There is something romantic about train travel.
- The rhythm of the train on the tracks.
- Your own reflection in the window as the scenery passes by.
- Your time to reflect as you gaze through your reflection at the world.
- A sense of true leisure.
- A connection to a past era.
And, for solo travel, there is also a very practical side to train travel.
- You can focus on the land rather than the driving as a road trip demands.
- You can meet people in the seat beside you, the dining car, the lounge car…
- You can schedule your train travel overnight and save on accommodation.
Train travel offers a sense of time and space that flying can't. (Two years ago, I wrote about how train travel changed the world and how it can change it again.) I love solo travel by train. Here are my 10 tips.
Train Travel Solo – the 10 tips
Train travel varies around the world. The class system exists and is different everywhere. Comfort changes from one country/continent to another. However, there are some tips I can offer to get the most out of solo travel by train just about anywhere.
- Fare discounts may be available by booking early or buying passes. Check all your options as you could save a bundle. ACP Rail is a good site to check out.
- Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before departure. If you are unfamiliar with the station, the system and the language, leave more time.
- Take a carry-on. Really. You know that I recommend this for flying but for train travel it's really important. By having everything in a carry-on you have everything you need in one place. When a trip takes a full day and more, this is important.
- Keep all your valuables out of your carry-on. There's a social compact about your things on trains. With everyone vulnerable, no one is supposed to touch anything. But, you can't count on this. Plan to have all valuables on you – a day pack is good for this – so you don't stress about going beyond your seat.
- Coach or Sleeper – it doesn't matter, get out of your zone and into the social areas like the dome, dining and bar cars. This is where you will meet people and have a great time.
- If you don't speak the language that is used for the announcements, take note of your arrival time and the stations that come before yours so that you are ready when you get to your station.
- If riding coach, use your carry-on to extend your seat – it is almost the exact height of a seat on a train. On one trip, I was lucky not to have anyone beside me so for two nights I was able to use the carry-on to extend the two seats into a fairly uncomfortable bed (though far more comfortable than sitting up all night.)
- Bring food with you. Dry nuts, fruit and water will save you money and help you eat more healthily than buying food on the train.
- Carry disinfecting wipes and a small amount of toilet paper in your day pack to make that bathroom that far too many people have used while the train bumps along a bit more pleasant.
- Finally, if you arrive at the station early and everything is set – if you have time to kill – take a walk a few blocks away from the station noting your route. In some large city, train stations are magnets for pickpockets and other undesirable people.
Train Travel Inspiration
It seems that I'm not the only one who loves train travel. Here's what members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook have to say when I asked about their best and worst train trips. These are great!
Rosemary – I love it! I traveled from Delhi to Kochi by train via Jaipur, Bangalore, Mysore and Goa. Best three weeks of my life. Also crossed the Taklamakan Desert from Jiuagyan to Kashgar..another fantastic experience..there's nothing quite like it.
Rui – Best train experience: Seward/Anchorage/Denali. Worst: none so far 🙂
Devyani – Love train travel!! Too many to mention
Scott – Five days from Shanghai to Urumqi. It was my birthday, got a 1st class compartment. Had a Chinese couple til Lanzhou, then they were gone and for over three days it was just me and Western China . . . well there was the birthday bash back in Coach, with a crazy Uiyghur man and his boombox, but that's another story :;)
Mariellen – Taking the train in India is one of my all-time fave travel adventures — though it can be frustrating due to delays, disorganization, noisy kids, A/C turned up way too high and slightly scary food choices. Worst trip ever was 21 hours from Delhi to Jaisalmer on a crowded, old, dirty train – saw rats on the floor and cockroaches crawling the wall beside my head as I was falling asleep.
Velo – Love it in Europe. In Burma, the seat was so uncomfortable on an over-nighter I was tempted to lie on the floor.
Christie – Rabat to Casablanca – passengers brought their goats on board 🙂
Valerie – Adore it! Florence to Munich night train on Christmas Eve – we brought Champagne on board, had our own private car, woke up as the sun was coming up and the snowy scenery was stunning. As for worst, Can't beat Christie's goat story – my creepy dudes on a blacked out train from Taormina to Palermo' just sounds like me whining. That's hilarious!
Travel Eyes Open – Love it! Surprised no-one's mentioned the Trans-Sib yet. I did the Trans-Mongolian in 2009 over Christmas: 3 weeks from London to Beijing by train all the way! Longest bit was Moscow-Irkutsk, sharing a cabin with a Russian who played solitaire on his laptop for five days straight. The constant clicking drove me insane. But I will never forget the incredibly white landscapes, the ladies selling fish at the stations, the soldiers showing me their photos, the emptiness of the Gobi desert, nor the bone-shattering cold. -35C on Christmas morning searching for a hotel in Ulanbataar was a highlight only because of the warm welcome I received when I finally found one. One of the best trips of my life (so far!)
Kristine – Best train trip was from St. Petersburg, Russia to Kiev, Ukraine. We partied all night with cheap vodka and crackers. Worst trip was train ride in Peru (Cuzco to Machu Picchu) boring and long.
Sam – Love – Trans Siberian train journey Hate – None! 🙂
LashWorldTour – The overnight train in Myanmar, there were no beds, so I just slept on the floor in the aisle, between Burmese businessmen and officials. Not a disaster, by any means, but not comfy like the Thai and Malaysian sleeper trains, that's for sure!
Jeanne – Wisconsin dells to Chicago to new Orleans. Loved every minute of it. Amtrak. Nice trip.
You can read about my train trip from Toronto to Vancouver – 3 days, 2 nights in coach here.