In 2018, the DiscoverEU initiative was launched, offering free train travel around the EU to 18-year-olds. This project, supported by the European Commission, has given free Interrail tickets to nearly 50,000 eligible applicants. The aim is to promote freedom of movement around the EU, invest in young people, and allow them to explore the diverse history and culture that makes them European. The next round of applications launches on Thursday 7 November and runs to 28 November 2019.

Ahead of the launch, Lonely Planet spoke with 19-year-old student Neža from Ljubljana, who has Asperger syndrome. When she was diagnosed, doctors didn’t expect her to be independent, but, armed with her free DiscoverEU Interrail pass, she started her solo journey in July 2019.

A woman stands on a bridge turned away from the camera. She's looking at the view of a long river with houses on one side and a path on the other
Delft was one of Neža's favourite destinations on her Interrail journey © Neža Musar

What made you apply for a DiscoverEU pass?

When I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, the doctors told my parents that I would never be independent. But, I felt no different to anyone else. I had grown up listening to my aunt’s stories of places around the world that she has visited and I always knew that travel would be a good experience for me. When I talked about my plans, people would listen and smile, but I knew they saw my syndrome and believed that I couldn’t go.

I was watching stories on Instagram one day when I should have been studying, and saw the DiscoverEU advert pop up. Without giving it much thought, I filled in the application and promptly forgot about it. About a month later, I found out that I’d been awarded a pass while I was waiting for a bus. I screamed with excitement and everyone at the bus stop thought I was crazy!

What route did you take?

I started in my hometown of Ljubljana in July, then continued to Munich in Germany. I toured around the Netherlands, went to Berlin, Prague, Kraków and then back home. It was about 20 days of solo travel in the end. 

As someone with Asperger syndrome, what were the biggest travel challenges you had to overcome?

I’ve never been good with organisation or talking with strangers. This trip forced me to do both. All the people I met were amazing. There was an Australian girl I met in Munich, and a girl from the USA who I had really deep conversations with in the hostel in Amsterdam. A Slovenian family hosted me for three nights in Delft, which was one of my favourite destinations. I will never forget these people.

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What did you learn about yourself on this journey?

I learned that no matter what other people might think of you, you need to do these things for yourself. You will gain so much from it, and see that people around the world are willing to help you. The first day, I had no idea what to expect, and on the last day, I was crying on the train because I just wanted to travel on for longer.

Above all, I have gained more self-confidence, better communication skills and I proved to myself that I am able to travel independently. I am so thankful for the opportunity, for everything I saw and all the people I met.

What would you say to anyone who is thinking about applying for the DiscoverEU scheme?

Do it! You could have one of the best experiences of your life, meet fantastic people and have an adventure. Don’t think too much about what can go wrong, just go with the flow and fix problems if they happen. And don’t be too sad if you don’t get the ticket. I met a girl during my travels who had been on the waiting list and got a ticket in the end. Enjoy and safe travels!

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