Top Rail Travel Tips

1.  Think of a rail trip as an adventurous experience rather than merely being transported from A to B. Unlike flying you can plan an intricate meandering route and get off and stay wherever you want.  Why not pick a place you’re unfamiliar with & break your journey to explore for a few hours or stay overnight?

2.  Remember you’re travelling, not commuting – don’t rush, enjoy what happens rather than wanting it to be different. A delay is an opportunity to see or do something unexpected.  ‘Leaves on the track’ and ‘the wrong kind of snow’ are expresions only heard in the UK!      

3.  Take one suitcase. Most people pack far too much, there are few places in the world where you can’t pick up necessities.  It’s a great moment to try something different: in Greece the wonderful shampoo I bought turned out to be fabric conditioner, and we survived!   

4.  Do you really need to travel as fast as possible – in Europe the tickets on slower trains (non-express) are often half price or less.  The many and varied views from your window are all part of your journey and add to a sense of adventure, as well as really showing changes in topography, a living geography lesson.

5.  Overnight sleeper trains can be a bargain, not only do they save on accommodation costs, enable you to arrive feeling fresh, they also reduce the perceived length of a journey.  And they are often a totally wonderful experience, with a chance to really enjoy the differences in culture, tea and chapattis for breakfast in India for example. The romance of Agatha Christie tales spring to mind as well, though not the murders we hope.

6.  Except on luxury trains, food is often airline quality so take your own along with a bottle of wine. M&S at the St Pancras Eurostar terminal sell wine in cleverly sealed plastic glasses.  Alternatively, a quick foray into a local food shop on your journey can be interesting!  In Japan what’s on the picture bears no resemblance to what’s in the packet – beware.

7.  European rail passes can be good value but there are many rules like having to make a seat reservation on many routes which reduces the simplicity. Unless you use a pass extensively, buying local tickets can work out cheaper because most European rail fares are a fraction of the price in the UK. A slow train from Venice to Rome costs from £35 second class & £44 first class.

8.  For maximum simplicity consider a rail & accommodation package with a UK provider where all rail tickets, timetabled itinerary, accommodation at stopover destinations & emergency backup are provided before departure. Railbookers in London do this & a recent London to Venice rail trip, stopping over in Switzerland, worked out cheaper than booking everything independently on the web.

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Peter Lynch

Journalist, rail and wildlife specialist & contributor to Great Train Journeys of the World

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