When you're traveling you have a lot of transportation options to choose from. If you’re traveling longer distances, you can whittle the list down to a couple of the best and most practical options. One of my favorite methods of travel, if time permits, is train travel.
Traveling by train is an experience on its own. To me, train travel is less of a hassle than flying and offers a more picturesque up close view of the landscape.
Unlike driving, if you are traveling by train you have the luxury of not worrying about getting lost or navigating foreign roads.
Trains can be cheaper than plane tickets, but you often sacrifice time. Weigh what is more important to you. If saving money is more important than the amount of time you’re on the train, then train travel is the better option most of the time.
Today we’re offering some essential tips to help you navigate the wonderful world of slow(er) travel.
Train Travel Tips
1. Do your research
It can be tempting to just show up to the train station and buy a ticket on the fly, but doing a bit of research and pre-planning can save you money, get you there faster or more comfortably. If you wait until the last minute your train may be sold out. Or you might have difficulty purchasing the correct train ticket from the attendant due to a language barrier.
It is also helpful to research the stops along the way to your final destination. Big cities will always have a train stop, but you may discover a great little town on your way there, so be sure to research nearby points. It might be beneficial to break up your trip into segments for particularly long rides. Always keep an eye out on what stop you’re getting off at because they are often quick and you don’t wanna miss it! Many countries also offer a high-speed train to get you to your destination even faster. If you are in a pinch for time, spend the extra money on the high-speed option.
2. Choose the right ticket
Depending on where you are traveling and how many days/weeks of travel you need, certain tickets may be better than others. For example, many countries offer rail passes that allow you to book many train tickets within a certain time frame. Many of these are also international so you can travel between countries on the same pass (Eurail tickets for example). Check to see if what the individual cost would be for the train tickets you need, and compare them to the pass to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Some passes will require additional reservation fees to secure a seat on the train you want, so keep that in mind when weighing options. Some trains will have reservations for certain legs of the journey, but may be unreserved for other portions, so check the tag to see if you can sit there until the reserved party arrives.
3. Select the best seat for you
If comfort is key, then choose to sit in the first-class section of the train where you will have comfier seats and more room to spread out. Your seats may have added perks too. You might get complimentary meals, wifi, etc. in addition to that extra leg room. If cost is more important to you, sit in second class. Remember whatever choice you make, you’re all on the same train going to the same destination, so figure out if you want to get there more cheaply or more comfortably.
4. Recharge your batteries
I mean this both figuratively and literally. Let yourself relax a bit. We know that travel can sometimes be stressful, so if you need a break, this is the perfect time. If you’re thinking literally, many trains will offer outlets for you to charge your devices. Secure a seat next to one so that you can charge your laptop, cell phone, or other electronics. If it is open seating, you’ll want to scope out those seats right away.
5. Use timing to your advantage
If you subscribe more to the idea that you’ll “sleep when you’re dead,” then forgo that nap and get moving! You can use the time you spend on the train to research your destination, write in your travel journal, catch up on work, post pictures on social media, reorganize your bags, etc. Most importantly, you can plan out how to get from the train station to your hotel or accommodations.
6. Take the overnight train
If you’re traveling for a long distance that would take up your entire day via train, you might as well look into overnight options. Instead, spend your day sightseeing rather than sitting and staring out the window wishing you were outdoors on this beautiful day. While sleeping on a train might not be the best option in terms of comfort, it does mean that you don’t have to pay for a hotel that night, and your meals should be included as well. Nothing like waking up and you’re already at your destination! Sleeper cars become less expensive when you are traveling with others, but you will be sleeping in very close quarters so be prepared!
7. Check for discounts before booking
If you’re traveling in the US, check for Student, Senior or AAA discounts. International travel can be a bit trickier, but there are usually discounts for groups, youth, and some children even travel for free if they are below a certain age.
8. Pack lightly
The last thing you want to do is lug around a bunch of luggage around the train station, let alone throughout the city. Storage on the train may be limited to an overhead rack (or you have to check it) so make sure you can comfortably lift it if you need to. It will make for an easier exit too if you travel lightly.
9. Take advantage of the Observation Car
Most trains will have an observation car with larger windows and limited but roomier seating. If you’re cramped up in your second class seat, take a stroll through the train and find this car. It can be a much-needed change of scenery and if you’re really lucky you might even be able to take a nap here comfortably (as long as no one kicks you out).
10. Bring a picnic lunch or dinner (and drinks too!)
Pack a lunch so you don’t go hungry or have to purchase something from the food car. Don’t forget the booze! You can enjoy a bottle of wine while you’re whisked across the country.
11. Safety first
Always keep your bags in sight and be cautious for thieves. On a busy train, it is best to keep your bag on you or as close as possible. One tip I learned from famed European traveler Rick Steves, was to tie or clip your bag to the luggage rack so they can’t run off with it when exiting the train quickly.
For More on Luxury Train Travel:
- Best Luxury Trains for Honeymoons
- How we Spent our 30 Hours Onboard the Blue Train
- The Blue Train in South Africa should be added to your Bucket List
What are your favorite parts of train travel?