Free InterRail passes – one chance only for 18-yo Brits

It’s a wee while since I celebrated my 18th birthday (to be honest, it’s a wee while since my daughters celebrated their 18th birthdays) but if I was turning 18 this year I’d be working right now on my application for one of 30,000 free month-long InterRail passes being given away this summer by the European Commission.

“What’s an InterRail pass?”, I hear you ask. Good question! It’s a ticket which allows for free train travel – plus some ferry and air travel too – on almost all rail networks in 30 European countries, but excluding your country of residence. A one-month unlimited pass across all EU countries would normally set an under 27-year-old back by around £500, so for teens keen to travel, this is a brilliant opportunity.

The only catch (but it’s hardly a catch at all) is that travelling teens will be expected to share their adventures on social media as they go. Most would be doing that anyway. And there is another tiny catch; the 30,000 passes are allocated among EU countries according to population so only 1,900 will be coming to the UK. There are around 715,000 18-year olds in Britain, so luck will play a large part in whether you get a ticket. And if you are lucky you might end up travelling solo, because the chances of your mates being lucky too are slim.

Image: InterRail

But why are the European Commission being so generous? Their aim is to celebrate the freedom of travel that Europeans enjoy across the region’s borders. But it’s also about broader minds; giving young people the chance to discover all that they can about the cultures and traditions of their fellow Europeans. Greater understanding leads to greater tolerance. This much we know.

Isn’t that fantastic? Until we remember that for young Brits, 2018 is their one-time-only chance.  We’ll be out of the EU by next summer. That’s a real slap in the face for current 16 and 17-year olds…

I never did the full-on InterRail ‘two-pairs-of-shorts-for-a-month-and-washing-in-fountains’ experience, but I did do a fair amount of solo travel around Europe as a teen, mostly to and from jobs (and then to stay with the families of the folk I’d worked with), and mostly by train. If nothing else, it taught me three things:

  1. Always carry a knife. Not for reasons of safety (although see below) but because sometimes cheese, bread and apples are the easiest food to buy and carry, and it’s hard to make a cheese and apple sandwich without one.
  2. That 24-hour journeys are much more fun if you can pass the time telling outrageous untruths to your fellow passengers and seeing how long it is before you get caught. On a slow train from Hamburg to Montreux I claimed to be a singer on my way to the Jazz Festival. All was going well till a fellow passenger produced a guitar…
  3. The communications cords in Italian trains really do bring everything to a halt. I pulled one when a fellow passenger became overly amorous in a tunnel between Lucca and Florence. The train shuddered to a halt in the middle of the countryside and the guard arrived. After a brief discussion (and helpful witnesses) the perpetrator and was immediately thrown off the train and I was treated to pastries and coffee for breakfast.

We have encouraged our daughters to travel and see as much of the world as they can. One has taken that completely to heart, and has lived, volunteered and worked (so far) in Honduras, India and The Netherlands. Based in Utrecht she zips around Europe on €8 flights staying in €10 hostels. The experiences she has gained from this are immeasurable. Our younger daughter worked in Greece last summer and is heading back there next month. Her self-confidence has grown in ways that it couldn’t have, had she stayed closer to home.

Travel is not just great fun, it helps us all to grow and learn. And it makes us more tolerant of others when we experience their cultures first-hand. Britain is an island. We are already cut off from our neighbours. Closing ourselves and our young people off to another – albeit small – opportunity to enjoy free travel, open borders and to work abroad, will only isolate us further. The nearer we get to March 2019 the more I despair.

SUBSCRIBE to receive a weekly email to receive my most recent column on a Saturday morning – just enter your email address in the  widget on my home page. Unsubscribe at any time – no dire consequences, I promise ;)

Feel free to share on social media or by email and to contact me with any feedback.

This post first appeared in Seven Days, published by SPP and issued with The Inverness Courier, The Northern Scot and four other titles across the north of Scotland, week ended 11th May 2018.