Getting from one place to the next via train is an extremely rewarding way to travel. Train travel is relaxing and leisurely. It has a smaller carbon footprint than travelling by plane and the views are better too. You see more of a destination from the tracks than the air. Looking to see the world using the railways? We’ve put together a handy guide covering the tips for how to travel on a train.
How to Travel on a Train
1. Book tickets in advance
When it comes to booking a train ticket, you will have a better chance of nabbing the lowest cost ticket if you book early. Like 120 days early! This is especially true if you plan on travelling when demand is at its highest like at weekends and holidays. If you are flexible with your travel days, the cheapest tickets tend to be for midweek. Last-minute tickets are available, but if you need to be somewhere by a particular date, just know that popular routes can sell out, especially nowadays when a lot of public transport isn’t running at full capacity.
2. Arrive early
You don’t have to be at the station hours before your train, but it is a good idea to arrive about 30 minutes before your departure time. This is especially true if it is a station you are not familiar with or in a country where you don’t speak the language. If you don’t have your tickets printed out, you’ll have to find the ticket machines or ticket desks, stand in line and get your tickets. Then, you have to find your platform and some train stations, like Japan’s Nagoya Station, are huge and can take a long time to walk to the platform.
3. Pack light
The less luggage you have with you the better. Many train stations have loads of stairs that are a pain to negotiate when you have loads of luggage to carry. Backpacks are better suited to train stations than wheelie cases too. Also, if you pack light, you can keep your luggage within sight and stow it on the rack above your head or the space between back-to-back seats. If you do have a big case, place it in the luggage storage areas and find the nearest seat so you can keep a careful eye on your bags at all times.
4. Shift your mindset
Train travel is slow travel, and it is often more expensive too. You need to shift your mindset away from cheap airfares that get you to places far and fast. Train travel is a leisurely way to get from a to b and will usually cost you more than flying. However, the payoff is seeing more of a destination, even if it is just from a window and a reduced carbon footprint. Train travel is part of your holiday, not just a means to get to your destination so your holiday can begin.
5. Bring snacks
Travelling first class? You might have a fancy dining car serving gourmet meals. Travelling on the cheap? You might only have food and drink options from a small bar cart or bar, which, if the train is full, might be sold out of everything before it reaches you! Savvy train travellers know that train snacks bought onboard are expensive too, so save money, and your tummy, by packing your own picnic. Head to the local supermarket or food market before boarding and stock up on water, alcohol (if permitted), sweet and savoury snacks as well as more substantial items like sandwiches. Most trains will have hot water so you can also pack instant noodles and soups.
6. Know your stop
Familiarise yourself with your itinerary. Know the full name of the stop where you are getting off. Station stops aren’t always announced or they may be announced but in a foreign language. Therefore, make a note of the time you are scheduled to arrive at your stop and the name of the station before yours. This way, you’ll be prepared to exit the train when it arrives at your departure station.
7. Follow the local train customs
Show respect for the local culture and show good manners too. If there is nobody in your carriage on their phone, put yours away. In Japan, trains are very quiet and people are silent or speak in hushed voices. You should do the same. In some carriages, you cannot eat and drink. If you do eat and drink make sure you take your rubbish with you or bin it. And never rest your feet on the seat across from you without taking your shoes off first. Or better yet, just don’t put them up at all.