Sunday, 15 June 2014

Backpacking | Planning






          For the longest time, probably since I was a child, I've held travel as one of my highest life goals. There's something about experiencing another country or city or town that transports you to another world and simultaneously allows you to discover yourself and be someone else. As cliche as it sounds, I really love experiencing other people's realities and cultures first hand and using those to inform the rest of my life.

Anyway, this ramble is basically a prelude to saying that we're planning on going inter-railing this summer! Despite recent health problems, we're hoping to go as planned and see a lot of Eastern and Northern Europe. We thought we'd write down any handy things we find or tips we have for any of you who are planning a trip (especially an inter-rail/eurail trip) sometime in the future!

Start Early

Admittedly this is one we didn't follow. We decided to go around a month ago, booked flights on a whim and have done a bit more since then. If you want to be more prepared than us, i'd advise starting 3 or 4 months (at least) before you plan to go. Research the general area you're going to go to (Europe for us) and talk with the people you're going with about the places that are their non-negotiables. You also need to keep in mind any health conditions people may have that may exclude certain areas and plan around that. Try to work out a basic route and overestimate the time spent in each place by a day or two if possible!

Look for Travel Discounts

Travel is big business these days, as such there's plenty of website advertising discount fares out there. Make sure you shop around and read the terms and conditions (and taxes/baggage charges!) before booking anything. For our trip, we used a few old favourites:

Inter-rail passes:
These are also available for those of you who live outside Europe, but are called 'EuRail' - you can find EuRail here.

Because we live within the European Union, we can use InterRail passes which are available for purchase here. With both these passes there's a variety of options to suit different needs. Consider whether or not you plan to go to more than one country, how often you will be travelling from one place to another and how long your trip is before buying. It can often work out cheaper to buy two passes for a trip than one, if it's a longer trip.

Another piece of advice I would give is that you need to be aware of the countries covered by the pass (listed on the website) as not all countries typically considered to be in Europe are included. Passes must be bought within the three months prior to departure and will include a list to record each train you take.

Flights:

There are plenty of discount airlines out there, and although flights aren't as cheap as they used to be you can still grab a bargain. The best way to get the biggest deal is to be flexible with dates, decide on a general time frame and keep an eye on flight prices. Remember to always shop around and call in to student travel agencies, as they often have great deals on flights. A lot of European flight companies also offer youth fares for those under 25, so make sure to take advantage of that where/if possible!

A few of our favourites: SAS Airlines (Youth Prices) // Momondo // Skyscanner

Think about Insurance

It's a good idea to get insurance (especially health insurance) when going abroad, make sure you plan this well in advance as often you can get discounts if you purchase as a group. If you live in the UK you're also entitled to a free E1/11 card which covers healthcare in the EU. You can apply for one here.

Consider Your Budget

For us, funds are limited and like most other people we have to take that aspect into consideration when planning a trip. Once you've decided on dates and a route, try to work out budgets and resolve to stick to them. It's great to have a debit card with some funds for emergencies, but if you blow your budget then you'll end up walking the streets feeling a bit miserable! Budgetary constraints are also a main consideration when choosing the length and location of your trip as different areas vary massively in price!

Think About Timing

If you're a planner then you'll want to think about how long it takes to get from place to place and whether the trains run during the day only or through the night. 

Here's a few of our favourites for keeping on top of trains: Man in Seat 61 // Rail Planner App // RailDude

And that's that for today! For any of you planning a trip soon - good luck! Hopefully you'll have an amazing time! Let us know about trips you're planning to take, or even where you'd want to go if you could!
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