Taking the train is a great way to see more of a country when you travel. Seats are usually more spacious than those on an airplane, so you can relax in comfort. You can often also use the available Wi-Fi, so you can catch up on work or your favorite Netflix show. No matter where your train travels lead you, these tips will make your overseas travel more efficient and enjoyable.
Book Your Tickets as Soon as Possible
Our best advice? Book your train tickets as soon as you figure out your itinerary. You'll get better price options when you book early. In Europe, National Rail reveals that it offers the cheapest fares up to 12 weeks before departure.
According to The Savvy Backpacker, buying a Eurostar ticket a few months ahead of time will cost you only about $70. Buying that same ticket on the day you're planning to travel can cost up to $300. Without advance planning, that huge jump in price could effectively deplete your travel budget.
You'll also have more options when it comes to seat location and coach boarding options when you book early. Sleeper cars, which are like small hotel rooms within the train, sell out very quickly for overnight trains. You don't want to end up in a cramped second-class section on a 10-hour trip, trying to sleep sitting up. Buying your ticket early doesn't just save you money; it could save you from losing hours of needed shut-eye.
Get a Sleeper Car for Long Trips
It's tempting to save yourself the cash and book a seat in a second class car for an overnight trip. However, you'll regret that choice when you're stepping off the train the next morning, bleary-eyed and irritable from a lack of sleep. Sleeper cars provide you with a bed. Also, the train's rocking motion can be soothing and lull you to sleep. You may find yourself sleeping better on the train than you do in a hotel room.
There are a couple of different options for sleeper cars. You can book a private car, which is the most expensive but also the safest (and quietest) option. Many trains also have shared sleepers, which may have beds for up to six people. If you want to save money and still have a bed, this can be a good compromise.
Not all sleeper trains are created equal in Europe. Some are more comfortable than others and may even offer luxury amenities. For example, England's Caledonian Sleeper takes you to some of the most scenic destinations in Scotland. You could wake up to the sight of red deer bounding along the Scottish landscape. The Caledonian Sleeper is perfect for anyone wanting to avoid the hassles of airport security lines.
Bring Your Own Entertainment
Many trains provide Wi-Fi today. Some even allow access to the kind of popular movies and television shows you'd find on a long-haul flight. For example, Eurostar provides access to Amazon Prime movies and television shows through its network. That can make a three-hour ride from London to Paris fly by.
However, not all trains provide great entertainment options. On-board entertainment is virtually nonexistent on most trains in Asia, and even when you have it, Wi-Fi signals on many train routes are unreliable at best. So, your best bet is to bring your own entertainment. Some train-friendly entertainment suggestions include:
- A traditional deck of cards. If you're traveling with friends, a deck of cards is a great way to pass the time. Brush up on your poker skills or learn a new game. Casino is a great game to play with a single deck of cards, if you have up to four players in your party.
- Downloaded movies or shows. Instead of relying on the Wi-Fi network, take advantage of Netflix's download feature. Before your trip, upload your favorite movies or TV shows to your phone or tablet, so you can watch them even when the Wi-Fi connection is abysmal.
- A book. A paperback is a perfect means of entertaining yourself on a train. Best of all, you won't have to hunt down an outlet to recharge your book.
Pack Your Favorite Drinks and Snacks
Most trains have snack bars on board. Some will even have dining cars that serve full meals. However, don't assume that every train you board will have these options available. For example, some trains in Europe have restaurants and cafes, while others don't.
Be sure to pack some drinks and snacks of your own. Most train stations will have on-site convenience stores. Stores outside of the train station may have more competitive prices, however.
Finally, there are often no liquid limits on trains, so you can stock up on your beverages. Pack water to stay hydrated or grab a bottle of wine to share on a long train trip.
While you'll want to make sure you have all the essentials in your suitcase, it will make your journey a lot more enjoyable if you pack lightly. Trains don't have the same weight restrictions as airplanes, so you can bring a large suitcase, if you like. However, getting that suitcase on and off the train may be a hassle. Note that trains don't typically have baggage handlers on staff, either, so you'll be doing the lifting on your own.
You'll find limited space for large suitcases on trains, as well. Bigger suitcases will need to go at the ends of the train cars in luggage racks. Those fill up quickly, and also, you won't be able to keep an attentive eye on your belongings while they're there. While train travel is generally safe and most passengers are mindful of others' rights, you're better served keeping your bags close to you, especially if they contain valuable items.
Packing lightly and using small bags means you'll be able to tuck them into the overhead racks and under the seat in front of you. Best of all, you won't have to hunt down all your belongings when you reach your final destination.