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Freedom to roam: 40 years of InterRail

Posted by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries |

Anniversaries are worth celebrating. And this summer marks the fortieth birthday of InterRail. Yes, it was way back in 1972 that Europe’s national rail operators launched a scheme to tempt young Europeans to explore their home continent.

What was first seen as a one-off initiative developed into a programme that helped shape a generation. And the pioneers of 1972 are now nearing pension age. InterRail is of course still going strong and no longer is it age-limited. The freedom to roam is open to all European residents.

hidden europe magazine marks forty years of InterRail with the publication today of its latest issue. hidden europe 37 includes a five-page article that captures the flavour of InterRail then and now. The full text of that article entitled “Ticket to ride: 40 years of InterRail” and written by Nicky Gardner can be read online.

InterRail has always been more than merely a train ticket. It encouraged spontaneity. When folk used InterRail in the 1970s, they often had a notional itinerary. Lübeck to Lisbon or Sarajevo to Stockholm. But the chances were that you never reached Lisbon or Stockholm. The distractions and diversions that popped up along the way were all part of the experience.

Of course, Europe has changed in the forty years since InterRail was launched. The beauty of the early days was that if you were stuck for somewhere to stay, you could just hop on a night train and sleep there for free. For true stalwarts of the rails, InterRail meant not just a month of unlimited rail travel but also a month of free accommodation. So we set off from home with uncluttered vistas, too little money and a copy of the latest Cook’s European (with its distinctive brick-red cover in those days). We knew not what lay ahead. Our travels might take us to Narvik or Cádiz. Or they might not. There was excitement in the very fact that so little was planned.

Nowadays, night train operators demand advance reservations (as indeed do many day trains too). No longer do those short of a sou clutter the corridors and compartments of Europe’s night trains with their rucksacks and guitars. And travellers have changed too. Many Europeans have become more risk averse. They need the comfort of advance planning. They want every stage of the journey to be mapped out before they leave home. And that’s why we have great hope of the early generation of InterRail explorers. As they retire, they’ll soon have time on their hands. They will surely soon be taking to the rails again. Forty years on from its inception, InterRail still offers the freedom to roam. And it’ll be the pioneers who will remind us, in the years ahead, of how it should be done.

Why not take a look at the article published today in hidden europe magazine.

Copyright © Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. All rights reserved.
hidden europe
About The Authors

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the Europe by Rail guidebook - the latest edition of which was published in June 2016. A fully updated 15th edition will be published in autumn 2017.

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