Trees and fields as far as the eye can see, an occasional house and village in-between — train rides can be so serene. Sophia Klimpel is certainly enjoying her journey from Germany’s Saarbrucken to Ljubljana in Slovenia, watching the countryside fly by her carriage window. It’s a great way to travel, says the 22-year-old. “Train journeys feel much realer to me than air travel because you see the outside world changing.” This summer, Sophia is exploring Europe with the legendary Interrail travel card.
The Interrail Pass was first launched in 1972 as a special promotion in celebration of the 50th birthday of the International Union of Railways, an industry body. Originally devised as a one-time promotion aimed at travelers 21 years old or younger, the scheme proved so successful it became a permanent offer.
Up until the late 1990s, the ticket was available only to young travelers no more than 26 years old and to those aged 65 years and above. Today, it is available to people of all ages.
Special anniversary discount
Celebrating this year’s 50th Interrail anniversary, coveted travel passes went on sale at 50% discount in May. The deal proved hugely popular.
Since its inception, some 10 million travelers from Europe, Russia and Turkey have used the pass to visit over 10,000 destinations in 33 European countries. Depending on the specific kind of Interrail pass purchased, holidaymakers can travel for between three days and three months, in either first or second class carriages. Ticket costs vary accordingly. The Interrail Global Pass is presently the cheapest option available, costing €185 ($186) and entitling ticket-holders to four days of unlimited train travel within one month.
Southern Europe ever popular
Ticket-holders don’t have to travel non-stop. Instead, they can space out their journeys and spend as much or as little time in destinations of their choosing, making the most of special rebates included in the Interrail package. Most people opt to go interrailing between June and September and usually head for sunny southern and western Europe, where the coastal regions of Italy, France and Spain are favorite destinations.
Southern Europe is also where Valerie Maas is headed. While looking for inspiration for what to do before starting her Master’s degree, Valerie learned about DB’s special discount on Interrail tickets in May. She seized the opportunity, snapping up an unlimited two-month Global Pass for just €274 ($274).
One of the greenest ways to travel
Sophia says she’s a huge Interrail fan. That’s because, she finds, travelling by train both affordable and eco-friendly. But Sophia thinks booking journeys can be overly complicated during peak travel times. And she also says seat reservations are over-priced.
Valerie similarly loves train trips. She appreciates slow travel, and the comfort that trains afford over other modes of transport.
That is what Interrail is all about. A DB spokesperson tells DW the Interrail travel pass is about slow, conscious travel, creating memories and meeting people along the way. On top of that, of course, rail journeys are increasingly popular due to their small carbon footprint.
Experiencing different European cultures
Meanwhile, Valerie has reached France. Today, she is changing trains in Vernet-les-Bains, a village in the Pyrenees mountains. Curiously, many shops here sell witch figurines. According to an old legend witches leave their forest dwellings at the end of winter to drive away the cold season and make way for spring. A local Vernet-les-Bains custom, therefore, is to gift witch dolls as a sign of renewal.
“Coming here and discovering this unusual village was the best experience of my Interrail trip,” says Valerie. But her journey is not over just yet. From here, she’s catching the Train Jaune, or yellow train, which runs along one of the oldest, highest and most scenic routes in France.
After many months of coronavirus restrictions, people around the world are yearning to head out, travel and experience new things. It’s one reason Sophia has embarked on her European Interrail adventure — though she prefers half-empty train carriages, to reduce her COVID infection risk. DB, meanwhile, reports a recent rise in passenger numbers. So much so that Sophia on one journey decided to sleep on the floor, beside the toilet, to avoid an overcrowded train carriage.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The coronavirus pandemic put a huge dent in Interrail ticket sales. In 2020, for example, sales in Germany dropped by 76%, and 86% in the rest of Europe. With most restrictions lifted on the continent, however, there is again growing interest in train travel.
Sophia fondly remembers her recent jaunt to Slovenia, where she befriended a couple during an 8-hour train journey, chatting for most of the way. They kept in touch and later met up in the Slovenian coastal town of Piran, where they caught up over beers.
Encounters and friendships like these, Sophia says, are what make train journey so appealing today — even in times of the coronavirus pandemic.
This article was originally written in German.