European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 1

Jennifer was selected to be a “tester” and to travel around Europe with a Global InterRail pass, keeping a diary of her travel and thoughts. She has shared these for Silver Travel Advisor.

An Introduction to Jennifer and planning the itinerary

I’m 70 years old, mum to two and gran to four, all a source of great enjoyment and fun.

Travelling lightMy main interests are travel, photography, film, volunteering, wildlife and conservation, languages and learning.

I worked with the Open University (OU) for over 30 years in a variety of roles in management, research, course development and learner support.

I retired from full time work in Oct 2007 to take up a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship and spent 3 months travelling solo around Australia, looking at older people and volunteering (Report published on Winston Churchill website). This was my first experience of extended solo travel and I loved it!

Since then, I’ve continued to work on a part time basis, combining this with volunteering. Last year, I needed an operation on my spine which, I’m pleased to say, seems to have been a success. However, it did mean that I was less mobile for a while and had to cut back on travelling. When the opportunity arose to take part in this project, I welcomed the challenge, to see if I could still do it!

I continue to be an active volunteer and fund raiser with conservation and wildlife charities, including the RSPB and the Scottish Seabird Centre. Having spent my life promoting lifelong learning, I continue to enjoy my own, both at a distance (e.g. via the OU and FutureLearn) and face to face (e.g. with the U3A).

Inspiration and how I planned my itinerary

My itinerary was influenced by the fact that I had already booked a flight from Edinburgh to Barcelona in December, for a pre-Christmas visit to my son and his family. Otherwise, it would probably have made more sense to travel from the UK to France, on into Spain, from there to Portugal and back to the UK.

High speed trainThat said, it proved quite a challenge to put together an itinerary which complied with the parameters of 5 days InterRail travel within a 7 day period and including all three countries.

One of my sources of inspiration was Michael Portillo’s Great Train Journeys, specifically the programme ‘Basque Explorer by Rail’. In this, Portillo journeyed from London to Paris, Bordeaux, San Sebastian, Bilbao and Madrid. His experience proved valuable when deciding on my own itinerary, although it’s fair to say that his journey was during the summer months and his expenditure on hotels etc., not exactly ‘budget’!

Another source of inspiration was the Star Travel review written by Peter Lynch for Silver Travel Advisor, especially his 10 InterRailingTips

Information used

I used the InterRail Pass Guide and website and opted for the First Class Global InterRail Pass (5 travel days within a 10 day period) at a cost of £306.10. This was on special offer and included a 10% seniors’ discount.

Peter Lynch’s Star Travel review ‘InterRailing is for Seniors too!‘was also a valuable source of information.

InrerRail Global PassI didn’t use ‘The Man in Seat 61’ before I booked, but wish I had. This was a mine of useful information, particularly the following advice on “the countries where InterRailing is not so easy: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal & Sweden. Domestic and international trains to, from and within these countries almost always require compulsory seat reservation and payment of a pass holder surcharge of some sort. Remember to factor this into your budget. Railpasses have therefore lost their ‘convenience factor’ in these countries as you can’t just hop on a train spontaneously without a reservation.”

Booking

There was an insert with the Global Pass headed My InterRail, recommending that bookings be made through ‘’our partner International Rail Ltd.” I contacted them by email with my proposed itinerary, then by two follow-up phone calls when they responded that some of the journeys I had identified using the InterRail Pass Guide and website were either not available or not the best. As it was almost 50 years since I had last travelled by train in Europe, I followed their advice, including all seat reservations and two single, overnight sleeper cabins. This amounted to £294.50, on top of the cost of the Pass (£306.10): a total of £600.60. 

I used www.booking.com and TripAdvisor to research and pre book my hotels.

Note to Readers – “Test travel” within the Senior Rail Travel Project

This travel diary has been written during a “test trip” initiated by the project team of the “Senior Rail Travel Project”. The main goals of the project are to improve the choice, availability and accessibility of package holidays for the senior market and to develop travel packages based on the testers’ experiences. Transportation by train was included via Interrail. By adding extra services and systematically removing obstacles, future customers will be able to modularly compose their ideal European holiday by rail.

The “test trip” reported here has been a necessary and useful tool to find out about obstacles senior travellers are faced with during a trip by rail. All obstacles and difficulties reported in the diary have been registered. The project team is currently working on the improvement of the Interrail product in order to develop suitable travel packages. The project is conducted by a consortium of five partner companies from all over Europe under the lead of Eurail Group G.I.E. and co-funded by the European Union in the context of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP).

•  Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 2
•  Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 3
•  Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 4
•  Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 5
•  Read European travels with a Global InterRail pass – Part 6

You may also find interesting:

•  The Benefits of the InterRail Pass and Top Ten Tips

•  InterRailing is for Seniors too!
•  Great Train Journeys of the World
•  Top Rail Travel Tips

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Jennifer Nisbet

Retired academic with wanderlust

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