A big claim I know but I really think planning this Interrail trip around Europe is the hardest holiday I’ve ever organised. Being a family travel blogger I’m pretty good at planning journeys, working out where to stay with kids and how to get around but I have to admit this one had even me pretty stumped. Interrailing with kids can be the adventure of a lifetime but it sure does take some planning!
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So if it’s that hard, why book an Interrail trip around Europe with the kids and what is it exactly?
This year we were desperate to show Piper a bit of Europe, having done Asia and North America several times over the last few years we realised she hasn’t seen that much of her own backyard (we’re UK based) and the beautiful historic cities of the mainland started calling us. Add to that the whole Brexit fiasco (I’m not a political blogger so I’m not going to go there) and this summer seemed like the perfect time to do it.
So far so good right? We’re all pretty sick of airports and planes and baggage restrictions so European train travel was the obvious choice and when I saw some of the deals available from Interrail, I snapped us up some flexi tickets. The great thing about interrailing with kids is they are free, you don’t get that from Ryan Air!
2nd Class 1st Class
5 days travel within 15 days £242 £330
7 days travel within 1 month £287 £331
10 days travel within 1 month £344 £469
15 days continuous £381 £518
15 days within 1 month £435 £576
22 days continuous £445 £605
1 month continuous £576 £782
If you’re booking from outside Europe, there’s a slightly different pricing structure and its called Eurail
If you’re a youth, and it’s a pretty generous age group, 12-27, then you get a further discount. Basically if you order the 5 days travel within 15 days then you can choose any 5 days within a 15 day period to travel on any European train. The continuous tickets allow you to travel on as many trains as you like on whatever day you like, making your planning much, much easier – the gold standard so to speak. Interrail sometimes offer discounts, make sure you follow them on social media well in advance of your trip to stay up to date with any promotions.
You’re allowed one outward journey from your home country and one inward journey on your way home but these do need to be taken as part of your travel days. We only used the outward one and will be flying home.
On your travel days you can travel on as many trains as you like so if you time your trains right you could always get an early morning train, spend a few hours exploring that city then get a late afternoon train to your next destination. This does take a lot of organisation though, I’m ashamed to admit how many Safari Tabs I had open when trying to figure out our route.
Having done a bit of research first I knew I may have to pay extra to reserve seats on busy trains, but didn’t realise just how much this would cost before I went and bought the tickets. The Interrail website has no way to check this before you purchase and there’s very little information available to help you. I also purchased first class tickets as some of our journeys would be pretty long and I knew I would need to work on the trains. I did expect there to be no extra charge for this but actually first class reservations are even more expensive than the regular ones.
Planning your Interrail route
I probably should have done this before I went ahead and purchased our passes but I must admit I got a little over excited so when they arrived with a handy paper map of Europe I set about planning our Interrail route. I prefer actual physical maps to online ones so had various coloured pens to chart our many route options.
As per usual, we wanted to go everywhere and due to travel days and time constraints I quickly realised this was impossible. So then we had to work out which countries were most important to us. We were really keen to show Piper some of our favourite historic European cities, Brussels (and the European parliament), Prague, Amsterdam and Bologna (where we visited when I was pregnant) were high on our list but I was also desperate to explore Southern Spain and Portugal to ensure we managed a relax and perhaps even get some beaches in.
When researching train routes I quickly realised we couldn’t squeeze in both so it was back to the drawing board. Next option were the beaches of Croatia and beautiful walled city of Dubrovnik, but again we hit a brick wall, you can’t actually get a train to Dubrovnik, we would have needed to get a bus which Mr AWTYK flatly refused to do and as always we’d left the booking pretty late so accommodation options were limited to say the least!
We finally settled on Brussels….Amsterdam…..Prague…..Innsbruck…..Bologna…….the Tuscany area of Italy where we would hire a car finishing in Milan. You can discover our full interrailling Europe Route here.
European sleeper trains.
There’s just something so romantic about a sleeper train, I really wanted to incorporate one into our trip unfortunately many of the overnight European routes have been cancelled and the few remaining didn’t work with our itinerary. Ideally you would be able to save yourself a nights stay in a hotel but in reality the costs of reservations (those pesky extras that keep adding up) would have been around £200 for the three of us – more than we have paid for a hotel for the whole trip.
The Interrail booking process.
Once we had finalised our route we needed to work out where to stay, picking these hotels was actually harder than usual, I needed to prioritise distance to the main train station above most other things. I knew having travelled so much by train that when we arrived we would just want to dump our bags and get out exploring. These hotels can be pretty expensive but the benefit is that when you arrive into a city, you tend to be bang in the middle of the action meaning you don’t waste time or money getting from the airport to the city centre.
Those Pesky Interrail Reservations.
When I actually got around to making our reservations (those additional add ons you don’t budget for!!) I found that some had to be made through one booking portal, some through a completely different one. How complicated! I tended to use https://reservations.interrail.eu for everything as I found it easier to have the prices and the options available immediately. If on logging in it tried to direct me to the other portal https://www.interrail.eu/en/reservations/book-reservations-online I would just say I was looking for reservations in Bulgaria and it would direct me back to the other site. I know, I know, overly complicated but I promise it will make sense if you actually do it! On the subject of the website…. It’s not the best, great and flashy when you’re thinking of buying tickets but the actual process of buying and reserving tickets is painful. I’m not convinced you always get the best route available. Often I would try to reserve a route and it wouldn’t be able to tell me a price until after I booked, not sure anything should work this way round?!
You will also need to weigh up what’s important to you, the speed of your journey (the faster direct trains often require expensive reservations) or value for money (local slower trains will get you most places eventually but will take a lot longer).
Once you do order your reservations, you then have an agonising 3 to 4 day wait to see if they’ve been accepted, then you pay, then you have an even longer wait for your tickets to be posted – there’s a lesson here, book in plenty of time!
Just as a guide, our reservations, some first class, some unavailable, some standard have cost us an additional £300 on top of our passes.
A couple of our reservations came back as unavailable – we need to do it at the train station on arrival. EEEEKKKKK I’ll let you know how that goes!
Filling out your Interrail pass
Once you’re ready to go, have your pass and have printed out your reservations, you’ll need to get round to the complicated process of filling out your interrail journey plan. If you don’t do this it is seen as fraud and you can have your pass taken away. Goodness! However please do wait to complete it until you’re on the train for the day or even when you’re at the station and you see the train arriving. Things do go wrong and your plans may need to change.
I’m writing this on a Eurostar we very nearly didn’t make. Our Virgin train from Lichfield got inexplicably cancelled sometime today so having planned, planned, planned, this totally threw us out, we ended up with a very stressful taxi ride to Stafford, arriving in the nick of time. Thank goodness I hadn’t previously filled in from Lichfield otherwise the pass would be invalid.
Communication with Interrail.
This was always actually very good. I had a few queries which I emailed to email@example.com and received pretty immediate responses. I can’t say the same for Virgin trains, I emailed a couple of times to check the pass was valid on their route and they simply didn’t respond. I eventually gave up and sent them an Instagram message which unsurprisingly they responded to immediately. Pretty poor customer service to be honest but the result a resounding YES, Interrail passes are valid on Virgin Trains in the UK, hopefully you wont spend hours like I did looking for the answer.
On the Eurostar.
This was the first time we’ve all travelled by Eurostar and being the first day of the UK summer holidays, it’s been totally manic. As mentioned, the journey to St Pancreas was pretty frantic but also security and passport control took a lot longer than it should. As mentioned, we paid for first Class tickets which meant our Eurostar tickets were an extra £38 each on top (gulp). The carriage does seem worth it, big comfy seats, plenty of space for luggage, better toilets and table service.
Unfortunatley the wifi was not working which means no promised entertainment package, no keeping the kids busy with a bit of Youtube and no posting of this blog, I’ll have to do that tonight when everyone’s asleep. The food was ok, pretty small portions and with only one choice left by the time they reached us, all the veggie options had gone which I thought was pretty poor. And there was no kids food available so Piper didn’t really eat.
Train Travel Kit for kids you’ll need before you go
Before we left home I knew I wanted to get Piper excited about all the different trains we would be traveling in so headed over to Amazon to check for some kid friendly train books. we ended up with the National Geographic book on trains and the super cute My Trains Activity and Sticker Book both were under a fiver and she gobbled them up!
To keep Piper entertained on board I bought heaps of activities she could do while seated, on top of the usual ipad (with kid friendly headphones) and activity books, I packed a couple of small boxes of lego and a tupperwear container to keep the little pieces in. That way she could build each individual design and then combine all the pieces to create her own builds.
We took a pack of UNO cards as this is a family game we really enjoy at home and some Top Trumps, Harry Potter edition for us but you could choose whatever your child is in to, I love the new David Walliams version! This fab storage case came with us to keep all the cards together.
Finally for entertainment I packed our two favourite travel games which will keep all our brains ticking over during the long train journeys. Shut the Box for practicing our math and Bananagrams for our English.
A final thought on Interrailing with kids.
So here we are, the first leg of our European adventure is well on the way and yes, it totally has been the hardest holiday I’ve ever planned but I’m really hoping it’s worth it. Would I do it again? Hmmm probably not during school holidays with a tight and inflexible schedule. I would rather not have to make reservations, which has felt essential being with a seven year old, not wanting to miss any trains or hotel reservations.
If you’re flexible, not constrained by time and have no fixed hotel reservations I think this could be a great way to see Europe, especially as kids are free and Youths get such a great discount. I hate flying and the Eurostar, regardless of the missing food, broken Wifi is just so much easier.
If you do fancy giving it a go, you need to love planning and maps and holiday spreadsheets but once you get into it, the possibilities are endless just make sure you’ve researched your route first and worked out how much it would cost you to book the train journeys individually.
I for one am through the pain now, I’ve had a lovey mini train bottle of wine and am excited about our upcoming adventure. I’ll write another post when we’re home to let you know how we get on! Happy Summer Holidays everyone.
If your looking for more general advise on how to survive an interrailling with kids holiday then check out these fantastic interral tips
If you’re fans of train travel as a family but plan on going somewhere a little further away then the Japan Rail Pass offers a very similar service but across the beautiful country of Japan.
Make sure you pin for later for when your planning your Interrailling with kids trip. Having been through the pain I’m happy to answer any questions, just leave them in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org .