There’s something romantic about traveling by train. You can relax and watch the world go by in a way that you can’t on other forms of transportation. Even with the speed advantage of flying, train travel has an appeal that can’t be beat.
Traveling by train is a lot less stressful than flying. You don’t have to be at the train station so far ahead of your departure time. Trains rarely have security checks, and when they do, they still don’t require you to limit your liquids, take off your shoes, or prohibit items like nail scissors and butter knives. Trains are also more roomy, and it’s easier for you to get up and walk around than on a plane.
While road trips can be fun, someone always has to be in the driver’s seat. On a train, you can look out the window and admire the landscape without worrying about watching the road ahead. And you can take a bathroom break without having to pull over!
Can you tell we love train travel here at Her Packing List?!
The World’s Great Train Journeys
Sometimes a train is simply a way to get from one place to the next. But often a train is the journey itself. To experience the adventure of train travel, try one of the world’s greatest train journeys. Since some of the fancier ones tend to be just as fancy in price, we’re listing out a few of the more accessible ones for our readers.
1. Trans Siberian Railway
The Trans Siberian Railway is an epic journey through Russia. There are actually three routes that are often referred to as the Trans Siberian, though they each have their own name.
Trans Siberian – This is the route between Moscow and Vladivostok. The entire route is within Russia.
Trans Manchurian – This route travels between Moscow and Beijing, crossing from Russia into China or vice versa.
Trans Mongolian – This route also connects Moscow and Beijing but by traveling through Mongolia in between.
These trains are used by locals as a normal mode of transport. Most tourists start in Moscow and travel east on one of these routes, but if you start in Vladivostok or Beijing and travel west, you’ll encounter few, if any, tourists.
It helps to know a few phrases in Russian as most non-tourists you will encounter will not speak English.
The train tickets are not flexible, so you have to plan out your stops ahead of time. If you can read Russian or you want to try using Google translate, you can book tickets yourself through www.rzd.ru or www.poezda.net. Otherwise the most recommended company to help plan and book your journey is Real Russia.
- Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for the Trans-Mongolian Train, Her Packing List
- A Traveler’s Guide to the Trans Siberian Railway, Katie Aune
2. The Blue Train
The Blue Train was originally meant to connect Cairo to Cape Town. Though that dream never became a reality, the train does travel through South Africa between Cape Town and Pretoria and offers a spectacular view of the country. It is one of the most luxurious trains in the world, so it might be tough on a tight budget.
- Taking a Trip on the Blue Train in South Africa, Travel Yourself
- The Blue Train: Crossing South Africa in Luxury, Adventurous Kate
3. The Canadian
Canada’s VIARail has routes throughout the country, but a journey from one side of the country to the other is more of an experience than simple transportation. This route connects Vancouver with Toronto, can be taken in either direction, and has several stops across Canada’s varied landscape.
- How to Travel with VIA Rail on a Budget, Savoir Faire Abroad
4. Great Southern Rail
Australia is a big country, so most people fly to save time. But for those looking for a slower adventure, seeing the country by train will give you a different perspective. Great Southern Rail has three routes showing you different sections of the country.
The Overland: This route connects Melbourne and Adelaide. It is a daytime train that allows you to admire the scenery along the way.
The Indian Pacific: A truly transcontinental journey, this train connects Sydney and Perth on a 4 day, 3 night experience.
The Ghan: This is an Australian favorite. The route runs between Darwin and Adelaide, straight through the Outback.
- Train Travel: The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide – Day One, the Professional Hobo
- Travelling Aboard the Ghan Train, Rocky Travel
5. Kiwi Rail
New Zealand’s railway consists of three major scenic trains, one on the north island and two on the south island. A train journey here is the perfect way to get from one part of the country to another while enjoying spectacular views.
TranzAlpine: Probably the most scenic of the three, this train runs between Christchurch and Greymouth. From Greymouth, you can take a bus to Franz Josef Glacier.
Coastal Pacific: This train takes you along the east coast of the south island from Christchurch to Picton, where you can connect to the ferry to the north island. (Does not operate during winter months.)
Northern Explorer: The longest of the three, this train connects Auckland and Wellington, taking you almost from top to bottom of the north island.
- Riding the Rails in NZ – the TranzAlpine, A Dangerous Business
- New Zealand Train Travel – Wellington to Auckland, Ali’s Adventures
>> Check out the Ultimate Female Packing List for New Zealand in summer and in winter.
6. The Orient Express
The Orient Express was made famous by Agatha Christie in her novel Murder on the Orient Express. The official route has been retired, but today you can choose one of several different routes on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express to cities such as Budapest, Bucharest, Vienna, Venice, Paris, and London. The Belmond company also operates train routes in Southeast Asia, Peru, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
- A Journey on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express Train, Mrs. O Around the World
Get Inspired by Epic Train Journeys
Planning and Booking Train Travel
Sometimes it really is about reaching your destination. If you need to get from one place to the next without the stress of flying, train travel might be the way to go depending on where you are in the world.
For information about trains throughout the world, the best place to start is Seat61.com. The site has advice, schedules, prices, pictures, and links for nearly every train in the world.
Train Travel in Europe
My personal favorite for checking train schedules in Europe is the German rail site. Schedules for almost every route in Europe are loaded into the site, allowing you to see how long it takes to get from one city to another as well as where and how long the changes are.
The site will give you prices for trains within Germany and most trains that start or end in Germany. However, it won’t give you prices for other trains. In that case, you’ll have to go to the corresponding country’s train site.
>>Check out the Ultimate European Train Travel Packing List.
Here are a few train sites from around Europe, in English:
- Austria: https://www.oebb.at/en/
- Belgium: http://www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx
- France: SNCF
- Germany: http://www.bahn.de/p_en/view/index.shtml
- Italy: http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en
- Netherlands: NS
- Portugal: https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en/
- Spain: http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/index.html
- Switzerland: http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html
- Eurostar: http://www.eurostar.com/ (train to/from London across the English Channel)
Train Passes are a popular way to travel around Europe. If you are a European resident, use Interrail.eu, and if you are not a European resident, use Eurail.com. Passes vary from country-specific ones to passes that allow you to travel throughout most of Western Europe.
Do plenty of research to determine if a pass is right for you. In general, if you’re going to be traveling quickly, you want to be spontaneous and flexible, or you’re traveling to several countries, a pass might be worth it. But if you’re traveling slower or you have set dates, a pass might not be the best idea.
If you are 26 or older, you will be required to get a 1st class rail pass. Some trains require reservations, and the cost is not included with the pass. Some trains also have a limited number of seats available for people traveling on passes.
- Are Eurail Passes a Giant Scam or Do They Save You Money?, Nomadic Matt
- How To: Train Across Europe with a Eurail Pass, Over Yonderlust
Train Travel in North America
North America is not known for its trains. In the US, in most cases, the cargo trains have priority, which often leads to delays for the passenger trains. Make sure you aren’t on a tight schedule when traveling long distances on trains in the US. You’ll have better luck on trains in the northeast and northwest as compared with cross-country trains.
Brooke rode Amtrak in 2014 on two separate occasions: Los Angeles to New Orleans, aboard the Sunset Limited, and Chicago to Boston, aboard the Lake Shore Limited. On both occasions, the trains had issues, and she was late to New Orleans by a couple hours and finished the trip to Boston on a bus.
However, if you don’t have tight travel times, the train can be an adventure, and affordable at that. For two people from LA to New Orleans (a 48-hour, 2-night trip), it cost ~$700, and that included all meals and a small sleeper room for 2. The value was immense considering flights and accommodation and food for those two travel days would have been more.
Train Travel in Asia
Train Travel in South America
- Tren Ecuador
We’ve already mentioned the ins and outs of rail passes in the European train travel section, but it’s good to point out that rail passes are often available in many countries. For example, you can get a rail pass for Amtrak trains in the US for 15-day, 30-day, and 45-day increments. Rail Australia offers a rail pass through NSW TrainLink for 14-day, 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month increments.
Some things to consider before buying a rail pass:
- Find out if a pass is worth it for your intended travel plans. Does the cost of the normal train rides run higher when purchased individually?
- Is there an age restriction?
- Do you need to book extras (like a sleeper bed) or reserve a spot in general when using a rail pass?
- Are there any specific trains or lines that are excluded from use by the rail pass?
- Are there extra routes, such as ferries and busses, that are included with the rail pass?
Some countries or regions offer passes for travel within specific areas. For example, in Germany each state offers a pass that allows you to travel throughout the state on the slow trains for a flat fee all day long. Restrictions vary by state, but typically the passes work for up to five people, include local city transportation, and are valid from 9am to 3am.
Train Travel Etiquette
Following some rules of etiquette will go a long way in making sure you, and those around you, enjoy the train journey. In general, be polite and considerate of others as you would anywhere else.
More specifically, here are some tips for a better train experience:
- Speak quietly so you don’t disturb other people. Remember trains are a confined space.
- Don’t sit in someone else’s reserved seat.
- Don’t talk on your cell phone. If you need to, move to the lobby area near the doors.
- If you bring your own food, don’t bring anything smelly.
- On night trains, keep noise and lights to a minimum once others in your compartment start to go to sleep.
- If you are on a specialty or luxury train, read up on the dress code or other rules that apply to your train.
Entertainment on Trains
Sometimes the passing landscape is all the entertainment you’ll need. But you might want a little more to occupy your time. Trains in some countries have TVs, but I wouldn’t count on this.
A book or e-reader is your best option on a train because it’s small and quiet. If you want to listen to music or watch a movie on your laptop, use headphones. Make sure your electronics are charged up before you get on the train since not all trains have electrical outlets.
For long-distance journeys where you’ll be sharing a cabin with others wanting to use electrical devices, it may be wise for someone to bring a power strip, which is something that Brooke said was very useful on the Trans-Mongolian train journey.
On longer journeys, the bar car or restaurant car can be a good place to go for a change of scenery or to chat with other travelers. Some long-distance trains even have lounge carriages specifically for a place to stretch your legs and talk without disturbing other passengers. Just don’t leave your valuables unattended back at your seat.
Food on Trains
It’s always best to check ahead of time if your train has food options. Many long distance and fast trains have a bar car where you can order drinks, snacks, and full meals. There is often hot water available, so it’s useful to bring items like tea sachets, cup of soup packets, instant noodles and instant mashed potatoes.
For trains that do not have a restaurant, bring your own food if necessary. Food that does not need to be heated or kept cold is best. Sandwiches, granola bars, fruit, salads, and bottled drinks are good options.