Some of the world’s greatest travel experiences are yours for the taking – all you need is a train ticket and some holiday allowance. From the railways of the Rockies to the transcontinental trains of Australia, the choice of scenery is extensive. But picking the route is only the beginning of the adventure. Here’s how to get the most out of a long distance rail trip.
Allow plenty of time to make your connections, particularly if you’re travelling independently rather than with a guide. Large stations can take a while to get your head around, and you’ll appreciate the extra time to double check which platform you need before the train pulls in. If you find yourself with time to spare, you can always grab a coffee, but cut it too fine and you’ll be flustered and stressed as you face for your train.
Overnight train compartments vary immensely in terms of comfort levels, from the super-deluxe to the somewhat more ordinary. Regardless of which you book, think about the things that will make you feel more comfortable. Perhaps that’s a travel pillow or a pot of hand cream, or maybe it’s a good book, some downloaded movies or a personalised soundtrack made up of your favourite music. Consider packing some wet wipes and even a can of dry shampoo for your hair: they will keep you feeling fresh until you get to your next hotel.
One of the great joys of train travel is the people you’ll meet along the way. Sometimes, particularly if there’s a language barrier, it can be hard to start up a conversation. One way to break the ice is to carry a few photos of home – family members, a picture of where you live or a famous local landmark. Another option is to produce a humble pack of cards or simple, portable board game that’s easy enough to play together. If you’re travelling children, pack plenty of games, puzzles and other activities to keep them occupied.
Most long distance services will have a dining car or at the very least a snack trolley. On some itineraries, time is built into the schedule for station stops that are long enough to visit a platform snack bar or vending machine. In some parts of the world, food vendors will come to you, boarding the train to make a few sales. Even so, you’ll be glad you brought along some of your favourite snacks for when you’re feeling peckish. You can share them with your seating companions too.
It’s always fun to gaze out of the window and sightsee from your seat, but even better if you know what to expect. Check if there’s a dedicated guide book or an online guide from someone who’s already done the same trip. Do a little research about those must-see landmarks and roughly when you might see them, so you don’t kick yourself for taking an ill-timed nap. If you do pass something interesting but can’t work out what it is, note the approximate location so you can look it up later.
If you’re planning an epic adventure, it can be tempting to view the train journey as a single ride. Often, however, it’s more fun to build in a few stopovers that will help you make some memories along the way. Sometimes, these are already included in the price of your ticket, but if not, local tour operators can arrange packages as a bolt on to your main itinerary. These might include a planned detour on a scenic branch line or experience-based activities such as cookery classes, adventure sports or cultural excursions.
If you’re excited about the prospect of taking a long distance rail trip, why not get in touch with Mundana? We can suggest some places where you might go based on your interests and the time of year you plan to travel.