Rail travel is definitely an underrated way of seeing the world, particularly as you outgrow your university years and settle down into true adulthood. The ease of booking a beach holiday or a city break takes precedence over seeing multiple places over a short period of time – who has time to sit down and research travel times and book multiple hotels across different countries? Not to mention, taking out multiple currencies. No one, right? Wrong. I’m here to tell you that a Rail Holiday should be your next big trip – here’s why.
Booking a rail holiday was arguably one of the best things I’ve ever done, travel wise. I was able to visit multiple cities that had been on my radar for a while, as well as revisit places that I’d loved in the past but hadn’t had a chance to properly explore. I was able to manage the cost by being incredibly specific about where I was going and add in additional cities until my maximum budget was reached.
I did my undergraduate degree in Modern Foreign Languages and was lucky enough to spend a good period of my degree living and teaching in France. I also spent 3 months of my Summer holiday teaching English in Italy as well, meaning that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience rail travel in a number of different countries. My year abroad was spent teaching for 12 hours a week and trying to fill my time for the rest of the week – I explored the entire region of Alsace where I was based in this time and also went to visit friends in other parts of the countries. These were all individual trips and not necessarily a rail holiday, but I digress.
It wasn’t until 2017 that I took the plunge and booked the trip that I’d been craving. I’m a complete advocate for solo travel and would encourage everyone to do it at least once – you’re able to satisfy your own needs and not have to worry about pleasing everyone else. I also used it as an opportunity to learn new things about myself and the things that I like doing.
My Experience of Years of Rail Travel and how I organised my own Rail Holiday – TWICE
My first Rail Holiday was a spontaneously booked one – I had some time off during my Teacher Training that I wanted to spend doing some travelling. I knew that I didn’t have all that much time off – 5 days in fact, that I could use comfortably but had no clue where I wanted to go. After an awful shift at my part time job, I booked a flight to Bergerac and went from there. My Rail Holiday consisted of Bergerac -> Bordeaux -> Montpellier -> Avignon -> Paris and then back to London on the Eurostar. Focusing on one country and exploring cities there was a great idea for me – although I took heed of my own advice come booking a second rail holiday a year holiday – travelling from one side of the country to the other in five days? Not really ideal.
My second Rail Holiday was with one of my best friends – although it was originally a solo trip, before my friend got wing of it and wanted in. I wanted to return to Bordeaux and spend a few days there but instead ended up on a trip around South-West France and Spain – Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lourdes and Barcelona. A completely different Rail Holiday spent in August, over a longer time span, but equally as enjoyable.
How to organise your rail holiday – routes to take, when to buy, where to stay
Routes to take
Organising a Rail Holiday has never been easier to do – there are even websites out there that will do the hard work for you if you don’t have the time to plan. Deciding whether to stick to exploring a single country or else going from country to country can be tough, especially when there’s so much on offer. I’d love to do a European Rail Holiday in the next few years but I loved my France Rail Holiday just as much- it depends entirely on where your interests lie. With so many beautiful countries in Europe and so many cities within those countries to feast your eyes on – the decision is such a tough one to make. I know I’ll be doing an Italy Rail Holiday next year – it’s definitely the most affordable way of visiting all the cities on my Bucket List.
Interrail Travel Pass or Book Everything Separately?
On my first rail holiday, I purchased a One Country Interrail Pass for France – I knew I was only going to the one country and the cross country trains from Bordeaux to Montpellier were EXPENSIVE at the time of booking, particularly because I booked everything quite last minute. The rail pass cost me £149 including postage and covered 5 days of travel within a month. As I knew I’d be travelling on at least 5 separate days, this was the pass with the best value for me. If you’re planning a Rail Holiday that goes across long distances, an Interrail pass may well be your best bet as far as value for money is concerned. I know that some of my friends who did a multi-country Rail Holiday whilst we were at uni took advantage of the Interrail pass – knowing that they could use it at any time to ensure their safe travel was a definitely bonus.
My second trip took a lot more organising and I was able to get amazing value for money with all of our trains – our flights to Bordeaux cost £10 each from London, Bordeaux to Lourdes was around £10 each and then Lourdes to Barcelona via Toulouse cost £60 each. Because I knew exactly where we would be visiting and the holiday was booked well in advance of our dates of travel, the Interrail pass wasn’t of any use to us for this Rail Holiday.
Where should I stay?
This depends entirely on you and your circumstances – if you have the budget for a lovely hotel or are travelling with friends and need a little more space, AirBnB may be your best bet. I’ve stayed in both hotels and hostels while travelling by Rail and both are absolutely fine – you just have to be aware of your surroundings and ensure that, if you’re travelling alone, you stay somewhere central. If you’re planning a trip and want £34 off your first AirBnB then use my referral link to save yourself some good old fashioned dough! I also find that Booking.com has some great hotels listed at affordable prices – usually my go to when booking a trip.
Tips to take advantage of rail travel as much as possible
- Book ahead of time to get the best deals on both trains and hotels.
- If you’re looking at going to multiple countries and they use different currencies then get yourself a Travelex Cash Passport – it allows you to load up to 6 currencies on one card and has no international ATM fees. Easy peasy.
- Write an itinerary detailing every aspect of your trip – and make sure someone outside of the holiday party has access to it. It’s better to be safe than sorry and it’s always good to have someone know where you should be at all times.
- Budget slightly more than what your research says things will cost – you don’t want to be caught out by something being unexpectedly more expensive.
- Lastly, enjoy yourself. Take a book or a sketchpad and enjoy the journey – you might even see something that inspires you for your next trip.