Taking a long train journey is a joy in many ways. You get to see large swaths of a country from the comfort of the train car, without the hassle of having to drive and navigate traffic and unfamiliar roads. There are plenty of perks to train travel, including the ease of purchasing tickets and making a train on a tight schedule, and it is a great alternative for people who hate flying.
Train travel can also be an adventure; booking a cross-country trip gives you the opportunity to see – at least from your window view – towns and landscapes that you might otherwise never have seen and meet fellow travelers from all over the country.
However, as is the case with any long journey, proper preparation is necessary to ensure a comfortable pleasant trip. Consider the following aspects of train travel when gearing up for your trip.
Depending on what country you’re in, you may be able to choose your seat and nab the aisle or window according to your preference. Find out in advance if you will receive an assigned seat. If there are no assigned seats, you’ll want to strategize for scoring a good spot.
For one thing, be early for the train. Leave enough time to get to that platform so you can maximize your potential for grabbing a comfortable seat. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may find the train quite crowded so you’ll need to be assertive to get a good set-up. Tip: If you’re traveling on an Amtrak route that stops in a number of big cities (such as a mid-Atlantic route that runs between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), avoid traveling during peak hours, as finding a seat can be near impossible depending on where you’re boarding.
Amtrak gives you have the option of booking a coach, economy or business class seat – and the comfort level matches the class.
If you value quiet and a little extra leg room, you might want to fork over a little extra cash for an upgrade from coach. Depending on how long your trip is, consider upgrading to a sleeper car. Even the most intrepid travelers will appreciate an opportunity to stretch their legs after a few hours on the train.
In many countries, you can opt for a sleeper car where at the very least you’ll get a bed. Occasionally you’ll be able to book a private room, which is usually a four-person bedroom plus a table and not much else, if you’re traveling with a few friends.
What to Bring
Your packing list can really make or break your comfort level on your trip. Even if you end up stuck in an aisle seat at the back of a car near the toilet and the car door, having the right items in your travel bag can make a world of difference. A neck pillow goes far whether you’re in a seat or a bed, and a small blanket is an essential if the air conditioning is cranked throughout the trip. Make sure your iPod, iPad, laptop, Kindle or other preferred entertainment devices are charged up and that you have them with you when you leave to catch the train. Staring out the window as the world passes by is great for a while, but on a long trip, you’ll want something to keep you occupied.
And then there is the question of snacks. Most trains have a food car, but there is no guarantee on the quality of the food so it’s advisable to pack yourself some treats for the trip. Many train stations have at least one or two fast food restaurants or cafes where you can nab a quick bite beforehand or bring that value meal on board, assuming you’re not worried about offending fellow passengers with the smell.
Packing some veggies or sliced fruit is a way of staying healthy even on long journeys, which usually lend themselves to junk food binges. Crackers and granola bars are also solid train journey options, and hard or chewy fruit candies are easy to pack in bulk.
Bottled water is another essential, especially if you want to brush your teeth on an overnight trip. While some rail systems have running water on the train, you’re better off bringing your own water and using that for washing up and brushing before getting some shut-eye. Keep a bottle of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer or some wet wipes handy as well.
Train travel can be a fun way to add exciting sights, experiences and people to your vacation just by adjusting your travel method. Make the most of it by maximizing your comfort level when it comes to seating, sleeping and entertainment options. Load up your iPad or laptop with all those TV episodes you’ve wanted to catch up on and bring along some essential comfort items and you’ll make any long-distance train journey more relaxing and bearable.