By Faruk Demir
I don’t know about you but every once in a while, I get this itch to travel, just leave everything behind and take my white cane with me and go somewhere. Sometimes I have a specific destination in my mind, sometimes I don’t. But this time the itch for travel culminated for me and my partner in a more than three-week long interrail trip that spanned over ten cities across four countries.
After such a long trip, what is left to you is loads of memories and stories that would never be forgotten and continuously retold. From missed trains and delicious pizzas to encounters with police in small towns of Italy, I have a lot to share and the purpose of this article is to make you a part of our journey by recounting our experiences that we hope can inspire you or at the minimum entertain you. While we’re at it, I will also mention tips and tricks while traveling as blind as well as accessibility related and mainstream tools that we made use of in order to plan and implement our trip.
Before starting, perhaps first it would be best to explain the concept of interrail. The Interrail Pass is a train ticket that allows you to travel on almost all trains in Europe. With it, you get access to 40 railway and ferry companies in 33 European countries. Sounds like a traveler’s dream, right? Other than a few catches, we can confirm that it is so. Except in France, Italy and Spain where you need to purchase an additional seat reservation for high-speed trains for a small fee, you can board all the trains that are part of the interrail network without paying a penny once you’ve bought the interrail pass.
We have known interrail for quite a long time and had been giving it a serious thought for this summer. We were especially restless and hungry for adventure After long-lasting covid lockdowns that had confined us in our homes for more than a year. Opportunity strikes when you’re least expecting it and this time was no exception. While we were going at it in our lives, my partner found out that all the interrail passes had been heavily discounted for the fiftieth anniversary of the program and it was a now or never moment to purchase a pass and embark upon adventure.
However, there was a problem. We had virtually no time to think about and decide because there were only a handful of hours before the discount ended. We had to act fast and oh boy fast we were. Even though we’d had no intention of going on an interrail trip this summer, we made our mind over a night and bought the pass which paved the ground for an epic and thrilling adventure.
As with any long trips, we needed to make some preparations and settle on how to carry our luggage. We have favored backpacks for a long time for the convenience and versatility that they offer. Carrying backpacks, what you lose in terms of volume you gain in terms of peace of mind. So, backpack it would be and three weeks of road and countless train rides showed us that we’d made the right call by not opting for bulky suitcases and instead choosing backpacks. For reference, I used a 40 liter and my partner used a 55-liter backpack. We both think we got the right size, so go figure.
For checking train itineraries and planning our journey, we used the official mobile apps of country specific train companies in conjunction with the official mobile app of Interrail called “Rail Planner”, the accessibility of which is mediocre at best. It requires a lot of juggling but with enough effort and sweat, you can do almost everything on the app without any major issues. I can say that we used the Rail Planner app more than any other because of its ability to show all the train connections across different train companies in one place.
Also, Rail Planner is the only platform where you can make seat reservations when needed. Talking of seat reservations, I would like to open a parenthesis here to correct a possible misconception that people often have about interrail. The fact that you purchase the interrail pass doesn’t mean that you can take any trains for free. For example, it is compulsory in France, Italy and Spain to make seat reservations for each connection of high-speed trains and prices for one seat vary between 5 Euros to 30 Euros but in average it costs 10 Euros.
This is one of the first disadvantages of interrail and not only the soul catch. There is also a quota for pass holders, meaning that there is a limited number of seats allocated to Interrail passengers and it works on a first come first served basis. In short, if you want to take high speed trains which require you to make seat reservations, it would be wise to do some planning in advance.
I think I have given you enough food for thought and I will continue to talk about my experiences in the next article of the series, which will be published in the next issue of the VIEWS newsletter. We covered the general introduction part and in next month’s article, I will go into more details and touch upon the specifics like arranging accommodation, finding directions, communication, accessible swimming and the tools to deal with all these issues.