For the young and broke, traveling by train just makes sense. Train passes can cost a third of a plane ticket, and the idea seems sort of romantic too. Or at least, it will until the combined stench of pizza grease and urine first hits you at the train station. Ask anyone who had to take an hours-long train, it’s awful. Here are 10 ways to make the experience a little more bearable.
Always make sure you have your train ticket. Train stations, unlike airports, don’t check for your ticket before you board, but instead, a conductor will make several rounds during the train ride to ask for your pass. This seems obvious, but you don’t want to end up stranded in Bratislava on your way to Vienna just because you forgot to triple-check that you brought your train ticket.
2) Headphones and Chargers
Look, next to bringing your train ticket, headphones are the most important item to bring on a long train ride. Who cares if you have pre-purchased the newest Kendrick Lamar album or downloaded an entire season of Friends? A long train ride without headphones is not unlike a slow decent into madness. Headphones are a necessity when it comes traveling. Do not forget them. Also, don’t forget to fully charge your electronic devices on your trip. You could get lucky and find a plug on the train, so bring a charger for your devices as well, but don’t count on it. You don’t want to come to the horrifying realization that you still have six hours of train-filled fun, and a phone battery with 30 percent charge.
3) Netflix (and other forms of entertainment)
If you were lucky enough to get a train with reliable, working Wi-Fi, congratulations, you must not be traveling on a train in Eastern Europe because that doesn’t exist. Since coming to Europe about month ago, I’ve had the opportunity (misfortune?) to travel via train on four occasions. Only one train offered Wi-Fi, and, for whatever reason, my phone was not able to connect. Use Netflix’s nifty new life-saving tool that allows you to pre-save content before you go on your trip, and make sure you have a variety. The night before you leave, you might be in the mood for a rom-com, but mid-way through your travels, you might be sick of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and crave the thrill of a horror movie. The Orient Express, anyone?
If binge-watching is not your thing (and if that’s the case, what are you? An alien?) you might chose to spend your time away from the cesspool called the internet and save a bookstore from going extinct by reading a book that wasn’t written by a 16-year-old on watt pad. Do you remember those? No need for chargers or headphones, just some decent lighting and good old-fashioned reading comprehensions skills. Or get some work done, you know you’ve been procrastinating for way too long anyway.
Bring your own food for the train ride. Again, unlike planes, trains do not offer complimentary in-flight meals. What they may offer is a sandwich that “tastes like what you would imagine body order to taste like” according to my roommate, and overpriced beer and wine. Remember,
there is no bag check for trains, so bring a good meal and some snacks, because you will get hungry at some point during the trip.
6) Reserve seats
You may bought a train ticket, but that doesn’t guarantee you a seat on the train. If you have the ability to do so, reserve a seat for you and your group ahead of time, it may be worth the extra cost.
7) –or don’t- for adventure
I learned that train seats are reserved the hard way. Picture this: me, a frightened, ethnically-ambiguous brown person, fleeing from my seat, while a much older woman screamed at me in a foreign language. Second only to seeing Poltergeist for the first time, it was the scariest moment of my life.
For the first half of my first-ever train ride, I sat in the back, on the floor. It wasn’t ideal, but it also wasn’t the end of the world. Beside, two stops in, a group of people got up from their seats and I was able to get a whole section to myself. Be on the lookout during train stops for empty seats, or get to the train station early and be the first on board to score unreserved seats, and save yourself a few bucks in the process.
8) Dress comfortably
Seven-hour wedgies aren’t fun. Avoid tight clothes, and let your skin breeeaaattthhhee. Most guidebooks will tell you that in Europe, you should always dress nicer to avoid looking like a tourist, but you get a pass on the train. After all, the final destination is another sweat-and-urine soaked train station anyway, you don’t need to look like Gigi Hadid.
If all else fails, be like the Spanish and take a siesta. For maximum comfort, see if you can fit a sleeping mask, light blanket, and neck pillow into your carry-on. When you wake up, you will be well-rested and ready to explore your newest destination
10) Walk around
Prevent sore muscles and stiffness by taking a break from your Orange is the New Black binge-session to walk around the train for a minute or two. Stretch your legs, but make sure your belongings are safe. You can either carry it with you as you walk, or simply make sure that your stuff does not look worthy enough to steal (i.e. expensive camera straps poking out of bags or your jewel-encrusted iPhone 34x plus case peeking out from your purse)
For the travel looking for a budget-friendly option, traveling by train is a necessary evil. However, with the help of a little bit of planning and research, you can make sure your ride goes from unbearable to something that you would gladly suffer through.