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What Should I Know About Train Travel?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Traveling by train can be a wonderful alternative to taking a plane or driving somewhere, but many people have never taken a train in their life. These people often find themselves asking, “What should I know about train travel?” Knowing a few simple rules of thumb, and what to expect from your experience, can help ensure that you have a better trip, and don’t run into any serious problems.

Usually when people ask, “What should I know about train travel?” they are asking particularly how it differs from plane travel. Traveling on a train is different in a number of ways, and is different depending on whether you are going on a short one or two hour trip, or on an extended trip. One of the main ways in which extended train travel differs from a plane trip is that there will be a number of layovers which will last for extended periods of time, giving you time to go out an explore the surroundings. Another is that since the time may be much longer than a plane trip, you will want to be up and active more, and will likely be given a sleeping car with a bed for truly long trips.

When you begin on your trip, make sure to have your ticket easily accessible and locatable at all times. Unlike a plane trip, where you will tend to use your ticket only once when you first board, on a train you may be asked for your ticket multiple times, especially if you get off and re-board at stops. Rather than searching through your bags for your ticket, you will want to keep it at hand with your passport or identification. Familiarize yourself with your ticket, as well, committing to memory things like the platforms and the name or call number of the train, so that if you find yourself rushed you will not need to dig out your ticket to find the correct train.

If you’re on a long trip, you may also want to familiarize yourself with the destinations the train will be stopping at. On especially long trips, like the Trans-Siberian Railway, you may stay over in certain stops for a day or more. In these cases you may wish to explore the surrounding area, perhaps staying in a hotel, eating at local restaurants, and finding a local guide.

On shorter trips, you may still want to find about the countryside you’ll be passing through. Many tour guide books produce books specifically for famous train lines, but if one doesn’t exist you can do your own research to find out about the area you’ll be in. Since trains move relatively slowly, you will have ample opportunity to look out at the scenery, and to get a good feel for where you are. As this is one of the main reasons people prefer train travel over plane travel, you will want to make sure to take full advantage of it.

If you’re traveling first class, meals may be provided for you on your train, in which case you won’t need to worry about food. Larger, longer trips may have special dining cars, with their own restaurants and menus you can order from. For shorter trips, however, or if you are traveling second class, you will want to make sure to pack your own meals and snacks. Often food vendors will also be set up at the regular stops, giving you an opportunity to purchase something to tide you over.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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