Six years ago, I fulfilled one of my dream trips: to travel around Europe by train.
Europe has this awesome thing called Interrail.*
It’s basically a company that sells several types of train passes and, in a nutshell, you can choose to either travel several countries or one country by train. Simples!
In 2010, a friend and I decided to give it a go and do it. And so we went!
Basically, we were both turning 25 that year, and it was then or spend-a-lot-more-from-then-on. You see, the Interrail pass is cheaper before you turn 25. So that was the last chance to have it at the cheapest cost possible! Either way, it would have been a good deal, but it served as a great incentive. I was just about to move to England and had a month and a half off for the summer (the perks of being an au pair at the time), my friend was studying, so, win-win!
The objectives were: see as much as possible and keep it cheap.
So, we bought the 15-day continuous pass and started planning.
Once we bought the tickets, the big question was: Where should we go?
Hardest decision ever. It’s not that we were in disagreement, fortunately, we had very similar objectives with the whole experience and the same mindset about the trip, but of course, we wanted to see it all!
The trouble was: we had 15 days and that was it! The whole Europe can’t be seen in 15 days…
Well… Unless you spend the whole trip on the actual trains and only get out to take that one picture at the main attraction in each of the countries (#ChallengeAccepted anyone?).
My friend Sara hadn’t seen much of Europe by then, so for her everything was on the cards.
For me, I wanted to focus a little bit more on the Eastern side of Europe.
So we had to come up with a plan that pleased both in equal measures.
This was also our first big trip. And safety worries come with planning any trip. More so, if it’s your first one.
Truth is, we were two women travelling alone. And there’s a constant reminder in our society and everyday life, that it’s dangerous for women out there. Six years ago this was no different.
“Two girls travelling alone are targets” everyone kept telling us.
Our moms were worried, and even though it’s actually fine, those worries are valid. It is understated that we have to be cautious and pay attention to everything all the time. When travelling, a guy needs to mainly (but not only, of course) worry about being beaten and mugged, whilst girls have to also worry about being raped.
On the other hand, I felt totally safe: Sara is a black belt international Karaté champion (#HahYah), so, honestly, bring it on! #JustKidding
Technology in 2010
Bear in mind this was not 2016.
You need to go back in time to remember the world where there’s no Google Maps with transport suggestions or CityMapper with updated train timings.
Nokia was still on the market, iPhone 3S was in a lot more of Londoner hands than Portuguese hands, and iPhone 4 was just about to come out. But we were both kind of poor. Roaming charges were also ridonculous! So I was still hanging on to my old Sony Ericsson and Nokia phones, and Sara was going to bring her mini laptop so we could travel light.
Our planning was based on a physical small booklet that contained train timetables across the countries. This came with the Interrail tickets. We also did some rough Internet research before departing.
We bought the Lonely Planet guide “Europe on a Shoestring”* which we (and fellow travelers we met along the way) called “The Bible”. This guide has all the information about the main tourist attractions as well as great suggestions on Eating and Sleeping (their suggestions have always been a great choice for us).
We decided on making a rough plan, deciding the cities only, kind of see how things would go and hope for the best!
Planning mode: ON
By the time the trip started, I was living close to London and Sara was living in Lisbon.
As I was going back to my parents in Lisbon at the end of the trip, we decided to start from London and go through the north of Europe heading east, down south and then back to the west.
Last destination before getting home: Barcelona.
We then decided to take a flight back to Lisbon. Travelling all the way through Spain would have taken at least a day and we’d rather spend that on the other end of Europe.
You know, Spain is the neighbour, we can easily get there from Portugal at any given time in our lives if we want to, so travelling through it was not a priority.
But if you do an Interrail, I would suggest to either start it in Lisbon or finish it there. Just don’t miss it! #ForReal
After some consideration, on “comfort zone” and time constraints, we made a rough plan on the cities/countries we would like to go to.
We would have loved to go to Istanbul, but unfortunately, 12-hour train each way would have eaten up a lot of our time. With Sara wanting to explore some Western Europe she hadn’t been to yet, and we needing to compromise on something that would make us both happy, we had to exclude most of Eastern Europe too. But visiting the remaining countries is still in my future plans.
Sara then made a wonderful trip plan on PowerPoint (we were very technological at the time) showing both of our suggestions here:
After some discussion, this was our final plan before setting off:
But as not everything goes according to plan, this was the actual trip that took place:
- Brighton (England) – last minute addition, I’ll explain it later.
- Brussels (Belgium)
- Berlin (Germany)
- Prague (Czech Republic)
- Vienna (Austria)
- Bratislava (Slovakia)
- Budapest (Hungary)
- Belgrade (Serbia)
- Zagreb (Croatia)
- Venice (Italy)
- Rome (Italy)
- Milan (Italy)
- Barcelona (Spain)
15 days, 13 cities, 11 countries. #BadassBaby
UPDATE: Want to know more? Continue reading my journey here – Brighton (Day 1/15)
* You pay exactly the same if you go directly to the websites I mention in my posts. As I use affiliate links, if you click on it and buy something, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy shopping!