Rail Trips are an ode to the glory of slow travel, following some of our favourite train routes around the world and stopping off at unique destinations along the way. But if you’re spending a lot of time in carriages, you need to be prepared – so here are our essential packing tips for travelling by train.
From Central Europe to Southeast Asia, our Rail Trips are a diverse collection of adventures built on the same principles as our Epic Trips, but swapping roads for tracks. Your choice of trip will not only influence the places you go and the views you can expect from your window, but also the kind of train you’ll be travelling on. On our Japan trip you’ll experience the high-tech wizardry of the Shinkansen (bullet train), while our Scottish Highlands itinerary starts off on the Caledonian Sleeper train from London, and later features the old-world charm of the Jacobite Steam Train.
We’ve tried to cover the needs of any kind of trip and any kind of train. So whether you’re staying within one country, like our Northern Italy trip, or crossing continents like in our Madrid to Marrakech itinerary, this list should keep you comfortable, calm and entertained.
Keeping you entertained
A good pair of earphones or headphones
Are you the kind of passenger who likes to get lost in the shape shifting views framed imperfectly beside your window seat? Or are you more of a people-watcher with one eye on comings and goings? Maybe you’re the wanderer, unable to sit still in the seat, roaming from carriage to carriage. Whatever your style, you’re going to want to soundtrack your escapades appropriately, and a good-quality, reliable way of listening to music and podcasts is a must. Nobody likes a self-appointed carriage DJ, after all. Hell, even if you’re the nosy eavesdropper, there’s no better disguise than an unused pair of earphones plugged in. Our top tip – invest in a headphone splitter, so you can share and exchange music choices with your travel companions.
For the traditionalists among us who want to avoid staring at a screen for the entirety of a scenic train trip, but still need some mental stimulation along the way, then decent reading materials are absolutely essential. Pick a trendy novel if you want your fellow passengers to see you as the mysteriously cultured enigma by the window, but we’re firm believers in ignoring what the person across the aisle may think. So choose whatever makes you happy, be that a magazine, a comic, the daily newspaper or Kim Kardashian’s autobiography – you do you. For the purpose of this we won’t count a Kindle as a screen either, just a super effective way of fitting an entire library in your pocket!
Most modern trains have plug and/or USB sockets for pretty much every seat on the train. Plenty still don’t, however, and even some that do aren’t exactly reliable – so we always carry a fully powered portable charger with us, just in case. Whether you’re on an older train, have two devices and only one seat socket, or maybe you’ve left your international plug adapter locked at the bottom of your suitcase, a powerbank always comes in handy at some point.
Portable wifi hotspots
If your travel is particularly tech heavy then it may be worth investing in a good portable wifi device, especially since a lot of train wifi can be very ropey. Relying on your phone hotspotting for hours on end only adds further strain to the charging situation, so having a device whose sole responsibility is keeping you connected is a game-changer for, say, the hybrid worker who needs to make a video call on their laptop. Plus, there’s no easier way to your travel companion’s heart than offering them the precious password to your hotspot. Admittedly this is only an essential for certain travellers – so if the investment isn’t worth it for you, then be sure to download all the music, podcasts, TV shows and films you want to have at your disposal, ahead of your departure. You won’t regret it either way.
A good camera
This one is huge if you’re travelling as part of a group. A train journey with friends is like a walk in a park or a trip to the pub: it’s a forum for great conversation, laughter and memory making. So, while we can always snap those spontaneous moments on our phones these days, we love carrying a good camera with us at all times. Whether you’ve got a high-quality DSLR, a trendy refurbed film camera, or even a nostalgic cheap disposable leftover from your childhood – a train journey is the perfect time to capture some memories with your travel buddies.
Keeping you comfortable
When you’re sitting in the same place for hours it doesn’t matter how ergonomically well-designed the seats are, your bum might go numb, your neck a bit crooked and your legs a little twitchy. That’s why it’s super important to look after your comfort on any extended journey, especially if you’re spending consecutive days onboard. These days there are cushions and pillows for all of your differing lumbar needs. Wrap-around neck comforters, hooded u-pillows, elaborate inflatable devices… if you can imagine it, it’s probably been invented by now. But do your research, find what keeps you comfortable and invest. You won’t regret it, and neither will the person sitting next to you, fed up with your head on their shoulder.
Eye mask and ear plugs
This one’s particularly relevant if you’re spending time on sleeper trains, which are back in fashion in a big way – from the London-to-Scotland Caledonian to numerous new European routes in the works. These trains are designed for a comfortable sleep, but a good night’s rest still relies on the individual. If you’re a particularly light sleeper, find it hard to settle down with background noise, or simply feel a little weird shutting your eyes on public transport, then an eye mask and ear plug combo can help you get the rest you booked for in the first place.
We’ve all been there. I’m not hungry, I’m travelling between meals, I don’t need anything to keep me going. Then comes the crinkle crankle of a wrapper opening across the aisle. Next thing a gentle whiff of deliciousness has wafted its way over to you and, before you know it, you can’t get chocolate out of your head. Cue a frantic power walk from carriage to carriage in search of the food car, but it’s out of service today. Now you’re actively hungry, so much so you start wondering if the train will stop long enough at the next station for you to make a b-line to the vending machine. Don’t do it. Learn your lesson. Come with a bag of treats, your belly will be happy and you’ll be the most popular passenger onboard.
Good water bottle
You’re gonna need something to wash that down with and, even if you aren’t really a serial snacker, it’s still imperative that we stay hydrated on long journeys. A good water bottle is invaluable, and we cannot speak highly enough of a high quality insulated bottle. Lukewarm water is never appetising and, especially when exploring hot countries, a refreshing glug of cooled water always does you the world of good. Most large train stations have water dispensers these days so you can always top up and, if you’re more of a hot beverage person, then a well-insulated bottle takes care of that too.
Keeping you safe
There’s nothing worse than having to drop your suitcase on the other side of the carriage from your seat, before spending the entirety of the journey paranoid that someone has stolen it or – even worse – had a good look through your things. The reality is that this rarely happens, but a good luggage lock goes a long way to easing your mind (and your neck, so you stop turning around every two minutes to check it’s still there). Top tip – it’s also worth purchasing a unique-looking bag, to avoid confusion and luggage mix-ups.
Small bag for valuable items
As well as keeping your main suitcase locked up, it’s also worth having a smaller carrier to hold the things you really want to keep close. If you have no room in your pockets for a passport, or if you have expensive headphones, devices or anything else, you’re going to want to keep things on you at all times. Plus, if the nightmare scenario arises and your suitcase is stolen or mistakenly taken, you can rest assured that all of the real essentials are still on your person.
You’re far more likely to have some of this stuff hanging around post-Covid, but it shouldn’t just be germaphobes who carry hand sanitizer with them at all times – and it shouldn’t really have taken a global pandemic to shift the culture on this. Most trains are pretty well-kept and clean, but ultimately we’re talking about the mass transport of people, so germs are always floating around. And let’s face it, no matter how often the toilets onboard get cleaned, you’re still at the mercy of the guy who went in before you. So relieve those heebie-jeebies with a squeeze of anti-bacterial goodness. Top tip – if you’re particularly liberal with the stuff, it might be worth bringing some moisturising cream to get ahead of dry, cracked skin.
Ultimately modern train travel is an incredibly comfortable, well-catered experience. They’re clean, have plenty of facilities, food, drink and amenities to keep your tech alive and connected. All you really need is yourself, your tickets and probably a passport and wallet. The rest is all to make your experience that bit more homely and, with no silly luggage charges or restrictions, you can bring what you want as well as what you need. That means entertainment is a given, not a luxury, on train journeys.
If you love to explore a destination by going from station to station, seeing the ever-changing landscapes pass by, adding an extra layer to the story of the place you’re exploring, then you’ll love our collection of Rail Trips – good for the planet, good for the soul, and great for really getting to know a place.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
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