In households all over the country teens are planning a post-exam summer of travel around Europe by train. On their interrail itinerary they’ll visit world famous landmarks, cultural sights, breathtaking views and er, a few dance clubs too. Check they’re properly prepared with our ultimate interrail packing list. Don’t let them leave home without it!
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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). I loathe unpacking things that weren’t used or worn – and remembering how heavy they made the suitcase – but 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
I’m a mum of boys so this is necessarily a male-orientated list but there are essentials here that work for everyone.
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Backpacks for interrailing
Interrailing is by nature an urban adventure. It isn’t generally 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 get cheap flights to their first destination as it works out cheaper than using the Eurotunnel. Occasionally they’ll overnight on a train. Generally, 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.
Interrailing backpack vs suitcase
The 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 will be more suitable.
Convertible holdalls 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 are lighter in weight than a toploader rucksack with a rigid frame, more manoevrable, and flexible enough to be shoved into overhead luggage racks. They can be slung on and off the shoulders quickly so it’s easy to negotiate a crowded train with them. Plus there’s a sporting chance that the clothes you fold and pack come out in reasonable shape at the other end as long as the bag is filled snugly. They easily double up as holiday luggage and sports or university bags too.
However, they don’t hug the body or distribute the weight in the same way as a proper rucksack. 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. Neither of the boys had to walk far with their bags when they were interrailing so they didn’t find this a problem.
But some of their friends have pointed out that a fully loaded duffel is a lot of weight on the shoulders and makes a flight of stairs or a long station platform a bit of a challenge. In this case there are a couple of good alternatives:
Interrailing with a wheeled suitcase
An alternative would be to use a wheeled backpack or suitcase for interrailing. Wheels make light work of a heavy bag although wheelie bags inevitably need carrying when it comes to cobbled streets or flights of stairs. The boys also point out that it’s more convenient to move around ‘hands free’ when you might be navigating with a map or phone.
Interrailing with a rucksack
We haven’t done this but friends say that the key is to make sure that the rucksack fits well at the outset. By distributing the weight of the bag between the shoulder and hip straps, a good rucksack makes the load feel much more manageable. An outdoor activity shop will be able to help with choosing and fitting a suitable rucksack for interrailing as opposed to hiking.
Choosing a backpack for interrailing
The two duffel bags we’ve used have been strong and comparatively inexpensive. Nick uses the 60 litre 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 keep an eye on in a luggage rack). It’s now several years old but there’s no real sign of wear or tear yet.
Ed has the slightly bigger Craghoppers outdoor holdall bag a simple straightforward holdall also 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 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.
While I’ve been researching this post I’ve also come across the Osprey Farpoint. This is a backpack with hip straps but it packs like a suitcase. It comes in both mens and womens sizes with a choice of 55 or 70 litre capacity and includes a very handy 13 litre day pack. We haven’t tried it but I’m going to keep it in mind as a ‘gap year’ bag and I’ll update you as and when.
I also like the look of Osprey’s sturdy wheeled backpack the Osprey Sojourn 60.
These bags are a step up price-wise from the holdalls, but we’ve just bought an Osprey Shuttle from their range and we’re impressed.
If your teen is planning an interrail journey 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, 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.
Tech for interrailing
Adapter plug for chargers. Do you need a 3 pin travel plug adaptor? This one has a single USB port. 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. Division of opinion in our household about these. Ed doesn’t bother, Nick says they’re very handy on the beach – or in a kayak – to protect a phone from sand and splashing. I agree and I’ve also used one to take keys, currency and lipbalm to the beach.
Power bank for extra phone charging. An essential piece of kit for travelling teens – adults too. Keep it charged up and it’ll really come into its own on the train or at a festival. We use this one: Jackery power bank
Portable Bluetooth speaker Ed and friends took one of these interrailing with them last year. It was handy for music wherever they were staying and has survived unscathed to go with them again this summer. 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 too.
Travel Accessories for interrailing
Belt pouch. I picked up these incredibly light, stretchy beltbags a few years ago in a travel shop. They’ve served us well when we’ve wanted to conceal money, bank cards or phones discreetly under whatever we’re wearing. The latest model here has a headphone cable port too so it can work like an extra pocket. Don’t worry, they aren’t all lime green – there’s a choice of colours.
Flexible refillable water bottle. Our platypus water bottle, click here has gone interrailing twice and is off again next week. 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 really an essential. European sun can be dazzling and you don’t want to rely on a dodgy pair from a carousel outside a souvenir shop. Can’t really go wrong with Raybans obvs.
Travel pillow A comfy little 100% cotton flannel travel pillow, here, that has its own drawstring bag to squish it down neatly to pack. Helpful 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 Ed didn’t actually need this but I’m including it because they’re 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. ‘It doesn’t really absorb water in the way I’d like it to,’ points out Ed. We all know what he means. Sadly though, a ‘proper towel’ takes up ridiculous amounts of room in a backpack and never properly dries out once wet. And then becomes smelly. These travel towels look promising 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 conventional top loading 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.
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? Project Shout promotes awareness.
Pharmacy Essentials for interrailing
Washbag: Every home has a spare to pass on but I did notice this Mountain Warehouse washbag that is specifically designed for travel, camping and festivals. 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 for travel sizes – at inordinate expense. I find empty travel size bottles aren’t very satisfactory to use and are 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.
Medical kit: any prescription requirements plus insect repellent spray, insect bite cream, paracetamol, antihistamines – if necessary, 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 at ‘home’ 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 (luckily) 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
- 1 x thin jumper
- 1 shirt
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 x swim trunks
- 6 pairs socks and pants
- Flip flops or slides
- Ideally, a pair of smarter shoes for going out
- Waterproof jacket. On last summer’s trip Ed had torrential downpours as well as 40 degree sun. 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.
Are there any interrail essentials you’d add to this list? Please share in the comments!
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