How to Get a (Free) Ticket to Ride Across Europe This Summer

Ah, summer.

Time to shuck off school exams for months, head to the local beaches or to a relative’s house in the country. Or maybe, just maybe, to give in to the wanderlust and have a grand adventure in a distant land.

This often takes money — for planes, trains, food and lodging.

But for 20,000 to 30,000 European teenagers, travel this summer may have just gotten easier.

The European Commission has set aside 12 million euros to provide young people living in the European Union free InterRail passes to travel to up to four countries on the continent on almost any train.

We’re talking places like Spain, Croatia, France, Italy and, yes, even, Britain, which is negotiating its divorce from the bloc.

The aim, according to a statement by the commission, is to “help foster a European identity, reinforce common European values ​​and promote the discovery of European sites and cultures.”

Nathalie Vandystadt, a commission spokeswoman for education, youth, culture and sport, said by email on Friday that the initiative would be open to 18-year-old citizens of the European Union “regardless of social or educational background.”

Teenagers must be 18 — and only 18 — on July 1, 2018, to qualify for a ticket, a commission spokesman said by phone from Brussels on Friday.

That means if you live in the European Union (including in Britain) and were born between July 2, 1999, and July 1, 2000, you can apply online through the European Youth Portal.

Why only 18-year-olds? It signifies adulthood, the commission spokesman said.

For Europeans, at least, it’s an important age, one that brings certain basic civil rights, like voting, and social milestones, like the ability to legally imbibe alcohol, across the bloc’s 28-member states, the spokesman said.

The application period starts on June 12 and ends June 26. Young people can indicate on the portal which four European cities they wish to visit (including those in Britain).

After a week, they will be notified if they got that ticket to ride.

A group application will be considered as one application. A regular ticket will allow travel by train to at least one and up to four European countries for a maximum of 30 days. The trip must start between July 9 and Sept. 30, 2018.

Sorry, lodging is on you; the commission will pay only for transportation. (Flights are allowed in some exceptions, and so will some trips by bus or ferry.)

But traveling by rail will be the thing, the commission says in a statement:

“The scenery from European trains gives an ever-changing, endlessly entertaining variety of towns, countryside and landscapes that can promote discovery and a better understanding of Europe.”

The measure partly fulfills a proposal put forth by the European Parliament in 2017 that calls for every European to get a free InterRail pass (a multicountry pass can cost upward of €100) on his or her 18th birthday.

The initiative, known as the DiscoverEU program, could also be seen as a way to counter growing nationalism across the continent. Tibor Navracsics, the commissioner for education, culture, youth, and sport, said in a statement that the goal was also to discover “the cultures and traditions of our fellow Europeans.”

A YouGov survey of 6,000 young Europeans in seven countries last year showed that just half of Europeans aged 16 to 26 believe democracy is the best form of government.

The survey also said that a majority of the young people polled saw the European Union more as an economic alliance (76 percent) than a grouping of nations with common cultural values (30 percent).

The DiscoverEU program could well stretch beyond the summer of 2018. The spokesman said that on Thursday, the commission presented to stakeholders a proposal to fund it for the next seven years.

The funds in the 2018 budget reached a mere 0.4 percent of 18-year-olds in Europe, the spokesman said. There are currently about 5.5 million European 18-year-olds.

Depending on how much money the member states pitch in, he said, the aim is to set aside €700 million for the program — reaching 100 million teenagers per year.

Those who make the trip this year will be encouraged to share their adventures on social media and become, perhaps, ambassadors of the grand adventure.

Bon voyage.