An Inter-rail card allows almost unlimited travel in up to 26 countries. Both 15-day and one-month cards are available, and you can either choose to travel across Europe as a whole - effectively as far as the Russian borders - or just in regional zones such as Norway, Sweden and Finland or Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The one-month all-zones card costs pounds 275, and can be used almost everywhere except in the UK.
With careful planning it is possible to visit all 26 countries - but that kind of "if it's Wednesday, this must be Warsaw" itinerary inevitably involves spending more time travelling and less time discovering the countries themselves. But the journey itself is an opportunity to make new friends.
The social scene on board allows you to find out a mass of useful information from fellow passengers whether it's cheap places to stay over in Vienna - there aren't many of them - or where to go clubbing in Madrid, where there are too many places to choose from.
A typical "cities" itinerary might be as follows
Overnight from Harwich to Hook of Holland by Stena Line - 30 per cent discount to Inter-rail card holders - and then on to Amsterdam. Two or three days will be time enough to explore the Rijksmuseum and the other attractions, including the coffee shops!
Then on to Berlin. If you can manage the 6.53am departure from Central Station, you will arrive at Berlin Zoo in time for a late lunch or simply a couple of beers in the afternoon sunshine. Two or three days will be just about time to get a "taste" of this unique city.
Next stop Warsaw, but departing from the main station - Berlin Hauptbahnhof, rather than zoo. After a couple of days in Warsaw, it's back on the rails to Prague, where the sun is warmer and the beer is dramatically cheaper. Budvar, the original Budweiser, pounds 2 a bottle in Britain, can be had for a quarter of the price or even less.
From Prague you can either head east to Budapest or turn West to Vienna. In either case, the following destination should be Rome, for which the word breathtaking is a simple understatement.
Starting to head home, avoid the direct route and come back via the French Riviera before taking the TGV for Paris, travelling at a top speed of 185mph. Spend the remainder of the month soaking up the style, before checking in at the Gare du Nord for the Eurostar service back to London - again at a discount fare.
Remember when travelling by train on the Continent that place names are given in the local language, which may not be the same as the English name. So Bruges is Brugge and Cologne is Koln. The Thomas Cook European Timetable - essential for all Inter-railers - uses the local spelling. You have been warned.
The Inter-rail card is just one of many special offers which let you travel both at home and abroad without swallowing up too much of the budget.
At home, the essential purchases are a railcard and, probably, a coachcard as well. The Young Persons' Railcard costs pounds 16 a year, from rail stations. For 16- to 23-year-olds or any full-time students it gives a one-third discount on most fares, including some ferries. You may get a cheaper ferry crossing with your UK Railcard than your Continental Inter-rail card.
Coaches are slower than rail but usually cheaper, and National Express offers the Young Persons' Discount Coach Card at pounds 7.
If you've completely run out of funds by the time term ends, hitching is risky but there is an alternative: ridesharing, arranged by Freewheelers. The pounds 10 yearly membership entitles you to a menu of journeys you may be able to share at a suggested 3.5p per mile.
For a healthier option, depending on your abilities, you could buy a bike, but if you do, don't try saving money with a cheap lock. Get a good one and use it.
For anyone spending time abroad for their studies, the travel ads in the weekend papers should be your first point of reference for cheap flights.
The established student travel shops such as Campus and STA are usually less likely to quote real bargain fares but as most of their staff are fresh from the travelling circuit themselves, they are unbeatable at giving up-to-date and useful advice.
For short trips, consider booking a courier flight with Bridges Worldwide which is much easier to contact than the only other source of courier flights, British Airways. However, they are very inflexible and at only 10-40 per cent off the regular rates they are not the bargain they once were.
Going overland, sleep, comfort and hygiene levels tend to drop in correlation to miles travelled. Eurolines has very cheap youth fares to most European cities, but for scenery and comfort the train is a better option.
If all you have the time and money for is a few days away, mid-week return journeys on Eurostar - to Paris, Brussels and various other destinations - start at pounds 49 from STA travel which also supplies ISIC cards as proof of student status, opening the door to an increasing range of discounts.
National Express 0990 808080.
International Rail Centre at London Victoria 0171 834 2345.
STA (Europe) 0171 361 6161.
Worldwide 0171 361 6262.
Bridge The World 0171 911 0900.
Campus Travel 0171 730 3402.
Bridges Worldwide 01895 46506.
British Airways Courier Flights 0181 564 7009.
Eurolines 0171 730 8235.
Freewheelers 0191 222 0090.
National Rail inquiries 0345 484950.Reuse content