CONNECTING TRAINS: How Interrail brings young people together
May 27, 2024

CONNECTING TRAINS: How Interrail brings young people together


Five months, 24 countries and the best time of my life. On an extensive Interrail trip through Europe, I’ve experienced what rail travel on the continent is like. It has the power to connect people across borders and creates a unique feeling for the continent. Based on a personal trip report, here’s how exploring Europe by train unites young people and brings Europe closer together.

While the sun slowly sets over the roofs of Athens, I’m sitting at a long table with a group of young people. We’re talking, playing cards, drinking beer and glancing at the beautiful Acropolis. It’s a warm evening at the end of May, and all of us are using the chance to enjoy the beautiful view from the hostel’s roof terrace. The people gathered at my table come from all around the world. What brings us together is our desire to travel – and, for many of us, an Interrail or Eurail ticket.

Interrail is the name of a very special train ticket, which allows its owner to use all trains (and some ferries) in 33 European countries. The Interrail pass is available to European residents only, while Eurail is the equivalent for non-Europeans. In 2022, the Interrail ticket celebrated its 50th anniversary. In the same year, about 600.000 tickets were sold throughout Europe. Every year, 18-year-old Europeans also have the chance to win an Interrail pass through the European Commission’s “DiscoverEU” initiative. Contrary to popular belief, however, Interrail passes are not reserved for the continent’s youth, but can be acquired by people of every age.

New people all along the way

Almost two years have passed since the sunset gathering in Athens. It’s not just a magnificent memory, but also a perfect example to illustrate what the Interrail experience is like. Evenings like this were very common on my five-month trip. No matter if I went to big cities like Paris or small places like Hvar, I formed connections with so many people. The thousands of young travellers who pack their backpack and hop on a train, like I did, all want the same: to explore Europe – and to meet new people. While that can be difficult in everyday life, travelling makes it incredibly easy. You meet people literally everywhere, not only in hostels, where you share a room with fellow travellers. I’ve also met people on free walking tours, pub crawls or simply by taking the train.

In Warsaw, for example, while checking into my room, I encountered Darragh from Ireland. It turned out that he was just starting his first solo trip, and we instantly clicked. That afternoon, we explored the old town, and ended up spending the next couple of days together, sometimes accompanied by other people from our hostel. During our time in Warsaw, Darragh and I discussed all kinds of topics, from relationships to politics. What a pleasure these spontaneous connections are!

Exploring Europe as a European

Yet that holds true for other kinds of travelling, too. You can meet people outside Europe, and you don’t have to travel by train for that. What is special about Interrail, apart from connecting with so many people, is that you also form a connection with your own continent. Before I finished high school, my idea was to go to Australia – as far away as possible. But at some point, I questioned why. After all, I haven’t even seen much of Europe. So instead of flying to the other side of the world, I sat down to plan an extensive Interrail trip, with just a rough idea of how that works. What I noticed right away was how much you can already learn about places just from maps. One simple example: ask yourself if you could point out Liechtenstein on a map. Even if you’re a geography whiz, like many YEAs are, that’s probably a tough one. Before my trip, I certainly couldn’t. Yet when you want to travel from Zurich to Vienna by train, you can’t help but notice this tiny country in between. Thus, through the painstaking process of working out an itinerary, one steadily gets a better understanding of Europe.

Once the trip starts, the continent fully unfolds in all its diversity. Places that I imagined in my head many times turned out to be very different. Stereotypes were broken (and, in some cases, confirmed). For the first time, I got an impression of just how vast the EU is, that it ranges all the way from the lovely canals of Amsterdam to the small Greek islands in the Mediterranean. And a certain attachment to places emerged. Whenever I see a news story about another European country now, I can be almost sure that I’ve visited at least its capital. I can recall what it felt and smelled like, who I met there and what I’ve seen. 

Slow travel

Travelling by train fosters this experience.  A weekend trip by plane to Prague is fun, no doubt, but it’s not nearly as memorable as going along the Elbe in a Czech train, seeing the landscape change while hearing multilingual announcements in the background. For any country that I’ve seen on my trip, I carry an image in my head of lengthy train journeys: over bridges in the sea in Denmark, along deep green hills in Romania, between gigantic mountains in Austria or desert-like valleys in Spain. It’s slow travel in every sense of the word.  Getting woken up in the middle of the night by Hungarian border guards, trying to communicate with Portuguese conductors or having random conversations in a Bulgarian regional train are memories that remain. Last but not least, train travel is far better for the climate than flying, since it reduces emissions by around 86%.

Connecting with new people and places on a train journey through Europe – that’s what makes the Interrail experience exceptional. To slowly get a feeling for the continent while encountering fellow travellers all along the way is a truly magical memory, and something I can recommend to anyone. It taught me so much about Europe and has given me the desire to explore even more of it. In the bigger picture, there’s a lot of talk about whether there is a European public. How can we form one, if not by travelling? Going to places yourself is, in my opinion, the very best thing you can do to understand them better, and to develop a sense of unity. 

References

Number of Interrail tickets sold hits record high this year as train travel surges in popularity’, The Independent, 14 November 2022

DiscoverEU – If you’re 18 and a resident in an Erasmus+ Programme country, it’s time to expand your comfort zone, European CommissionWhich form of transport has the smallest carbon footprint?’, Our World in Data, 30 August 2023




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