Trains often get a bad press.

What with more fares to choose from than flavours of ice cream, hard-to-find price and timetable information and the difficulty booking the whole thing, taking the plane has become the default mode of travel, even in Europe with its pretty extensive network of railways. And that’s not even to mention the time it takes to go by train! But if you’ve ever returned from holiday more exhausted than when you left you’ll know that sometimes the pressure to pack in a month’s experience into 2 weeks can take its toll.

What’s the old saying? It’s the journey, not just the destination? So hold on a moment and just slow down. Quit trying to fast forward and make a vow to slow travel.

It’s true of course that it does take longer, but fear not, we’ve got it covered.

Peruse these tips for making the most out of your train journey, and begin your adventure the moment you get to the station!

1. Plan your itinerary

Make like a true explorer – spread your map out on the table, preparing for warfare style, dig out your travel guides and mastermind your onward/return journey with military precision. If you’ve bought a railpass, now is a good time to ensure you’ll be making the most of it. Anticipate problems caused by language barriers? Well then, use your time wisely by cutting pictures out of magazines and making a picture dictionary to avoid awkward lost-in-translation moments.

2. Fun & games

When you’ve exhausted your phone apps or used up all its juice, don’t forget good old analog games. Fire up your imagination and use your surroundings as inspiration. What about a game of train bingo or the cunningly titled “Can I fit in the luggage rack?”

Bolivia Trains

3. Write your travel memoirs

It’s true that travel broadens the mind and quite often you can pack in a week’s worth of experiences in one day. So why not uncover your inner Bill Bryson/Michael Palin and write about it for all posterity. Train rides between cities are a great way to do this, so carry a lightweight laptop or if you prefer, a humble notepad and pen. If it worked for Marco Polo, it’ll work for you too!

4. Watch an in-train movie

Laptops aren’t just good for updating blogs on-the-go. A lot of trains have onboard Wi-Fi and power sockets which mean you can plug in, stick your headphones on and create your own cinematic rail experience. Go one step further and select a trainy themed movie. Or if you find yourself on a Ferrari train, just head for the cinema carriage!

5. Eat, drink and be merry!

Trains have food options to suit all budgets! Most services will have a buffet car serving snacks and drinks, or a dining/pullman car if you really want to push out the boat out and opt for a 3-course on-board dining experience. If you’re on a shoestring, pack your own picnic and bottle of wine and do it on the cheap instead.

6. Entertain yourself/others

Trains don’t always come with seat-back entertainment, so unless yours has a piano bar car so you’ll have to make your own (see Fun and games). And when you’re done with that, consider leaving a message/map/present for the next passenger under the seat/in the fold down tray and brighten their day too. Leave them a train letter, the essential tool of procrastination for any train journey. Essentially this means thinking of frivolous but potentially life-saving ways to kill time like catastrophe mitigation plans (what to do in various emergency train scenarios – reference train movies!), brainteasers (trainteasers?) and unfinished pictures/poems for your mysterious beneficiary.

7. Hit the books

Reading for leisure is a great way to spend time on the train profitably. Do your research and you can find literature that is railway themed or based in your departure/arrival location. There is nothing like reading about a place while travelling through it to make the words just walk off the page. For something a little more easy going, get your friends to write a train letter (see above!), and well, if you’re using travel as a form of denial you could always use the time to buckle down and get some work done. First class is a lot quieter/emptier, and sometimes only a few bucks more. Definitely more conducive to study!

Mike On Train
Mike from AOB on a train

8. Watch the world go by

There’s nothing like going by train to really immerse yourself in a country’s culture and really get the lie of the land. Indulge in a little window gazing and people watching in new territory and time flies by.

9. Make friends

If merely watching your fellow travellers gets boring (or starts to look a little weird), get talking! Befriend fellow passengers – you might make a new friend, learn something you didn’t know or who knows, meet the ideal travel companion…

10. Face the music

Digital radio and mp3 players are all well and good, but besides being good for the soul, music has a wonderful habit of attaching itself to experiences. So forget the obvious stuff and go for something more specific like creating a playlist for a particular train leg. Guaranteed to help the memories come flooding back in years to come.

11. Catch some Zzz

Sleep! Night trains are a great way to save money on a hotel while travelling from city to city. Just take some ear plugs in case you’re confronted with a cabin full of noisy bed fellows!

Whatever you do, look at ways to pass the time meaningfully and have fun. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and happy railing!

If you have any ideas to add, leave them in the comments below!


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Anila Babla

Anila Babla is the Editor-at-large at Loco2, a website dedicated to the joys of train travel. She also manages community in the Engine Room forum. You can follow Anila and Loco2 on Twitter, should the whim take you!
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