EDDIE LEGGATT, ELLIS DAVIES
It’s a Sunday at the start of June, and Eddie and myself are sat in his front room, rapidly realising that we should have begun planning our Interrail trips months ago. After an entirely fruitless afternoon spent calling French train companies, we give up and resign ourselves to a trip of inevitable disappointment and additional expense. Next time we see each other is Paris, and we decide to meet at Austerlitz station with no tickets reserved. Immediately we’re told that it’s impossible to get to Nice that day, as every train is fully booked. Solution? Go to the desk and ask for any train south. It begins.
We did not plan our trip at all, and it is for that exact reason that it was so brilliant! What follows is our logic behind why you should not plan ahead or holiday to an itinerary, and just wing it.
- You’ll discover amazing places you’ve never heard of.
It turned out that our appearance at the ticket desk in Paris would take us to a small alpine town that neither of us had come across before. Getting there at 5 AM, we spent 2 hours waiting for bakeries to open to load up on food, and then found a grassy hillside where we ate and snoozed as the morning broke over the French Alps. It could have been worse.
The idea of grabbing any train can seem scary and odd, but that morning, as we sat on that hillside we decided that this is how it would stay for the next 2 weeks. Surely that’s the point of going Inter-Railing? Discovering new and different places is all part of the experience, and so much fun. Over the next couple of weeks we found beautiful tiny beaches, picturesque fishing villages, and glassy mountain lakes that would make your jaw drop, all stumbled upon by just wandering about the continent.
- No itinerary, no limits!
Following our fortunate detour to the Alps, we did finally get to the south of France. We arrived in Nice just under 24 hours after setting off from Paris, covering a distance of 932 km in our first day! On a side note, don’t bother with Nice. It’s just your typical built-up coastal city, devoid of any charm or character. However, the lack of itinerary led us to one of the top finds of our trip. In a small hostel room in Nice, we met an American guy who drew us a map to a small beach just along the coast. We later named him Daffy; it seemed appropriate.
One quick train journey and a mountain pass later, Cap d’ail: A tiny strip of shale sand and turquoise Mediterranean at the foot of sheer cliffs. Bordered by small bars, Cap d’ail is one of the most stunning beaches we have ever seen, and one of the most satisfying pints of the trip. Idyllic beach, the sea twenty foot away from your table as you sip an ice cold €2 pint - that’ll do.
Seeing Cap d’ail is just one of the results of having no limitations. On Eddie’s departure 2 weeks in, Ellis found out that there was a free music festival titled Fete de la Musique in Dudelange, and decided that’s where he was off next. Not having set plans to get in the way meant seeing Frank Turner for free in a small town in Luxembourg. No way would that have happened had we stuck to a set route!
- Things WILL f*ck up!
So, as you might imagine this approach to traveling does have its flaws. Stuff can definitely go wrong. Leaving Cap d’ail, with a cursory look for our next destination, we began an eight hour trip across the south of France and down the Italian coast to La Spezia, a place Google assured us was picturesque. Arriving there at eleven p.m., we quickly made two discoveries: La Spezia was a military port town with nowhere to stay, and Ellis sinks rapidly into a negative spiral at the idea of spending a night on a park bench. An open bar, four beers and some WiFi granted us hope and a booking on a 1 A.M. train out of La Spezia to Rome. Paris to Rome in three nights, only one of which was spent in a bed. However, this screw up did wind up with us standing outside the Colosseum at 6 AM, and wandering around an essentially deserted Rome whilst the city came to life. We decided to stay in Rome for a few days and catch up on some sleep and explore the ancient city.
- Just pick a spot on the map!
So where to from Rome? We decided that spending a few days in a city had left us missing the sea, so the coast it was. Not knowing anything about the Italian coast, Eddie had a cheeky google while Ellis had an important mid-afternoon snooze. The next stop turned out to be Tropea, a small coastal town on the Tyrrhenian sea perched precariously on top of huge cliffs. Absolutely glorious, we spent a fantastic afternoon leaping from a twenty foot cliff into the sea and raiding the beach bar. Two excellent days spent lazing about on a beach, staying in an apartment overlooking the town at just €12 for the night! This spot-on-the-map policy continued to work for us, from France all the way to Croatia and back, allowing us to find places that we otherwise would have completely missed had we stuck to the major sites of Europe.
- Make snap decisions.
Our final point on this list of wise words is to always go with snap decisions! Sometimes there really is no need to spend hours, days, years mulling over possible options. Just do it! You won’t regret it.
Perhaps our most snap decision came in the hostel in Rome one afternoon, as we were trying to work out if we would be able to travel down the length of Croatia or not. On discovering the sparseness of the train network, the outlook appeared grim. Hang on, why don’t we rent a car and drive it? Yes! Of course! Wait, I think I left my driving license at home… bugger. So, somehow, Ellis managed to find a car rental company who were willing to give us a car on the back of a photocopy license from the DVLA, and got us a car! Still a bit proud of that. Getting a car allowed us to thoroughly explore Croatia, from the lush mountainous inland to the beautiful dry coastline. Throughout Croatia our housing policy was this: Walk into a bar, order a beer, and ask the bar-man if he knew anybody who had apartments to rent for the night. It worked flawlessly, the only arguable downside being that we had to spend a lot of time in very pretty villages sipping cold drinks, waiting for apartment owners to turn up. It’s a hard life, right?
University is one of the few periods in your life when you have the freedom to do things like a three week backpacking holiday. Take a chance and just go for it! Forget about the planning, just leave home and see where you end up. What’s the point in doing something if you can just predict what will happen? While we can’t all pull an OxBridge and take a gap-year (don’t-you-want-to-hear-about-my-gap-yah?), an InterRail type of trip is much more manageable and incredibly rewarding. Even if you do have to tolerate a large bearded Welsh bloke playing a tiny guitar and singing Abba at you the whole time.