George Bailey visited five counties in ten days with little more than a few hundred pounds in his wallet and a trusty sleeping bag under his arm.
Shivering in a sleeping bag at 4am on a school field in Dover wasn’t exactly the thumping start to the exciting European adventure I’d planned. Nevertheless, these being desperate times on a shoestring budget, it took a little more convincing. Two friends and I had set ourselves the target of travelling to as many European cities and towns as we could in 10 days inter-railing on a budget of about £300, and we (just about) did it.
We opted for the Inter Rail pass – the only affordable and quick way to get around Europe without having to take nightmare coaches and buses. Tip: if you’re under 25, you can get a massive 15%-35% discount depending on which one you go for.
The general plan was to encounter as many new and exciting places as we possibly could. Naturally, Calais doesn’t really place high on that list so we made our way out to the Belgian border town of Kortrijk. I always think that border towns often bring out the worst in places, but immediately the genial and talkative locals endeared us, and we experienced our first reality check when the pub owner served us some characteristically-brilliant Belgian beer and laughed in our faces as we explained we had no plan for where we were going to stay that night.
Cue immediate panic and a quick run to the train station when we realised we had to get to Bruges and find somewhere to sleep before nightfall otherwise we’d be wasting a day of inter rail travel just to get there. Luckily for our traveller budget, hostels are a mere £10-£15 a night across Europe…so we survived another day.
Bruges is actually much more fun than the black comedy film by the same name may have you believe. There’s a bustling square where Belgium’s second strongest beer, Tripel Van De Garre (11.5%) is served, which is a particular treat and you won’t realise its strength until you walk around, as it tastes just like your average pint.
We also stumbled upon a festival in the city centre of Ghent in Belgium. At Polé Polé festival reggae and rock musicians thrilled us (and it was free!). After a troubled, rain-interrupted journey to German university town Aachen, where we ended up sleeping in a tennis court, we moved up to Amsterdam, beleaguered.
Albert Camus said the Dutch capital was like the “concentric circles of hell” and with each circle closer to the core, it gets more and more depraved. So you can imagine it was a little bit off-putting when we accidentally booked a hostel deep in the city centre. The seediness can be uncomfortable but, after a day or two, you’ll find enough peculiar charm to win you over.
We travelled to Luxembourg City on our final stop before going home. It was tall, historical and the complete antithesis to Amsterdam. So if you’re looking for a spontaneous way to discover new places, then this is a memorable way to do so – but I’d advise you take more than £300!