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, said the 22-year-old.
“Train journeys feel much realer to me than air travel because you see the outside world changing,” she added.
This summer, Klimpel 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 that 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 nonstop. 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 travel 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, she learned about Deutsche Bahn’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
Klimpel is a huge Interrail fan. That’s because, she finds, traveling by train is both affordable and eco-friendly. But she thinks booking journeys can be overly complicated during peak travel times, and she also believes seat reservations are overpriced.
Maas also loves train trips. She appreciates slow travel, and the comfort that trains afford over other modes of transport.
That’s what Interrail is all about. A Deutsche Bahn spokesperson told 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, Maas 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,” said Maas. But her journey isn’t 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 COVID-19 restrictions, people around the world are yearning to head out, travel and experience new things. It’s one reason Klimpel has embarked on her European Interrail adventure — though she prefers half-empty train carriages, to reduce her infection risk. Deutsche Bahn, meanwhile, has reported a recent rise in passenger numbers — so much so that on one journey Klimpel decided to sleep on the floor, beside the toilet, to avoid an overcrowded train carriage.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The COVID 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.
Klimpel fondly remembers her recent jaunt to Slovenia, where she befriended a couple during an eight-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, she said, are what make train journey so appealing today — even in times of the coronavirus pandemic.