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The Inter Rail pass allows any person who has been a legal resident in Europe or any of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia or Turkey for at least six months (not on a student or tourist visa, or military personnel living on a base), to travel throughout Europe by train. Eurail offers a similar pass for visitors from outside Europe, which is more limited in scope and requires first class travel for those over age 25.
Why Inter Rail?
"Interrailing" is less popular in these days of discount airlines and various affordable air passes, but it remains a uniquely flexible way to travel — you can literally arrive at a city, decide you don't like the look of it, and zoom off on the next train out. This makes it a great way to get a feel for a large region, especially when heading out into the countryside. Do not, however, fall into the trap of traveling so continuously that all you see is a blur of railway stations; it's always best to spend a minimum of three nights per destination so you can settle down a bit.
Inter Rail is a great deal in countries where rail travel would otherwise be expensive, eg. Germany, Switzerland or Scandinavia. It's a poorer investment in Eastern Europe, where individual train tickets are generally cheaper. Do note that, if you're going to stick to a tightly defined geographical region, there will often be local passes available that may be more affordable than Inter Rail.
Using your pass
The Inter Rail pass is a booklet the size of an airline ticket, each page filled with rows and columns. The front page will state the validity of the ticket (zones and time) and your personal details, which must match the ID you are using (usually a passport). Using it is very easy: whenever you board a train, write down date and time, where you're going from, where you're going to, seat or couchette, and the train number. When the conductors come to check tickets, show them the pass and they'll (usually) stamp that row. That's it! If you manage to run out of pages — a sign that you're travelling way too much — you can get extra ones added on at any larger train station. Your Inter Rail pass cannot be refunded if lost or stolen, so guard it carefully!
Note that extra fees can apply for making reservations, fast trains, couchettes and sleepers. The exact rules vary by country and can be very complex, so ask in advance, but a rule of thumb is that anything which requires a reservation in advance (shown with a black R in a box in schedules) will require a surcharge. If traveling overnight, the token fees for couchettes (usually less than €20) are well worth the price.
Also note the one big exception of Inter Rail: travel in your home country is not included. You do, however, get a 50% discount for the trip to the nearest border. The same discount also applies if traveling from zone to zone through a country outside the pass.
Zones and prices
Europe is for the purpose of Inter Rail portioned into eight zones:
* up to and including 25 years of age