Why Train Travel is Perfect for Older Women: My Interrail Experience
My travel experiences have never really matched those of my peers. While my college friends were traveling through Europe, in the 1970s, I was busy working full-time to finance a university degree. Then, at age 25, just as my friends were settling down to married life, I took a 3-month trip to India, travelling from Delhi to Jaipur and Calcutta to Chennai by train.
Now, as an older woman, the world expects me to slow down. Well, you know what? When it comes to travel, I feel like speeding up! After all, there are so many amazing places that I want to see in this world – and I don’t have unlimited time to see them.
With this in mind, for the last month, I set out on a train adventure with Interrail. In some ways, it was a scary experience, setting out on my own. In other ways, it took me back to where I started my travel path, all those decades ago. It reminded me of one of my favorite T.S. Eliot quotes:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Interrail is Not Just for Students Anymore
Before gap-years in Thailand or Australia became the norm, train travel was a student rite of passage. Now, 40 years later, Interrail is looking to attract older travelers. They offer a senior pass that allows travel in 30 European countries and offers the comfort of First Class carriages and gourmet food. All this is available while you are whizzing across the continent, watching iconic cities and beautiful scenery fly by.
As a woman in her 60s, I was excited to accept Interrail’s offer to see their service first hand. Seeing Northern Europe definitely appealed to me.
In addition, I wanted to inspire the women in the Sixty and Me Community to live their travel dreams. I wanted to prove that you are never “too old” or “to afraid” to travel solo by train.
Along the way, I found myself asking 5 questions about my personal travel style. As with so many trips, I ended up learning even more about myself then the cities that I visited.
Here are the questions that I encountered on my Interrail trip.
Do I Prefer Being Spontaneous or Sensible?
This is a dilemma that most of us face when we travel. We wonder how much we should plan vs. “just let things happen.” My quirky bohemian persona wanted the trip to be open and flexible. However, my more disciplined site forced me to book all of my train and hotel reservations in advance. When I needed help, the Interrail customer service team were incredibly patient and well informed.
The compromise that I came to was as follows. I ended up planning all of the “big stuff” (hotels and the actual schedule). But, I left my time in each city much more flexible. This allowed me to feel free.
How about you? Do you prefer to be spontaneous or sensible when you travel?
How Long Should I Stay in Each Location?
Like my younger self, I decided to skip through Europe at a breakneck pace. As a result, I only stayed one-and-a-half days in each of my destinations – Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Zurich, Milan, Lecce and Rome.
Each train journey was about 6-8 hours long, so, even though I love trains, it was somewhat tiring. On reflection, I probably should have spent more time in each city.
Perhaps, now that I’m in my 60s, I really do deserve to take it easy once in a while! Interrail offers quite a bit of flexibility. So, this is really a matter of personal choice.
I’m curious what you feel about this. When it comes to travel, do you find that you like to take things a bit easier now? Or, do you prefer fast-paced trips?
By the way, if you are looking for help planning your train trip, I highly recommend checking out Man in Seat 61. Whether you like to move fast or slow, his advice will help you to get to your destination with a smile on your face.
Should I Travel Solo or with a Friend?
I used to love traveling solo when I was a young woman. That said, I have to be honest that I was a bit nervous to set out by myself for such a long time. So, I decided to sprinkle in a few hostels into my itinerary. Not only were they cheaper than hotels, but, they gave me the opportunity to make some new friends.
In Copenhagen, I stayed at the most wonderful hostel, called Urban House. It was the least expensive place I stayed – and it was also my favorite! I had 5 roommates at Urban house and I loved every minute of the experience. I was actually the first up in the morning and the last to bed in the evening. So much for the stereotype about loud teenagers!
Before I left, I also looked for acquaintances in each of the cities that I knew I would be visiting. This gave me a social “anchor” in each city.
I even visited a cool “hippie” community in Copenhagen, called Christiana, where I recorded this video.
What Could I Do in Just One Day in Each City?
One of the biggest dilemmas that I faced on this trip was how to maximize my time in each city. One decision that I made at the very beginning of the trip was to take a “HopOn, HopOff” bus in each location.
Is it a “touristy” thing to do? Yes. But, it is still one of the best ways to see an entire city quickly. My pattern was to take a bus trip in the morning and return to the places that looked most interesting in the afternoon. Here’s a short video that I recorded now far from one of the bus stops in Stockholm.
Another service that helped me to get the most from each of my city stays was Vayable. Not only are they cost effective, but, their guides can help you to find all of the hidden places that only locals know. Here’s a video of me and my Vayable guide in Copenhagen.
Can Travel and Learning be Combined?
This trip was also unique for me because of the way that it ended. During my final week, I took part in a cooking class, compliments of a fabulous group called Flavours Holidays. Once again, this was an opportunity for me to try something a bit more structured – learning to cook in one of the most amazing places in the world.
To be completely honest, I fell in love with the concept of learning adventures. This is actually one of the reasons that I’ve become such a big fan of Road Scholar. There is something so powerful about learning a new language or skill, while you are on the road.
I’m Back Where I Started, But, I Know the Place for the First Time
During my entire trip, Interrail was flawless. In just one month, I visited 12 destinations and 7 countries. That’s 6000 kilometers in less than 30 days! It was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad that I was able to experience everything that Interrail had to offer.
Looking back, I can say that train travel in your 60s is definitely different. I was certainly more aware of what was going on around me. I was probably a tiny bit more cautious too.
At the same time, I’m more convinced than ever that train travel is perfect for older women. I hope that you will visit Interrail and consider them for your next big adventure.
Do you love to travel by train? What destination is next on your list? Please join the conversation.