It was more than a holiday: how interrailing changed my life
Providing editorial for national newspapers conveys a passion for travel, as well as profile raising. Words by Rebecca Scrase in The Guardian
If you had told me that simply hopping on a train to backpack around Europe at the age of 17 would set me on a path which would define my future life and career, I’d have laughed in my Maggi noodles. But, in the 30 years since my mum waved me and two friends off from Oxenholme station, I’ve completed an MA in south-east Asian history, lived and travelled for seven years in Asia and Australia, worked for some of the world’s leading travel companies and now have my own travel PR business. Interrailing was, for me – and for anyone who embarks on a similar rite of passage – about way more than a “holiday”; it was about discovering people and places away from parental gaze; exploring beyond safe harbours; growing up; making friends – and mistakes; being independent and so, so much more.
Like every intrepid explorer, the highs were just that: arriving at our first stop, Paris, to find it was the Bastille Day bicentennial and the city had transformed into a giant party; climbing the Tower of Pisa (though we later discovered we’d missed a storey, thinking the seventh floor was the top); waking up to sunrise beyond the windows as we traversed the Alps; being bought ice-cream in Geneva by an elderly Swiss benefactor at a nearby table who knew we were broke.
The lows, though, while tear-jerkingly, homesick-inducingly awful at the time, were actually the most character building, providing memories that have endured the most: returning to a hostel in Naples to find we’d missed curfew and been locked out; getting on the wrong train in Rome four – count them – times; jumping off in the middle of nowhere, a little scared by drunken twentysomething Italians only to find no campsite (a rubbish tip and a bivvy bag sufficed); running out of money, completely, in Vienna after having our only collective credit card stolen.
Perhaps the most bizarre experience of all was in Austria, where by complete coincidence we met the headteacher from my friend’s school who was unaware the PE teacher had “lent” us the school tent. What were the chances? It was remote, you had to cross a lake from the train station to get there. He and his family were staying in a caravan, it was freezing and raining and they took pity on us, inviting us in to warm up and have tea.
Things may have changed a lot since 1989, noodles have improved and “home” is never further than a mobile phone call or email away, but at its heart the interrailing experience is as life-changing as it ever was. Go.