.
5. Free walking tours
Not a purchase as such, but when you’re taking a look in to what your next destination has to offer, bear in mind that most major cities offer free walking tours in English. You may well be asked to tip the tour guide at the end but this is always entirely optional. It’s a great way to start off a few days in a new place because it grasp on the history and layout, with which you can go on to make more specific plans.
6. an Interrailing pass holder
I was gutted to discover that every interrailer apart from me and my friend had been given a plastic wallet to protect the pass when it’d been sent to them. This might make me a minority, but even so, if you aren’t lucky enough to get sent one then buy your own. The only thing holding my pass together after a month was copious amounts of cellotape.
If you’re heading off to anywhere remotely hotter than Britain, or you’ve checked in to a bed-bug ridden hostel, you’re going to resemble Mr Blobby in a matter of days. Antihistamines are the answer to making critters’ love of chewing on your skin look a bit less hideous.
8. Blister plasters
If you thought your legs were going to look bad from all the bites, don’t even get me started on the feet. Prepare for your faith in your favourite trainers to be broken – after wearing any footwear for days, they’re going to rub your feet raw. On top of that, the dry skin isn’t much better either, so it’s worth throwing in a decent deep moisturiser. As for the smell, you’ll learn to live with it.
9. Travel Money cards
We’re not all fiscally astute enough to be with a bank who gives us decent exchange rates and no international charges, making travel money cards the easy solution. Most banks and companies such as the Post Office and Thomas Cook offer their own, all with better exchange rates than you’d find at a booth that charges commission. Instead of buying a set amount of cash in the currency you need, you can load more money on to your card as and when you need it to prevent yourself overspending or losing out when you convert back to GBP. Some cards even come with smartphone apps that work over the worst hostel wifi. My advice would be to travel with two of these – one on your person and one stowed in the deep, dark depths of your bag so that if one goes missing you have a backup, because waiting for them to send you a replacement is a massive pain.
10. Pickpocket proof underwear
As ridiculous as this sounds, hear me out. With a quick search on amazon or similar sites, you’ll soon come across ranges of thin, stretchy gym shorts, t-shirts (you name it, they do it) with hidden pockets that can fit cards, cash, passports and phones and be worn invisibly under everything else. I was bought mine as a joke but it turned out to be one of the most helpful things I travelled with. During the day when I carried a bag, they were home to my backup travel card (who’s going to look for money in your dirty underwear?) and by night they were a saviour as I stumbled through the ruin bars of Budapest, not knowing what day it was. Consider it if, like me, you have a talent putting important things down in stupid places.
11. Travel Diary
One last, cheesy suggestion! By the time your travels are over, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount you’ve crammed in to such a short space of time. There’ll be little observations, gags and people you meet who you just wouldn’t remember without putting pen to paper. Putting a bit of time aside to write in a travel diary as you go along is a great way to reflect on each day and bag yourself a cool souvenir in the process.
Hopefully these hints might offer a little variety on the barrage of other recommendations you’ll get as soon as you tell anyone what your travel plans are; all that’s left to do is get out there and see it!