In households all over the country teens are planning a post-exam summer of travel around Europe by train. They’ll visit world famous landmarks, cultural sights, breathtaking views and probably a few clubs too. But are they properly prepared? Read on for our essentials for interrailing from the best backpacks for interrailing to travel accessories and pharmacy must-haves. Don’t let them leave home without our ultimate interrail packing list!
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It’s that packing list time of year. I’ll confess here that secretly I love a packing list. I’ve kept them for all our family trips and made a note of what we did and didn’t need. (I know). But I loathe unpacking things that weren’t used and remembering how heavy they made the suitcase. At the same time I like to be ready for anything. It’s painful to have to buy something at an over-priced tourist shop when there’s a better alternative sitting at home.
Essential interrail packing list
So when each of my sons went off on his interrail travels I made a list of what he took – and then checked again after the trip to see what was and wasn’t essential. The boys were already used to packing rucksacks for camping expeditions and backpacks for holidays. They asked around amongst friends who’d already been interrailing for extra tips.
The European interrail trip is a post-exam tradition for British teens. For many it is their first proper holiday without their parents in tow. In brief, they buy an Interrail pass, valid for 15 days, 22 days or a month, and plot their journey by train around European cities. They’ll sleep in hostels, Airbnbs or sometimes on the trains themselves. Currently eastern Europe is particularly popular with student interrailers as the cost of living is lower than in western European cities like Paris or Berlin. You can read more of our interrail tips for teens, here.
I’m a mum of boys so our ultimate interrail packing list is necessarily a male-orientated one. But you’ll find travel essentials here that work for everyone, even parents.
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Backpacks for interrailing
Interrailing is by nature an urban adventure. It isn’t an expedition-style holiday unless you deliberately make it so. Most interrailers travel from city to city by train and then stay in hostels or Airbnbs. Lots catch planes to their first destination as it works out cheaper than using the Eurotunnel. Occasionally they’ll overnight on a train. But generally speaking, unless they’re actually camping, they don’t need sleeping bags. And unless they get lost they don’t spend a great deal of time walking with all their belongings on their backs. So interrailing in Europe is different to more exotic gap year adventures and the luggage required is a bit different too.
Choosing an Interrailing backpack vs suitcase
My boys both used convertible holdalls for their interrailing trips. If you’re planning more independent travel with a likelihood of walking greater distances with pack on back then a conventional rucksack or a lightweight backpack with frame might be more suitable. But they were both happy with their choices because their bags were easy to manoeuvre and pretty compact.
Pros of a convertible holdall
- They have full length zipped flaps for access so they can be packed like a suitcase. This also means that, unlike a rucksack, you can see the full contents of the bag without having to unpack it all first.
- They’re lighter in weight than a toploader rucksack with a rigid frame. And a holdall is more manoeuvrable too.
- It is flexible enough to be shoved into overhead luggage racks on the train. Plus you can sling it on and off your shoulders quickly making it easy to carry through crowds and train carriages.
- On top of this, with a holdall there’s a sporting chance that your clothes come out in reasonable shape as long as you folded them and packed the bag snugly.
- A holdall can usefully double up as holiday luggage and sports bag too.
Cons of a convertible holdall
- Unlike a proper rucksack they don’t hug the body or distribute the weight. They hang from the shoulders rather than letting your hips take some of the strain.
- Nor do they have the technology that helps to stop your back overheating. However neither of my boys had to walk far with their bags when they were interrailing so they didn’t find this a problem.
- Some of the boys’ friends have pointed out that a fully loaded duffel is a lot of weight on the shoulders. This can make a flight of stairs or a long station platform a bit of a challenge. In this case the best alternatives for interrailing are a wheeled suitcase or lightweight rucksack.
Interrailing with a wheeled suitcase
A wheeled suitcase or backpack for interrailing would make light work of a heavy bag. However wheelie bags still have to be carried on cobbled streets or flights of stairs and the wheel system adds weight. And my sons point out that it’s more convenient to move around ‘hands free’ with your pack on your back when you are navigating with a map or phone.
Interrailing with a rucksack
One or two of my sons’ friends took a rucksack interrailing. I’m using the term ‘rucksack’ here to mean the big, rugged top-loading backpacks that are used on camping expeditions such as in the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) scheme. The key is to make sure that the bag fits you well at the outset. By distributing the weight of the bag between the shoulder and hip straps, a good rucksack makes your load feel much more manageable. An outdoor activity shop will be able to help you to choose and fit a rucksack correctly.
The disadvantage of a big expedition rucksack is that the frame adds weight and it can be bulky to manoeuvre on a train. On top of this the top-loading style can mean you have to unpack the whole thing to get to items at the bottom. But packing cubes can really help here, see below.
Interrailing with a backpack
I’m using ‘backpack’ here to define lighter weight backpacks that help to bridge the gap between a big expedition rucksack and a suitcase. Some have a zipped panel openings for suitcase-style access and others even come with wheels. They’re lighter than a traditional rucksack but distribute the weight better than a duffel with straps.
Choosing the best backpack for interrailing
The two duffel bags we’ve used have been strong and comparatively inexpensive. Nick uses a Patagonia unisex duffel bag. It’s made of ripstop polyester with a laminate water-repellent finish and has shoulder straps to convert it to a backpack. These Patagonias come in a range of sizes and colour combos. Ours is bright blue and grey and very easy to spot on an airport carousel (or to keep an eye on in a luggage rack). It’s now several years old, having survived university as well, and there’s no real sign of wear or tear yet. It’s been a very good buy. The Patagonia duffel in the link below is very similar. It’s 55 litre and weighs 1.1kg.
Ed has the slightly bigger Craghoppers outdoor holdall bag a simple straightforward holdall with shoulder straps that convert it to backpack mode. Water resistant and with 70 litres worth of roominess, it has an internal divider though Ed says he hasn’t used that. There’s a little pocket on the outside that’s handy for a water bottle. Ours is grey/black and there’s also a red version.
A recommended backpack for interrailing
If you decide to choose a backpack for interrailing then we’ve heard lots of good reports about the Osprey Farpoint. Ospreys are famously good quality and we have an Osprey Shuttle that we’re very happy with.
- The Osprey Farpoint is a lightweight backpack with hipbelt and frame but – and this is a real bonus – it has a large zipped panel to access the main compartment. This means it packs like a suitcase and is lockable too.
- The ventilated back system is well-designed and a choice of size fittings helps you achieve a comfortable fit.
- Cushioned grab handles on the top and sides make it easy to carry and lift onto luggage racks.
- It comes with a handy detachable 13 litre day pack that has top and side pockets and a laptop sleeve. This can also be clipped, kangaroo pouch style, to the front of the harness so that you can keep an eye on your valuables.
The Osprey Farpoint comes in a choice of 40, 55, 70 or 80 litre capacity and two size fittings. As an example the 70 in an M/L fitting, weighs 2.29kg.
The Osprey Fairview below has the same features as the Farpoint but with a women-specific fit. Click the link below to see all its features and to read some reviews. This is the 55 litre model which weighs 2.26kg. It’s also available in 40 and 70 litre.
I also like the look of Osprey’s sturdy wheeled backpack the Osprey Sojourn 60 although the wheels obviously make it heavier at 3.5kg.
PLANNING AN INTERRAIL OR EURAIL TRIP? Then check out our top interrailing tips for teenagers planning a summer trip to Europe without parents, here
What to take interrailing
Documents for interrailing
Passport, tickets, flight and train info, EHIC card, travel insurance details, rail tickets In the past we’ve packed all of these docs together in a ziplock bag. It’s roomy enough for extra bits and pieces and keeps important things dry and safe from rain, damp towels or leaky suncream. But these wallets look fun and would be easy to spot when rummaging around in an over-stuffed backpack.
Some currency and bank card. The boys hate carrying change but a few euro notes are useful at the start of a journey. For the rest of the time Ed tucks his bank card into his phone case – double jeopardy if it’s lost or stolen of course. It’s worth researching the best card to take too. This site has tips on good debit or credit cards for travel to help avoid transaction fees, cash withdrawal fees or interest charges overseas.
Tech for interrailing
Adaptor plug for chargers. Do you need a 3 pin travel plug adaptor? This one is an earthed adaptor for UK travellers to Europe and has a single USB port too. But the boys prefer this style with multiple USB ports, since they don’t carry any appliances with plugs.
Phone and charger cable. Goes without saying!
Waterproof bag for phone. Nick always packs one of these and I do as well. He says they’re very handy on the beach or in a kayak to protect a phone from sand and splashing. I use an additional one for keys, currency and lipbalm on the beach. Conveniently they come in a pack of two!
Power bank for extra phone charging. An essential piece of kit for all travellers. Keep it charged up and it’ll really come into its own on the train or at a festival. Nick has an Anker:
Portable Bluetooth speaker Ed and friends took one of these interrailing. It was handy for music wherever they were staying and survived unscathed to go with them the following summer too. The Chant Mini BT pairs easily with their phones and has good sound for its small size. It’s stylish and made from sustainable materials too. There’s a carbinier clip to attach it to a backpack which arguably makes it rather easily pinchable but Ed says it can be clipped to jeans.
Travel Accessories for interrailing
Belt pouch. I picked up some incredibly light, stretchy beltbags a few years ago in a travel shop. They’ve been really useful extra ‘pockets’ on trips when we’ve wanted to conceal money, bank cards or phones under whatever we’re wearing. This is very similar:
Flexible refillable water bottle. Our platypus water bottle, click here has gone interrailing twice. It’s the 500ml size so not at all bulky when full. Platypus give exhaustive instructions for cleaning involving bicarb of soda or lemon juice, if hot soapy water isn’t enough.
Sunglasses I’m including them here rather than the clothes section because they’re an essential. European sun can be dazzling and you don’t want to rely on a dodgy pair from a souvenir shop. Can’t really go wrong with Raybans.
Travel pillow A comfy little 100% cotton flannel travel pillow, here, won’t take up much space. It has its own drawstring bag to squish it down neatly to pack. Very welcome when you’re desperate for some shuteye on the train. Ours has been on several trips and also in and out of the washing machine.
Sleeping bag liner, here Useful in the case of doubtful hotel or hostel cleanliness. Or in places that only provide a duvet even in the height of summer.
Travel towel. A ‘proper towel’ takes up ridiculous amounts of room in a backpack and never dries out once wet. And then it becomes smelly. These microfibre travel towels come in a range of colours and have a handy pack and clip so could be slung on the outside of a backpack for a day at the beach. Luckily Airbnbs often provide towels too.
Packing cubes. Not something the boys have used but a friend of Ed’s says they make a big difference to packing in a rucksack. Pack all the t-shirts together in cubes like these and they’ll be easy to spot in the main compartment of your bag. They’ll be a lot less crumpled too. Get really organised and have a cube for each category of clothing.
A carbon monoxide alarm, here We’ve read about the holiday tragedies: a faulty gas appliance in rented accommodation can leak deadly carbon monoxide. We use detectors in our own homes so why do we assume that all holiday stays are automatically safe? And I can’t say I’ve found them in many Airbnbs in Europe. Project Shout promotes awareness.
Pharmacy Essentials for interrailing
Washbag: This Mountain Warehouse washbag is specifically designed for travel, camping and festivals. Tough and lightweight it even optimistically includes a built in mirror.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, shaving gel, razor, hair gel, comb etc. Your teens will know what they want to take. We do a trolley dash round Boots or Superdrug for travel sizes. They aren’t cheap and I’d prefer a more sustainable solution but I find those empty travel size bottles are fiddly to use and tricky to clean once you get home. Don’t forget packs of wet wipes and anti-bacterial hand wipes which they’ll thank you for on an overnight train. A tube of travel wash for hand laundry wouldn’t go amiss either. And a ziplock bag containing a wodge of loo paper will pack easily and might be very welcome one day.
Medical kit: any prescription requirements plus insect repellent spray, insect bite cream, paracetamol, antihistamines if necessary, and also plasters. Especially blister plasters.
Suncream Since the backpack will be too big to carry onto a flight and will have to go in the hold I encourage the boys to take a big bottle of suncream plus a travel size. We like the Nivea ones. The bigger bottle can be left in the backpack and the pocket size can go out for the day with them. Well, I can but dream.
Clothes for Interrailing
This’ll be personal choice and again the following is a boy’s list. This is what Ed took on a three week trip in very mixed European weather. It allows for ‘going out’ clothes for evenings too.
- 7 x t-shirts. Ed wore and washed them all. It’s helpful when Airbnbs have washing machines.
- 5 x shorts inc 2 pairs of cargo shorts and 2 pairs of sport shorts. Ed’s top tip is to take shorts with zip pockets – handy for a card or a phone.
- 1 thin jumper
- 1 shirt
- A pair of jeans
- 2 x swim trunks
- 6 pairs socks and pants
- Flip flops or slides
- A pair of smarter shoes for going out
- Waterproof jacket. Ed had torrential downpours as well as 40 degree sun on his interrail trip. A lightweight packaway style mac will at least avoid the problem of how to dry clothes that are dripping wet.
We’ve already covered music in the tech section. But for those loooonng train journeys Ed recommends:
A book. Controversial but when there’s no wifi sometimes old fashioned is best.
A pack of playing cards.
How to pack for interrailing
I’d strongly recommend starting to pack at least a week, ideally two, before departure day. It’s useful to get all the clothes and bits and pieces together and work out how they’re all going to fit in the bag. This is a good time to think of using packing cubes too.
Once the bag is packed it’s a good idea to actually put it on and go for a walk round the block. This will help to make sure that it’s adjusted correctly and it isn’t going to rub, pinch or be far too heavy. Check too that it’s light enough to be lifted onto an overhead luggage rack.
It’s also a good plan to work out where tickets, money, phone, sunglasses and water are going to be stowed, both in transit and on a day out.
Are there any interrail essentials you’d add to this list? Please share in the comments!
Please note that all information here is for guidance only. Please check the relevant websites for the most up to date information eg. prices, product features etc.
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