A Family Interrail Guide

A holiday of contrasts!

Is it feasible to go on a multi-centre European family holiday by train? Absolutely! Here’s a brief guide for anyone considering taking their family interrailing.

The Basics

Since 1972 the Interrail pass has offered a different way of travel to the young people of Europe. Originally only available to the under-21s it’s now available to all ages, with ‘youth’ (12-27) still eligible for a cheaper pass than adults. There is no charge for a pass for the under-12s. The Global Pass can be used in up to 33 countries and includes one outbound and inbound train in your home country. If you aren’t a resident of a European country you can buy a Eurail pass, which is essentially the same thing.

Pros and Cons

Before booking an interrailing holiday with the family consider the pros and cons to travelling by train and really take time to consider if you think it suits you and your children.

Pros

Lower carbon footprint than long drives or flying

Less tiring than driving

Fun for the kids*

The journey is as important as the destination – travelling is part of the holiday

Great way to create a multi-centre, multi-country European holiday

You can sleep on the train – even in a bed for the night! Save on accommodation plus added excitement of waking up in a new place

Get further quicker than driving

Cons

Less flexibility on where you can go than driving

Luggage limit – take only what can you reasonably carry and be aware that available space on trains for luggage is not always very generous (especially in sleeper cabins!)

Sleeping on the train is definitely not as comfortable as a hotel or AirBnB!

Boring for the kids*

*depends on the kid / day / time / mood / phase!

Excited for their first Eurostar experience

Cost

I would argue that taking the train is not the cheapest travelling option, certainly compared to driving. Flying, especially a budget flight, is almost certainly cheaper to a single destination. Train travel, especially using an interrail pass, is more akin to taking a road trip, perfect for when you’re planning to stay in more than one destination during your holiday. Having said all that, no price hikes in high-season, so you don’t feel penalised for travelling during school holidays.

The Interrail Pass

At the heart of this type of travel in Europe is the Interrail pass – beloved of late teens and twentysomethings for generations. It’s great for families too as under-12s are eligible for a free pass. One adult can travel with up to 2 children.

There are a multitude of passes available. Read through all of the options on the interrail website really carefully. We chose the pass which offered 5 days travel within one month (we went on a two-week holiday) and we broke up our holiday into 3 main locations. This worked for us, spending between 3 nights and 5 nights in a single place. We found this struck the right balance, allowing time to explore and relax in each location.

Relaxing times in the waters of Mondsee

Plan your trip

Before deciding exactly which pass you want, you’ll need to plan your trip, or at least sketch out a rough idea. The Interrail website provides a useful tool but it’s not completely foolproof. The excellent Man in Seat 61 will help out with any train-related queries. Thanks to this fantastic resource I was able to build our perfect journey to include an overnight train. I was finding it increasingly difficult on the Interrail site to find the right combination.

Reservations and hidden costs

Trip planned, pass bought, now it’s time to lock down your journey and make your reservations. The Interrail site makes recommendations for trains where reservations are mandatory, and each individual train company charges for these reservations. The kids are charged too. Eurostar, unsurprisingly, requires a paid for reservation (four tickets from London to Brussels cost a total of 120 euros on top of our passes). You’ll find that most inter-city trains require a reservation. The charges for these vary – some were as low as 26 euros for all four tickets, while others went up to 140 euros (Zurich to Paris). While you might be tempted to skip this and save the money, I’d strongly urge you to make those reservations. Most of the trains we travelled on were completely full. While ‘standing-room only’ might be ok for a single adult, when travelling with kids it’s not a great option for a four-hour journey.  We did take the risk on shorter journeys where the discomfort mattered less. Some of those trains were crowded, but all four of us did get a seat, albeit in two different carriages.

We paid for a couchette reservation on the sleeper which came to 184 euros for all four of us and included bedding and a light breakfast. It was a highlight of our trip – well, for the kids at least. MrP and I may have had slightly darker the bags under our eyes after a night of restless sleep.

Breakfast in our sleeper cabin as the train crossed the border from Germany to Austria

What to pack

Packing for train travel requires a bit of thought, especially if you’re planning a multi-centre trip where you’ll be changing locations every few days. First up, you’ll need to decide what type of bags or suitcases to take.

Things to consider when choosing your main bag(s)

  • Easy to carry, including on stairs
  • Easy to pack and repack when changing locations
  • One ‘suitcase’ each, or will the grown-ups be carrying for the kids too?

Our cases

I strongly felt that I wanted to be hands-free, so that I could help the kids as needed, or hold onto them in busy stations, therefore chose to take a rucksack (Osprey Fairview 70). After two weeks of travelling I was very happy with my choice. MrP chose the larger Osprey Sojourn 80 which is pulled on wheels, but also converts to a rucksack if needed. He had no trouble lugging this up and down stairs in stations. It’s very much a personal choice. Our kids each had their own wheelie cabin-sized case (Osprey Rolling Transporter 40 and Eastpak Tranverz S). They were fine pulling these themselves and were even ok on stairs, if they were in the mood!

Top Tip: We are big fans of packing cubes, and they come into their own if your trip includes an overnight train. Our tip is to pack everything the whole family will need for that night (pyjamas, wash bag, change of clothes) in a packing cube which is in turn packed in an easy-access part of one of the main bags. The couchette compartments are a bit of a squeeze. Having everything handy makes settling in so much easier.

Day Bags

Ideally, if your kids are old enough, each family member should carry their own day bag. Our day bags are rucksacks which are also suitable for use when hiking. The day bags should contain everything a family member needs to keep busy during a journey. You can read our top tips here! You’ll need to keep your bulky Interrail passes and train reservations handy too as they will get checked on every journey. The boys have Jack Wolfskin rucksacks which they find comfortable and are just roomy enough to carry their tablets, a book or two, a small game or two, some toys, notebooks and a pencil case. They each have a water bottle holder too. (#ad The 6yo’s tiger-print rucksack, pictured above, was gifted by Little Trekkers who we are ambassadors for.)

Top Tip: the air conditioning can be pretty fierce on some trains, so be prepared with layers!

Food

We highly recommend carrying your own food for each journey so you don’t need to rely on an a buffet, restaurant car or food and drinks trolley on the train. It also avoids the mad dash to an overpriced shop in the station. Any food which didn’t fit in our day bags was carried in our packaway shopping bags. These can get reused over and over again, avoiding single-use plastic bags. As we stayed in self-catering accommodation on our holiday we found it fairly easy to create picnics for our journeys.

Walking in St Anton

Our journey

Travel Day 1
Home village to London Paddington, tube to Kings Cross St Pancras
St Pancras to Brussels
Brussels to Cologne
Cologne to Wels (sleeper)

Travel Day 2
Wels to Salzburg

We hired a car in Salzburg and stayed on the shores of Mondsee, one of the stunning lakes of the Salzkammergut - Austria's answer to the Lake District.

Travel Day 3
Salzburg to Sankt Anton am Arlberg

We spent four days in St Anton. We didn't hire a car, using public transport, cable cars, our feet and hired bikes to explore.

Travel Day 4
Sankt Anton am Arlberg to Zurich
Zurich to Paris

We spent three days in Paris

Travel Day 5
Paris to St Pancras, tube to Paddington
Paddington to Home village

Find out more about our time in St Anton by reading our Things to do St Anton blog

More details about our family-friendly bike tour of Paris can be found here

Oregon Girl Around the World

25 comments

  1. Oh my gosh – I’m so impressed! My green sustainable heart is in love with this idea and way of traveling! So fun too. And that you could hire a car if you wanted when staying a bit longer somewhere seems to add in that flexibility piece. But bicycles – even better. Kind of wish my kids were under 12 again – kind of – seems like such a fun trip to do. Thanks so much for sharing with #FarawayFiles. Cheers from Copenhagen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Our kids are talking more and more about wanting to fly less and choose more sustainable ways to travel. Interrailing sounds such fun. I love travelling by train anyway – I’ve never enjoyed sitting in a car for long periods of time. These are excellent tips and a wonderful share for #farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only ever had one overnight train experience and that’s doing the Rocky Mountaineer. I’ve always liked the idea of exploring Europe by rail though, although I can imagine it quite stressful with kids! #fearlessfamtrav

    Like

  4. I actually prefer taking the rail to an airplane or a car! It’s way more comfortable, it can be faster in come instances, less security than an airport. I just love it!

    Liked by 1 person

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