EventsEventsPodcasts
Loader
Find Us
ADVERTISEMENT

‘The trip of a lifetime’: How I travelled Europe for a month with a family of five for just €645

My family of five travelled Europe by train for just €645 for the month.
My family of five travelled Europe by train for just €645 for the month. Copyright Catherine Lofthouse
Copyright Catherine Lofthouse
By Catherine Lofthouse
Published on
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

My family of five travelled Europe by train for just €645 for the month. Here’s how we did it.

ADVERTISEMENT

If taking a train trip around Europe with young kids fills you with trepidation, you're not alone.

My family of five was lucky enough to grab half-price Interrail passes in a flash sale. This meant we could all travel for just £560 (€645) for the month.

But with boys aged three, eight and 10, I did wonder whether our trip might come off the rails.

Here's how we kept our travels on track through the good, the bad and the ugly.

What is Interrailing and what is included in the passes?

First of all, you need to get your head around what's covered by your Interrail pass.

We bought global passes that cover 33 countries and last for 30 days. But there are many different options available covering single countries and different lengths of time, so it's good to do some research to see what works best for you.

Children aged between four and 11 can get a free Interrail pass with an adult pass, and children under four don't need a pass at all. There's also a discounted youth pass for those under 28 years old.

Not all train companies are included and for some, such as Eurostar, you have to pay a reservation fee or a supplement even with your pass. This means Interrailing isn't always the cheapest way to get around.

What is brilliant is the flexibility it gives you. If you miss a train that's covered by the pass, you can simply jump on the next one. That's a godsend as it saves you lugging your luggage and kids around a station trying to sort out missed connections or cancelled trains.

How to keep kids happy on trains

There's a lot to be said for travelling by train with youngsters. There’s space to move about and easily accessible toilets - both essential for kids.

Some trains in Switzerland even have a family zone with a small playground for children on board.

You don't have to get to the station hours ahead of time to check in, like you would when flying. And you usually get off the train right in the middle of a city or town - exactly where you need to be to see the sights.

Keeping kids entertained when travelling long distances, however, can be tricky - which is why we stuck to some simple rules.

Keep travel times to a minimum

We found it's best to limit travelling time to a few hours each day.

The longest daytime journey we took was seven and a half hours between Basel and Berlin. We relied on audiobooks, crafts, Lego and plenty of snacks to keep everyone going.

Choose sleeper trains for longer distances

If you need to travel long distances in one go, opt for sleeper trains that can cover the kilometres while you rest. We booked couchettes on a Nightjet train from den Bosch in the Netherlands to Innsbruck in Austria.

The boys loved the triple bunks in our cabin, although it was a tight squeeze with all of us and our bags in one small space. But being woken up with a warm drink and a bread roll for breakfast while looking out over the Alps more than made up for the cramped conditions.

Travelling overnight also gave us an extra day to explore.

ADVERTISEMENT

Table seats aren’t always the best choice

Before we set off Interrailing, I thought it would be best to choose table seats, so we could sit as a family on the train.

But actually the trains where we were split up across aisles tended to work better. It was easier to interact with other travellers, and most adults seemed delighted to chat to the boys about our trip.

Catherine Lofthouse
I loved waking up to alpine views.Catherine Lofthouse

Where is great to travel by train with children?

Our Interrail passes came with some unexpected benefits - including making lots of places more affordable and accessible.

By choosing accommodation a short train ride away from tourist hotspots, we were able to get more room to spread out without breaking the bank. This was a game changer.

We stayed at a Center Parcs on the coast just outside Amsterdam for our first week, which was a great base to explore the area by train. It was cheaper than any city centre accommodation we could find and we had the beach, the pool and lots of activities to keep the kids happy when we weren't out and about.

ADVERTISEMENT

We loved visiting Haarlem, which was just inland. Wandering along the quiet canals to the bells of the carillon chiming out from the church tower was the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of visiting the Dutch capital.

In Berlin, we stayed at Ostkreuz Youth Hostel, which is geared towards families. We could take the train easily to all the sights.

Back at the hostel, there was a huge enclosed playground overlooking the nearby railway station. The boys let off steam here while we enjoyed a drink on the patio in the sunshine.

We stayed in hostels, hotels, apartments, holiday parks, theme parks and even a Scout centre in the Swiss Alps along the way. Combining coast, city and country while trying out different styles of accommodation kept everyone happy.

Catherine Lofthouse
Interrailing as a family is the trip of a lifetime.Catherine Lofthouse

Is Interrailing right for your family?

It took months of planning and preparation before we were ready to set off on our long trip around Europe.

ADVERTISEMENT

While it was an enjoyable adventure, it wasn't restful or relaxing most of the time. If you want a chilled out holiday, this probably isn't going to be for you.

It's brilliant having one ticket that can take you across the continent and back, but having so much choice of where to go can actually be a bit overwhelming.

Once you start giving some thought to destinations and using the Railplanner app to check train times and journey lengths, though, it does all fall into place.

Traditionally, Interrailing was a way for backpackers in their teens and twenties to see a bit of Europe on a budget. Nowadays it's open to everyone.

If you're travelling as a family, you probably won't just jump on a train and see where it takes you, but it'll be the trip of a lifetime nevertheless.

ADVERTISEMENT
Share this articleComments

You might also like