I’d like to consider myself quite the train connoisseur with Bangkok to Singapore, Bangladesh to India and the Trans Siberian Railroad all under my belt as a train passenger.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some wisdom with my friends who are about to embark on some overland traveling themselves, whether that’s South East Asia, the subcontinent or the Grand Daddy of them all across Russia. If you’ll be traveling for more than 8 hours in any one journey, here are my 5 tips to make your train journey infinitely more comfortable:
Trains are spacious enough to give you liberty of at least feeling like you have space to swing a cat (in reality you don’t, poor cat). So unless digging into your backpack with elbows flying everywhere appeals, you need to get your gear ready before you board.
In your day pack you need to have ready a hoody (for cold SE Asian trains), a pair of shorts (to change out of your jeans incase, as often happens, the aircon doesn’t work), flip-flops (if you’re not wearing them, you should be!). If you’re feeling ultra prepared then some earplugs and eye masks would be great.
Long journeys need more than an iron constitution and willpower. You’ll need to bring a penknife for cutting your bread, cheese, etc to save you money in the dining cart. Also you’ll need Imodium for when the spic y food hits you and squatting in a 100 kph rocking iron carriage doesn’t sound like a great place to practice your foreign toilet using skills. Sunglasses incase you get stuck on the wrong side of the train, and sunblock for the same reason.
My old science teacher, she used to say fail to prepare, prepare to fail and although she didn’t talk a lot of sense, she got that one right (in fairness, she didn’t make it up). Bring everything you need, that means plenty of water, multivitamins, some bananas, bread and cheese and the prerequisite amount of booze (1 bottle per 3 people per day!)
Know what you’re getting yourself in for folks. I’ve travelled first to bottom class in Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Russia, Kazakhstan – well, you get the picture. If you’re budget is tight, you’re going bottom class but you need to get your head around what you’re about to face. If it’s in the sub continent (India, Pakistan etc), bottom class means goats, chickens and sitting on the floor so only save the money if you’re willing to rough it.
5) Arrival and Departure:
First up know your destination station, in big cities it’s not uncommon to have more than one station, so don’t arrive with 10 minutes to spare only to discover that you’re in the wrong place. I know it sounds obvious but it’s a regular error.
On your embarkation, work out where you are going, the last thing you want after 3 days on the train is to stand in the station with your friends and think ‘what next’. You’ll be tired, irritable, sleep deprived and dirty – have your next step planned or you’ll end up in a world of pain. Trust me!
Ok guys, trains are a great method of transport and if you’re prepared for the journey ahead they’re a real breeze. Turn up hungover, with no supplies, all your gear in the wrong bag and you’ll be in for a struggle. Good luck and happy travels!