June 28, 2022
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(CNN) — The summer season Tim Thomas was 18, he packed up a rucksack, left his small hometown within the south of England and hopped on a train to France, kicking off a month-long journey by Europe by rail.

It was 1972. Thomas was among the many first vacationers to make the most of the fledgling European Interrail go, which allowed younger individuals below 21, throughout 21 collaborating international locations, to purchase a £27.50 (on the time about $67) ticket for limitless travel throughout Europe by train for a full month.

“It was a bit superb actually, you had been younger and match and daily there’d be a brand new nation or city or no matter in entrance of you to discover,” Thomas tells CNN Travel. “There was at all times one thing to stay up for.”

The Interrail go was dreamed up by the Worldwide Union of Railways (UIC), a physique overseeing Europe’s railways that’s since ceded management of Interrail to the unbiased Eurail firm.

The Interrail go premiered in 1972 and remains to be out there for European train vacationers at the moment.

Assortment NMBS/SNCB — Train World Heritage

The UIC emerged in 1922 after Europe’s borders had been rearranged following World Battle I and the following Treaty of Versailles. In 1972, the group envisaged the cross-Europe travel go as a enjoyable method to have a good time its fiftieth birthday and to encourage rail travel amongst European youth. The same scheme, the Eurail go, already existed for worldwide vacationers — why not open the continent’s trains as much as younger Europeans?

“There was no excessive velocity rail, there have been no low value flights, there have been much less coaches — and total travel was on a completely completely different degree than at the moment,” Alexander Mokros, chairman of Eurail, tells CNN Travel.

“Individuals had been touring a lot much less. So that they had this nice thought to launch a particular product specifically for teens, so everyone, till the age of 21, may uncover the continent.”

It wasn’t simply travel that was completely different in 1972. The map of Europe regarded completely different, too. The first iteration of the Interrail go centered on north, west and southern Europe, with jap Europe largely blocked off behind the Iron Curtain.

Brightly coloured posters had been plastered throughout Europe’s railway stations and phrase unfold concerning the UIC’s rail providing. Younger individuals mentioned plans and sketched out routes.

Tim Thomas took pictures of his Seventies Interrailing adventures together with this shot of Copenhagen train station.


Thomas reckons Interrail first arrived on his radar through a poster.

“I’ve at all times loved train travel, and so I went with a good friend who I’d been at college with,” he says.

Nonetheless, Thomas’ journey was almost over earlier than it started: as his train set off down the English coast in the direction of the gateway port of Dover, Thomas realized he had left his bag within the ready room at Ashford station, a cease on the road between London and Dover.

At this time, a bag deserted in a railway station is liable to be eliminated and destroyed. In 1972, Thomas defined the dilemma to train workers who instructed him to not fear — they might go on the message by their community, and the bag can be despatched up on the subsequent train and so they may do a handover at Dover.

“Positive sufficient, I simply needed to wait on the platform, and the subsequent train got here alongside and the driving force handed it out of his cab to me,” recollects Thomas.

“From then on, I consider, we managed to keep away from making too many errors like that.”

Tim Thomas shares his digitized slides on his Twitter account @timofnewbury, together with this shot of a double decker train in Germany.


Thomas and his good friend journeyed round Europe in what he describes as a “determine of eight” route. They headed first to southwest France, then throughout to Switzerland, as much as Denmark, then all the way down to Athens in Greece through Yugoslavia and Munich, Germany.

“We bought our full month’s price, and I’ve saved all of the itineraries with the element of the person trains and the distances concerned,” says Thomas.

The vacationers relied on the Thomas Prepare dinner Continental Timetable, a bible for European train vacationers that particulars all of the train occasions and the space in miles between stations. (The information remains to be revealed below the identify “European Rail Timetable.”)

And on this pre-euro, pre-online banking world, if the vacationers needed to alternate currencies, they needed to line up on the financial institution, passports in hand.

They saved cash by sleeping on the train wherever attainable. In any other case, they’d bunk down for the evening in hostels.

Thomas reckons they had been fortunate that, as 18-year-olds exploring their first style of independence, the most important impediment they confronted en route was sunburn. They loved just about daily of the journey.

“It’s a type of freedom isn’t it, whenever you’re away from house?” says Thomas.

Tim Thomas was 18 when he first went Interrailing. Right here he’s on his second Interrail journey, visiting Zadar, then in Yugoslavia, now in Croatia, in 1973.


Martin McKee, who grew up in Northern Eire, set out on his inaugural Interrail journey in 1972. Solely 15, he traveled with three buddies from faculty. Over the course of the month, the group often break up methods, however reconvened at numerous factors alongside the journey.

Exploring Europe at a formative age had a major impact on McKee’s mind-set. A yr or so after the journey, he interviewed on the College of Newcastle in England, the place he hoped to review medication. Amid the continuing context of the sectarian violence in Eire generally known as “the Troubles,” the interviewers requested McKee if he thought-about himself British or Irish.

Teenage McKee replied that he was European.

“The individuals that had been touring, who had been my age or older, and who had that kind of curiosity and needed to see the world, all of us had a lot, way more in frequent than the communities that we got here from,” he tells CNN Travel.

At this time, McKee is a professor of European public well being on the London College of Hygiene and Tropical Drugs, and in 2020 he grew to become a member of the World Well being Group convened Pan-European Fee on Well being and Sustainable Growth.

Tim Thomas took this photograph of Myrdal train station in Norway in 1973.


All in all, 87,000 younger individuals traveled through the EU Interrail go in 1972, in keeping with Eurail. Such numbers meant that for the UIC, persevering with the scheme past that inaugural yr was a no brainer.

Thomas went Interrailing once more in 1973 and 1974. On all three journeys, his Hanimex Compact R digital camera got here with him. The gadget’s small dimension made it fairly straightforward to move.

Snapping photographs of the size and breadth of Europe, Thomas tried to keep away from getting individuals in his photographs. However at the moment, wanting by his slides, he enjoys those with photobombing strangers greater than the emptier scenes — they provide a style of life in Europe on the time, Seventies bell backside denims and all.

Interrailing by the Seventies

Trudy Harpham is pictured right here at Kiruna rail station, Sweden, 1976. “As far north as Interrail would take me,” is how Harpham describes Kiruna.

Courtesy Dr Trudy Harpham

Because the Seventies progressed, “Interrail” grew to become a verb, a staple of European travel vernacular.

Trudy Harpham, emeritus professor at London South Financial institution College, went Interrailing on three consecutive faculty summer season holidays.

“As a scholar, a budget deal of Interrail for a month in the summertime was fairly irresistible,” she tells CNN Travel. “I needed to go so far as the scheme would enable me.”

On the primary journey, in 1975, Harpham and her then boyfriend packed up their backpacks and a two-person tent and snaked throughout Europe by rail, reaching Istanbul in Turkey.

“I used to be getting into the unknown,” Harpham recollects, however she discovered a pleasant and convivial environment among the many Interrailing group.

“It felt so sociable and communal and thrilling,” she says.

Because the trains chugged throughout the continent, Harpham jotted down her observations on international locations and their cultures in dispatches again house to England.

“Nearly in each new nation that I crossed into, I wrote a postcard to my dad and mom in Lincolnshire, who had been delighted to obtain them,” says Harpham.

Harpham’s mom saved all of the postcards, telling her daughter that at some point she would admire with the ability to look again on her adventures.

After all it wasn’t all thrilling. Lengthy durations on trains could possibly be tedious. On Harpham’s 1973 journey, which included touring as much as the Arctic Circle in Norway, she recollects considering that she “didn’t need to see one other birch tree forest in my life after that.”

“If we had been fortunate sufficient to have a seat, pushing that quaint blind up the window and peering out and questioning the place you had been was simply magical”

Trudy Harpham, Seventies Interrailer

However more often than not, Harpham relished the expertise of waking up in a brand new place after an evening of travel.

“If we had been fortunate sufficient to have a seat, pushing that quaint blind up the window and peering out and questioning the place you had been was simply magical,” she recollects.

At this time, British-born Harpham lives in Switzerland. She’s retired, however labored in worldwide public well being and lived in over 50 international locations.

Harpham recollects coming back from her summers Interailing and feeling like she was in a membership made up of younger individuals from throughout Europe.

“Solely the others who did it actually understood the sensation of liberation and pleasure and sheer publicity, great alternatives to see so many locations in a comparatively quick time, and comparatively low value,” she says.

Interrail at the moment

Interrail has developed through the years since this Eighties promoting poster.

Deutsche Bahn Stiftung/DB Museum

In 2022, the European Interrail go turns 50. It has morphed and developed through the years, however the elementary idea stays unchanged — a comparatively easy railway gateway to Europe.

The greatest distinction between the scheme at the moment and its early years is it’s now open to everybody, of all ages.

Rail skilled Mark Smith, founding father of well-liked train web site The Man in Seat 61, says this alteration was “the most effective factor that’s occurred” to the go in its 5 many years of existence.

At this time, there’s additionally a higher vary of Interrailing choices. Vacationers can select primarily based on variety of travel days and sophistication of ticket.

Europe’s railways have modified too. Excessive velocity companies at the moment are extra commonplace and, till lately, evening trains had been on the out however the tide there appears to be turning again due to a latest resurgence of sleeper companies throughout Europe. Smith additionally suggests the continent’s trains at the moment are extra fragmented, with some lengthy distance routes now damaged up into smaller sections.
And whereas Smith’s personal web site is a treasure trove of Interrailing suggestions and methods, he tells CNN Travel he’s an advocate for packing the 2022 model of the Thomas Prepare dinner timetable, now known as the European Rail timetable. Scouring the web in your telephone can’t beat pouring over the timetable and manually planning out your route, suggests Smith, particularly with the ever-changing European landscapes rushing previous the window.

Tim Thomas took this photograph in Budapest, Hungary in 1974. Thomas is now retired and planning his subsequent European rail journey.


At this time, 33 international locations take part within the Interrail scheme and the go is on the market in digital type. Prices begin at €185 (round $198) for below 27s touring 4 days inside one month.

The Eurail go, the model for worldwide vacationers, additionally nonetheless exists. Costs are similar to Interrail, additionally beginning at €185 (round $198) for below 27s touring 4 days inside one month.

Occasions have modified, however Mokros, from the Eurail workforce, suggests the attraction of Interrailing is kind of the identical because it was for the inaugural Seventies vacationers, and ticket holders at the moment get pleasure from being a part of an extended line of Interrailers previous and current.

“Even for those who’re touring alone, you’re not touring alone, you’re touring one way or the other with others, you’re crossing with others, you’re making tales you possibly can speak about with out others,” says Mokros.

The continent-spanning go additionally represents a way of European unity, which has an added resonance in a post-Brexit, post-Covid Europe grappling with the influence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At this time, when Tim Thomas seems to be over his plethora of photographs of his Interrailing days, he finds himself dreaming of future rail adventures. He’s bought a train journey to Antwerp, Belgium in July, and hopes there may be extra to come back.

“I suppose it’s nearly my thought of the perfect method to spend my life, simply wandering round taking a look at new issues, seeing completely different landscapes and completely different buildings,” he says.

CNN’s Maureen O’Hare contributed to this story

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