To our son as he sets out on his Interrail trip

Our youngest is about to head out on a rail trip around Europe. In my era, the ‘you’re cool if you own a Sony Walkman’ era, the Interrail trip was a rite of passage, when college-age kids rode all the railways of Europe over one month for one ridiculously-low price. You could spot them a mile off, or at least a carriage away, armed with a sweaty rucksack and an even sweatier salami. To be honest, you could smell them before you could spot them.

When they returned, the tales of their adventures would grow in the telling – individual train trips would become longer, daily expenditures smaller. But those tales would be all their parents would hear about that lost month of their precious children’s lives, as this was the time before internet and mobile phones, and the lucky ones would have survived on a couple of postcards, that only arrived the week their little darlings were due to return.

14977315290_54b6890217Things have changed a little since then. The ‘ridiculously-low’ price of the pass doesn’t seem so low, given budget airlines often do point-to-point trips for less. And the rules, regulations and limitations mean much more forward planning is needed than in the good old days. Routes have to be decided upon, and trains reserved weeks in advance, which is ironic given the whole point of this fare is that it’s for young people, and forward planning is not necessarily their forte. Especially coming out of a final year of school, that’s been packed with life-changing exams.

Still my youth has now learned how to effectively use a spreadsheet, is versed in the international bed-seeking language that is Airbnb, and can correctly point to Budapest and Prague on an unmarked map. And that’s before he’s even set out on his trip.

I know he’ll learn a great deal more, some good, some bad, and that’s the whole point of the experience. But I wanted to give him just a few thoughts as he set off, and knowing if I wrote them in a card, they’d just end up abandoned in the seat pocket of the plane he’s leaving on, I’ve committed my pearls of wisdom to the internet. Because some things are better than in the good old days.

– Try not to smell
– It’s a great big adventure, with big sights and experiences. But don’t forget to savour the little pleasures – an ice cold drink on a blistering hot day, a beautiful sunset viewed from a train window, or the smell and sounds of a European city as it prepares for the evening
– Be an ambassador for your generation and your home country.
– A smile costs nothing; neither does a ‘hello’, ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in the language of whatever country you’re in
– Leave wherever you stay in the same state as you found it. And if the people before you didn’t, leave it as you’d like to have found it.
– Bananas are an excellent source of potassium. And energy. When feeling grumpy, eat a banana.
– If you come across a quiet square in a local neighbourhood, sit down and spend a few hours there. Watch how life’s really lived in whatever city you’re in, and maybe you’ll even have a conversation with someone who calls your holiday destination home.
– There’s no good ending to ‘too good to be true’
– Be respectful in any religious environment, and of all religions
– Send a postcard or two. You know to whom.
– Supermarkets are your new best friend
– We don’t have to hear everything that goes on, but never forget you can call to tell us anything, any time
– If the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end or something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. Immediately. Likewise, if you see a group of people running away from something, don’t stop and ask. Go. Right away.
– You might be missing your dog at home, but you don’t have to pet that one wandering around on its own.
– The universal language that is football can unite all nations under one roof using a TV screen. But as with religion, be respectful of all teams.
–  No matter how little you have, try to give back, even if it’s only of your time and energy. Something as simple as helping carry a pushchair up a flight of stairs can make all the difference to someone’s day.
– Be kind to your traveling companions. You’re all going to have at least one day when you’re out-of-sorts, so help each other through those down days. Your turn will soon come.
– You’ll never admit it, but you’ll end up appreciating those wetwipes I forced you to take. And the Imodium.
– And most important of all, have fun, stay safe, and make many, many happy memories

Happy travels,

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photo credit: Rennett Stowe Jungfraujoch Railway via photopin (license)

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