By Santiago Colón-Zolikoff ESMol S4ENA
We humans are drawn to travel. It’s human nature for us to want to explore or see a new place. Especially now, more than ever, after one year in confinement! According to neuroscientists, new and interesting experiences (such as those when we travel) stimulate our brain and promote neural growth.
But there’s always the cost to think about. How much for a train/bus/ferry to City XYZ? Can I really spare the money to go to Comic Con or the football match I want to see? You could always save up for years to visit your dream destination. But, say you could travel anywhere in Europe, any day you chose, for free? Would you really say no to that? That FREE ticket could be just what you need to expand your horizons and stimulate your brain a bit. Wouldn’t you rather say yes?
The ‘DiscoverEU’ programme was proposed during the Parliament’s European Youth event back in 2014. When it was finally launched in 2018, the European Commission (EC) provided a 12 million euro budget for 20,000 train passes to be distributed, free of charge. Since 2018, the programme has awarded over 70,000 free train passes to 18-year-old applicants from European countries. A ticket provides the owner with free, borderless travel across 27 European countries over a period of 30 days.
What about the COVID pause of this programme? Well, the EC will relaunch ‘DiscoverEU’ in October 2021 and it will be open again to applications. There will be 60,000 free train passes available. Great news: 60,000 is double the normal number of free passes on offer! The number of free passes available to EU member states is based on the overall population of each country. More good news: if you had your 18th birthday in 2020, you still can apply in October to make up for the fact you had missed out during the pandemic period. Brilliant! Fine print alert: participants will need to travel from March 2022 until March 2023. Because of uncertainties around COVID, the bookings will be ‘flexible’ and ‘interruption insurance’ will be included.
Sounds too-good-too-be-true? Why would the EU do this? Why spend millions of euros just to motor young Europeans around the continent? Surely there’s a catch. Well, there are actually a few reasons why this is possible. These tickets are not only for young people wanting to holiday abroad on a low budget. They are especially for those with no budget at all – young people who don’t normally have the means to travel to another EU country.
The organizers of ‘DiscoverEU’ hope that this program is only the beginning. Adding in language, cultural and social education projects to cities would greatly help in welcoming young Europeans to new countries and environments. Also, this programme will probably combine with Erasmus+ in 2022 for even larger scale educational links. Investment in the young generations by the EC leads to positive economic and social awareness, as well as also develops Europe’s positive identity and interconnectedness. To counteract the growth of misinformation across the continent, the EC wants to give young people the firsthand experience of free movement and the opportunity to explore what unites the diversity of people in Europe.
To apply for this free rail pass opportunity, you must meet the following criteria:
1) You must be 18 years old in the year of your trip.
2) You must be a citizen of one of the 27 EU member states.
3) You must pass a six-question quiz about European history and culture.
4) You must complete an online application form within the stated deadlines.
5) Groups of up to five friends can apply together for the train passes. One person applies first as a ‘group leader’ and receives a specific group ‘code’. Then up to four others can include that code in their own applications.
As to the trip itself, you must also complete a few requirements. Seeing as the Commission doesn’t exactly want all their money spent on paying your way to attend Comic Con all day and hanging out in the clubs all night, you must visit at least 1 cultural heritage site during your trip. You also have to record your journey on social media and take pictures to be showcased at the DiscoverEU anniversary exhibition at the EU parliament. Though all in all, it is not too steep a price to pay for free travel across 27 countries!
This program is not only a gift, but an opportunity. It’s designed to include all young Europeans, no matter what their background. It boosts the growth of cities, leaving room for them to entice young travelers further with programs reducing the overall costs of accommodation. DiscoverEU does not cater to the wealthy alone, but is inclusive of young people from all income brackets.
The official DiscoverEu website states: ‘If conditions across Europe allow, we will do our best to put DiscoverEU back on track in October 2021. Follow our social medica channels in the meantime.’