backpackers

How to travel in Europe and keep your budget on track

When it comes to living well on a budget, students are in a league of their own. So who better to ask for guidance on touring around Europe than someone who provides students with their advice! Ruth Bushi works for money saving hub, savethestudent.org

Important note: This advice isn’t just for students, interrailing is a fantastic experience for travellers of all ages. 

How to travel in Europe and keep your budget on track

If you’ve got the travel bug, Europe is good for what ails you! It’s close to the UK, it’s easy to get around and, most of all, it’s budget-beating if you know where to look.

Whether you fancy a gap year, a city break or a sabbatical from work, Interrailing – seeing Europe by train – could be right up your alley. Unlike a package break, Interrailing flexes around what you fancy doing on the day – so you can head to Italy for a week, or stick around and jump over to Istanbul later in the month.

Sounds premium? Not necessarily. We’re talking fixed-price train travel, and it’s just one way to get more holiday for less cash. Read on to see how it works and how to work it for you!

What’s Interrailing?

Interrailing involves zipping around Europe by train, which makes it sound like a fancy name for, well, just catching a train. The beauty of Interrailing, however, is that you can cover a whole heap of countries and cities on a single, fixed-priced ticket.

Technically it’s called an Interrail Pass, and it lets you hop-on and off trains across the Continent with more flexibility and fewer funds.

Heads-up: Interrail.eu has confirmed that Brexit won’t affect how Interrail works, or who’s eligible for travel passes – it’s business as usual!

How does it work?

An Interrail Pass is a bit like a souped-up season ticket. Once you’ve decided what type of pass you need, you can use it to catch as many trains as you like (most national operators and some other services are included) without having to queue, book or buy individual tickets.

A Single Country Pass lets you ride the rails in just one country. As a rough guide, you can soak up Spain from £121, whereas Serbia will set you back just £39. You can’t buy a pass for the country you normally live in – so if you’re from the UK, sorry, you’re still stuck with our rail fares!

With a Global Pass (youth fares from £183) you can travel to, around and across any of 30 European countries. While you can’t buy a Global Pass for your home country you CAN use it there on the first and last day of your trip, for example to get to and from an airport or Eurostar terminal.

Each type of pass also comes with a travel allowance. A ‘continuous’ pass lets you travel every day your pass is valid. A ‘flexi’ pass gives you a travel allowance, i.e., travel on any 5 days in a 15-day window, so you’ll need to plan things out a little more.

  • As well as different costs for single country and global passes, fares vary by your age, pass length, travel allowance, any premium extras, and whether you travel 1st or 2nd class.
  • You need to be a citizen of or resident in Europe to buy an Interrail pass. If that’s not you, you’ll need a Eurail Pass instead (they work the same but cost a little more).
  • Interrail passes include discounts on accommodation and local transport – some even include free public transport: worth checking before paying again!
  • The longest pass you can get is for a month’s travel, but you can buy more than one pass to cover you for epic touring.

Where to buy your pass

You can buy an Interrail Pass from a number of sites – and, as with anything, it’s worth shopping around for the best prices! Try Interrail.eu, My InterRail or SNCF for starters.

How to stay on budget

The longer you intend on travelling, the more it’s going to cost and the earlier you’ll want to start saving.

  • The cheapest fares are for travellers under 27 – so if you’re around that age, it makes sense to do it before your 28th birthday!
  • If you’re a student of any age, take your NUS Extra card with you – they now include a year’s free ISIC (International Student Card) which means discounts on hotels, bike rentals and Lonely Planet Guides. Alternatively, grab an ISIC card on its own for £12.
  • Scout out individual train fares before plumping for a pass. Some short journeys on the Continent are dirt cheap anyway, so a pass may not be worth it if you’ve only got one or two locations in mind.
  • Don’t forget food, accommodation, sightseeing and public transport costs. Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring can help you get a handle on the costs.
  • Work out how much you can afford to spend a day on food, hotels and extras – and stick to it! Definitely don’t go nuts on day 1…
  • You’ll need a reservation on some high-speed trains – check if it’s included in your pass or stick with regular or slower services to avoid reservation fees.
  • Get your travel insurance and EHIC card sorted before you go: accidents and lost luggage are more expensive (and stressful) without them!

The main fare you won’t want to forget about is your travel to and from your holiday destination. While you can book ahead for cheap air fares, Eurostar is now part of the Interrail network – and there’s a tweak which means you can use a Global Pass to get from your home station in the UK to Europe and back again.

As well as your pass fare you’ll need a Eurostar reservation (€30 in standard class). That may sound like an extra expense, but overall you’re getting a UK train fare, a discount Eurostar ride, plus your train journeys in Europe. For even more savings on flexi passes, time your UK and Eurostar trains so you only use one day from your travel allowance for your inbound and outbound journeys. Bosh!

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Guest blog written by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student. Featuring the kind of straight-talking advice you won’t get at school, the site has everything you need to know about managing money without the migraines: student finance explained, insider info on careers, plus ways to save and scrimp without the stress.

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