1 – Europe via Rail – The Planning and Packing

Here in this black bag-battered notebook of destiny containing the daily ruminations of a sweaty eighteen year-old, who squeezed a gap year into 22 days in the summer of 2015, backpacking through Europe’s cities with three of his best pals. By the way I am said sweaty boy/man. The rememberances in this little book along with the memories stowed away in my grey matter were a product of months of meticulous planning and preparation which began back in September 2014 at the beginning of our final year of sixth form.

The team: Me (Josh Poulton, incase your new here), Ian, Liam and Tommy (Tommo), decided to celebrate our freedom from the factory that is the education system in style. Of course we debated the whole ‘lads holiday’ route but, to tell you the truth, we’re not really lad material. We were more like the skate around Bishops Stortford in our flannel shirts, finding a suitably secluded spot to play Pokémon and share memes to the tunes of underground hip-hop from Soundcloud…kind of group. We concluded a quaint tour of Europe via rail would be more up our street. We were all in agreement on the countries we wanted to visit although sadly Barcelona, which had made the initial draft, was dropped due to it’s awkwardly south location and the subsequent extra travel time this would have incurred. The plan was to head south-east through the continent then back up north to Berlin and finish in Amsterdam. This meant that the beginning and the end of the trip would be the most expensive, but the blow would be softened by the cheap exchange rates of eastern European currencies in Croatia, Hungry and the Czech Republic in the middle. Night trains seemed the best way to go. That way we would make the most of the daytime in our 22 day interrail pass doing activities and site-seeing rather than stuck in a stuffy 150kph tuna tin on wheels.

The initial cost quickly mounted up with the interrail ticket, train bookings and seat reservations (a must unless you want to spend your precious hours of sleep standing in the train corridor with strangers bumping past you every five minutes). A lot of time was put into surfing TripAdvisor and seeking tips from every student-travel.com site under the sun for the best recommended hostels. The key criteria we focused on was location, social atmosphere, condition of sleeping quarters and of course price. It turned out doing a bit of digging really does pay off! I’ll go into more detail in regards to the hostels as and when we come to them during this series. I much give massive credit to Liam for doing the bulk of the planning and admin for the trip!

Above. A breakdown of the fruits of our research with hostels we chose

Below. A list of all the trains we would need to catch and their exact departure times

If you are thinking of inter-railing and have any questions about the planning, costs, or where we stayed please do comment and I’ll answer as best I can!

Everywhere we looked the rhetoric was the same. Pack light. You’ll be racking up the miles walking from train stations to hostels and falling out with your travel companions over map reading, subsequently getting lost before retracing your steps and starting again. A good bag is vital. We would intimately get to know our bags over the next three weeks and a comfortable fit with good waist support is something we would really come to appreciate during the tired midnight layovers. We knocked that out the park as a team in half hour at our local outdoor store, picking up a decent £50 bag which is about par for the course price wise. The second most important travel companion will be whats on your feet. The rule of thumb is two pairs of shoes maximum. One pair that would get you into a club on a night out – I chose some smart looking black suede shoes that were cheap at schuh (which although managed to last through Europe could not survive a round of university freshers too) – and another pair for everywhere else.

My trusty New Balance skate shoes, despite their thin soles, served me very well and don’t look half bad a nearly a year later! The most important point is that they are comfortable, and for the fashion conscious pick a pair that will compliment all the outfits you plan to wear before you leave.

Everything else was pretty standard. As tempting as it was to pack a hundred fresh button ups and look like you stepped straight out of Topman’s look book after sleeping in a sack with no air conditioning overnight, it’s not practical. Remember this is for summer inter-railing: one pair of jeans, one jumper, a thin hoody, one raincoat, two pairs of shorts, one pair of swim shorts (the Berlin hostel had a pool), four t-shirts, three button-ups and appropriate number of boxers and good quality socks. Accessory wise, sunnies and a hat, or a bandana if like me you messed up booking a haircut before the trip and consequently had to accept your ‘cheeky Nandos on tour’ look in pictures to avoid disastrous overgrown bed hair in the Vatican. We each took a sleeping bag which lived clipped to the outside of our bags. Hilariously Tommo decided to bring one the size and weight of a small child which was a decision he quickly live to regret, and was quick to remind us every morning we repacked to check out of a hostel. However, because of the heat and the surprising quality of bedding at the hostels, a small cloth sleeping liner sufficed. This was just personal preference.

Lets briefly mention hygiene (sorry in advance for the graphic description). Two words, baby wipes. When you arrive at a hostel having not showered and slept overnight on the train and are then told you can’t check in until 2pm, you’ll have to accept a quick wipe in all the sensitive places is as good as it gets until the luxury of a shower later on. It’s sad but you will race between your fellow travellers to get the shower first once you’ve checked in. I’m not going to patronise you going through the rest of the toiletries. Go for travel sizes you can always re-stock later.

Finally, if your big into your photography like me and don’t mind looking like a blatant tourist then a DSLR is well worth the bag space. Its great looking back on our trip with 40GB of sweet high quality snaps (probably excessive I know don’t judge) but for the Instagram it was worth it. Headphones are the final essential for the mid-afternoon downtime back at the hostel and falling asleep on the trains. Make yourself a banging playlist and download it before you leave saving you being left stranded without being able to stream when everyone is clogging up the traffic on the hostel WiFi.

And that’s about it. By July 20th we were packed and ready for our adventure. Feel free to take all of these tips if your planning on travelling. If there is anything else you would like to know feel free to leave a comment I would be happy to help!

Follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/MrJoshPoulton to be notified when my next post goes live, the first stage of our trip as told from my little black book. Paris.

If for any reason you think you might like the music I like then here’s a link to my playlist for April  https://open.spotify.com/user/poulton64/playlist/6T8QzN6fstqdKaPUTQUv7E

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