The boy is leaving the country this weekend. It seems an extreme reaction to the Trump visit, although they do say fish and a president smell after three days. He had been thinking of going to Scotland but heard The Donald was heading there on Saturday and thought better of it for fear of bumping into Nigel Farage on the golf course.
OK, that last part was not actually true but the boy is leaving town for the obligatory Interrailing holiday that students are supposed to take after their A-levels. I didn’t do it myself but I did spend a happy week on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. Visiting the house where the author of Black Beauty was born was certainly a semi-mystical experience. I think it’s been turned into a tea room now. But Great Yarmouth would not cut it for the boy and his mates, so they are off round Europe before it is closed to the British.
He was worked hard for the trip, not only on his A-levels but also in a series of bar jobs to earn money for the jaunt, although some of the cash he has saved appears to have come from not fully using his daily lunch allowance. He’s become quite the expert on the Tesco meal-deal options. I don’t really mind. Learning to exist on a tight budget seems a useful life skill.
Even so, a brief perusal of the itinerary suggests it is not quite the experience one associates with Interrailing. For one thing, I had always assumed that the key features of the adventure were a fairly flexible itinerary, a lot of nights in nasty youth hostels, a mugging, at least one evening sleeping in a station and finding a map with the location of a secret beach — oh no, wait, that last one is a Thailand thing.
But the boy’s trip appears rather more structured. For a start, there seem to be a lot of Airbnb properties booked several months ahead, although, in keeping with the broader Interrail ethos, they don’t look very nice. The upside is that they will not need to crash out on a goods train to Brno just to keep warm overnight.
There are further betrayals of the fleapit ethos in the days spent in one of the group’s family’s holiday home in Croatia. It is on a pretty beach in a lovely spot but, even so, you would have to say it is not exactly a mainstay of the student Euro circuit. Paris, Rome, Lisbon and Madrid — all cities that tourists have tended to think worth a visit — have not made the cut, but a luxury pad outside Split seems to be in this year.
In other respects, I expect a more conventional approach to the box-ticking required of every student European tour. At least one of them will need to seek medical attention, another will be cautioned for urinating in a public place and all will consider the merits of a group tattoo in a Berlin needle parlour. Then there is the obligatory argument with a nightclub bouncer and at least one failed attempt to get off with a local girl whose father turns out to be head of the local Mafia.
As a parent in the age of constant communication, I struggle to work out the right degree of contact. The ease of it makes its absence far more trying than it would have been in the days when there was no way of keeping in touch — and, apparently, electronic tags are no longer considered cool. So, in the end, the parents all opted to create their own WhatsApp group and notify each other of sightings of their spawn. We may also content ourselves with sending useful tips for the day such as: don’t take drugs across borders even within the Schengen area.
Finally, they will reach Amsterdam — interestingly, it seems all the trips end there — and the Dutch capital seems to merit several more days than other, one might say, more deserving locations. It seems surprising. Mind you, it does have Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh museum, surely enough to capture the imagination of an 18-year-old. Apparently, they are staying in what appears to be a senior citizens community some way outside the city. I say senior citizens’ but perhaps it is actually home to all the previous Interrail groups who got so stoned they never managed to leave. Or maybe they just could not face returning for their exam results.
If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when Robert’s articles are published, just click the button “add to myFT”, which appears at the top of this page beside the author’s name. Not a subscriber? Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley or email him at email@example.com