Subscribe
Notify of
guest
28 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
4 months ago

Well done.
People forget, or don’t wish to know, how sleazy cheap travel was in the 70s and 80s.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
4 months ago

Rail was cheap and easy. These days air travel is dirt cheap…but you can’t use it to go from place to place, or in an ad-hoc manner without booking.

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago

People, like Greta, also forget that sweltering heat in the summer is normal, not a sign of the climate apocalypse.

Angelique Todesco
Angelique Todesco
4 months ago

I did this too, 3 years later in 1990, it was utterly brilliant. The wall had just come down and we did Berlin and the Eastern bloc (excluding Russia). We did have the odd tricky moment, but not as bad as the author since I was travelling with my University boyfriend, so much less male attention. We found the people in the Eastern countries such as Poland, Czech, Yugoslavia as it was, Hungary etc were unfailingly welcoming and kind, in fact our least favourite place was Vienna, beautiful, but unfriendly to all but the very wealthy. Romania was months out of Ceausescu’s dominance and was strange, foodless and grey, yet I have some great memories of it.
I feel very privileged to have seen those countries at such a time of change and am forever grateful for that experience.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
4 months ago

Good for you! I don’t think my mate or I would have had the courage to travel any further east than Berlin, and I’m not sure that was available on the Interrail pass. Again that was 1990. We didn’t want the expense of staying in Berlin, so caught the early morning train from Hannover, and spent the day wandering around Berlin, much of it in the east – there were still bullet holes in buildings from WW2! Then the last train back to Hannover.
East Berlin just felt weird – such a contrast to the West. And the East German border guards who checked passports on the train looked intimidating!

Michael Wicksteed
Michael Wicksteed
4 months ago

Gap year travel just inside Europe in the 70’s and 80’s could certainly be quite an adventure, before the whole gap year travel became such an industry in its own right. The cultural differences were so much greater even between England and France. Food was so different, to name but one surface aspect. The Interrail thing was a safer option than hitching but we easily forget how many of us did hitch everywhere and it was still pretty normal in those days, despite the dire warnings of am the authorities. We ignored them then and had a laugh; when did teenagers stet taking the safety concerns of their parents and other authority figures so seriously ?
I found myself smiling at this piece though it definitely ha a whiff of Famous Five high jinx about it; I guess the whole gap year idea was a very middle class thing anyway, wasn’t it ? Like a vstige of the earlier Grand Tour experience fir the wealthy. Nevertheless, light and fun to read, so thanks.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

You’re confusing gap year with interrailing – the former was very middle class and not that common back in the eighties; whereas the latter was only for 2 months or so during university holidays, and a very common rite of passage for a cheap holiday for working class kids in eighties Scotland.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

I interrailed Italy and France with my best mate in 1980. Had a physical fight with him in Rimini, but we got over it. Saw the most enormous cockroach hiding unsuccessfully under my heeled (1980 remember) shoes in a cheap hotel in Naples – it stuck out at each end. I hammered the roach very hard and repeatedly with the shoe (my girlfriend at the time was doing a PhD experimenting with roaches and told me they’re really difficult to kill) and then looked on the floor to see it’s remains, only for the congealed mass to slide off the shoe above my head into my face. I screamed for quite a while, but my mate stayed asleep. I hoisted all my stuff up high, and saw a trail of ants had come for the remains of the roach in the morning. We stayed in a hotel the next day.

Met an impressively independent Asian girl from Glasgow interrailing on her own at Venice station – and running away from her family and an arranged marriage. I didn’t realise at the time how courageous she was being with regard to her family. Hope it turned out well for her.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Stewart
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
4 months ago

Interrailing wasn’t all sex and sunshine – sometimes it rained

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
4 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Actually hitchhiking in the 50s/60’s was much more fun, and far,far cheaper!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago

I had an acquaintance who hitched to India in the 1960s with just £5 5s in his pockets.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
4 months ago

He did very well, I only got to Turkey with £15!

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
4 months ago

My interrail experience wasn’t all s&s either, but I loved it. I was living in Munich at the time and travelled solo through Austria to Slovenia, to Trieste in Italy, Zagreb, Budapest, Krakow & Prague. That was in 2003, the year before many of the countries I visited joined the EU. I was quite fascinated and it was one of the reasons that drove me to go and live in Central Europe after graduating. Am still here!
Accommodation was basic but the only really rubbish place was in Ljubljana where I ended up in a mixed dorm with some incredibly stinky men – there were no lockers so I had to sleep spooning my rucksack and get in the (only available) bathroom befor everyone else in the morning. There was NO way in the world I was going in after those stinky Petes, not even wearing flipflops!
The hostel dorm in Krakow was basically a bunch of camp beds set out in a large room, also without lockers…but my roommates were a bunch of really nice friendly Irish girls so I wasn’t at all worried about safety.
The worst thing that happened was getting stuff stolen off me on the train from Prague to Munich, which in those days was notorious for that kind of thing. Security is much, much better these days in that neck of the woods – but they still had guards standing outside the train when the night train to Warsaw I was on in 2018 stopped in Breclav for a bit, and the Polish conductor was very strict in his instructions to keep our doors locked at all times…so not problem free. But vastly improved on 2003.

Last edited 4 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
4 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Thefts from trains still goes on, maybe not in Poland, but I was in Germany at the beginning of June this year, and on the train home we stopped at Cologne station where there were a number of police; a fellow passenger told us to look to our luggage as Cologne is notorious for thefts from trains, hence the police.

Paul Rodolf
Paul Rodolf
4 months ago

I guess I didn’t know it was called “Interrailing’. Self funded I went solo as a 18-year old male. Picked grapes in the vendange (Champagne no less) then off to Oktoberfest, Scandinavia next then when my two-month Eur-Rail pass expired I hunkered down as a bartender in a family owned pension in Zell-am-See for the ski season. Plenty of great times and much debauchery and somewhere along the way I figured out who I wanted to be when I grew up. I recommend a gap year for anyone slightly uncertain where they want to plop down a couple hundred thousand for an education.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
4 months ago

Gap years weren’t a thing in the 70’s but I did manage to spend a summer holiday hitch hiking and Greyhounding round the US west coast. Greyhounds, and late night Greyhound stations, were a particular revelation to a middle class English boy.

Happy days.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I did the Greyhound bus trip in the 80’s; $100 for a one week unlimited travel ticket. I brought three!
The trick was getting on a late night bus that had a long journey ahead so you could get some sleep…

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
4 months ago

Enjoyable article. Like the author, I too was a stay-at-home teenager. My folks had a farm, and we were needed to help. Of course, in doing so, we were continually outdoors, and I always acquired a sun-tan. Which led to even more embarrassing questions at the start of each new school / college year, as my urban school and college mates assumed I must have been somewhere exotic.

Su Mac
Su Mac
4 months ago

Ahhh, brings back happy memories! 80”s backpacking round the Greek Islands with a girlfriend – yes, we fell out and never spoke again after we got back. Without the internet we had no idea of accommodation budgets and planned based on rumours, which didn’t work out great although borrowing a saggy, fleabitten outdoor daybed or roof space for a few drachma and pitching a tent under trees at the edge of a village – free and easy days – worked out. I lost a stone. Strangely my experience of predatory perverts was 5 years earlier, hitchhiking in lorrys and cars round France with a boyfriend aged 16 – yes, my mother cried as I left! The son of the Brazilian ambassador was very keen to join us into a menage a trois, in our tent in the Bois de Bouloigne or at least listen outside. He indicated his displeasure with us by taking me on a hairy drive to get booze – I distinctly remember watching him actually drink from a whisky bottle while driving round all those lanes on the Arc de Triomphe.

S C
S C
4 months ago

I remember in the 90s endless stories of people being drugged and waking up without a kidney (probably not true), and running into pickpocketing gypsies, and other tourists who recently got scammed and robbed. It was rough out there. I soldiered on, but do remember waking to a panic attack on an overnight sleeper once. Still, with all of that, it was nothing compared to what it was like for women.

James Brown
James Brown
4 months ago

Haha, this article took me right back to the summer of 1981 when my friend, with whom I was supposed to travel the world (well, France anyway) went and broke his leg just before departure. So I set off alone. Overall it was a good trip – plenty of fun and laughter with other young people in youth hostels and the like, much cheap wine, bread and cheese consumed – but it certainly had its longueurs and the occasional fright. The incident that stands out is on a train in France, squatting between the carriages, when a voyou took out a long knife and flamboyantly started cleaning his nails with it. I am sure with hindsight that he meant to intimidate but I was so naive that I just carried on chatting amicably with him. He must have thought I was either fearsomely brave or a bit simple as he put it away again and responded in kind. We ended up getting off at the same stop and having a couple of drinks in the station caff (those were the days !) before he wished me well and went about his business…

Sophy T
Sophy T
4 months ago

Very enjoyable article.
I discovered moments later that Bee had emptied two packs of Dioralyte into her mouth and was frothing like someone with advanced rabies.
Had Bee emptied the Dioralyte into her mouth by accident or as a means of deterring the rampant men?

Will Will
Will Will
4 months ago

I interrailed post school and post first year at university. The first trip was with my best friend and we stayed in France with his very elderly Central European grandparents before heading to Italy and Elba where we camped before going to Rome to stay with another relative but spent the first night getting so drunk I slept on the cobbles under a bench in a famous Piazza. Miraculously I woke in the morning to find I still had my money and passport. We left Rome at midnight for the most crowded and uncomfortable train journey of my life before catching the ferry to Greece and train to Athens staying with a school chum who was au pairing. We then split up as my friend really wanted to head home for his birthday while I got the ferry to Rhodes and Cyprus before cadging a flight home. Although we hadn’t fallen out, when I got back there was a huge gulf between myself and my friend.  
The next year I tried hitching from Paris to Malagar with friend. We got to the south of France in three lifts, but spent a whole day trying to get a lift out of Marseilles before finally being picked up by a very dodgy older character whose intentions were definitely not honourable and who dumped us in the middle of nowhere. We ended up walking many miles in the searing heat before reaching a town and a train station. Fed up with hitching we trained it to the Spanish border before trying again but lifts there were none, so we caught a train to Barcelona and, knowing a bit of the language, hung out with some young anarchists/communists before having to make a swift departure minus some of our gear. Giving up on hitching (and Malaga) we stuck a pin in the map and headed to a nearby resort and slept on the beach before deciding we had had enough of roughing it and wanted to go home. We managed to get a lift all the way to Brussels with another older guy who was also dodgy but much nicer and put us up in his flat before we returned home. After all that, my companion and I somehow managed to lose each other at Reading station. Once home I bought a return train ticket to Athens via the Balkans before getting the ferry for another Mediterranean boat tour on my own. 
I have missed out a lot of the “adventures” we had. Other than visiting new and exotic places I don’t think I learned much (young men can be very reluctant to learn other than the hard way) although I did learn there are dodgy people out there who will not think twice about taking advantage of you. 

jason vance
jason vance
3 months ago

I am gobsmacked and jealous. This was 35 years ago and you write about it like it was yesterday. Memories like yours, which I do not possess, drive me crazy, because it isn’t something I can never achieve. But, good on you for the blessing.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
4 months ago

Condoms?

Andrew D
Andrew D
4 months ago
Reply to  Cho Jinn

I think we called them (rubber) Johnnies then

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Yes, or Durex. The word “condom” only started being used when the AIDS scare started. “Use a Johnny” didn’t have the same portentous ring to it.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
4 months ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

And if they asked “are you carrying any protection ?”
they normally meant ‘are you carrying a .38 Smith & Wesson.