Travel Tips: How to get the most out of a vacation by train

If you think that traveling by train isn’t your idea of a fun vacation, think again, says Eleanor Flagler Hardy, the president of the Society of International Railway Travelers, a Louisville, Kentucky-based travel agency specializing in trips by rail.

“Traveling by train is a fabulous way to see any country unfold, and you can truly relax onboard because you’re not worrying about driving, directions or traffic,” she said.

Here, she shares her top tips on planning an enjoyable train trip.

Pick the Right Train

There’s a train journey for just about every type of traveler. For example, VIA Rail Canada and Rocky Mountaineer, both Canadian companies, offer the option of two- to three-day trips that are suited for families with younger children. Active travelers will appreciate the Gornergrat Bahn or the Glacier Express in Switzerland because their itineraries have the option to disembark and take hikes through the surrounding mountains, while those seeking a longer, more relaxed journey should consider Golden Eagle’s 21-day Silk Road, which travels between Beijing and Moscow, or Rovos Rail’s 15-day journey between Cape Town and Dar es Salaam.

All Budgets Are Welcome

Train vacations can accommodate both luxury and cost-conscious travelers. Pricey train trips with high-quality service, multicourse meals paired with premium wines and deluxe accommodations include the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which goes through various destinations in Europe, the Belmond Royal Scotsman, through Scotland, England and Wales, and the Eastern & Oriental Express, which includes a Bangkok-to-Singapore itinerary. For more affordable trips, Hardy recommended select Amtrak itineraries in the United States and any sleeper trains in Europe.

“You get the same gorgeous scenery and reliable service for a fraction of the price of a luxury train,” she said.

Pack Light

Minimizing your luggage is essential on a rail vacation, said Hardy, because most trains have limited storage space. Also, unless you’re on a luxury journey, you’re responsible for managing your own bags, and the fewer you have, the easier they are to handle. Hardy recommended taking no more than one small roller bag and small backpack per person.

Plan Wisely

Avoid the three mistakes that rookie train travelers tend to make. First, show up for your trip at the right train station since many cities around the world have multiple train stations. Next, when it comes to an international train trip, although you may save money if you buy your ticket in the country you’re going to be traveling in, don’t. Instead, buy your ticket before you leave home because your desired train may sell out otherwise. Last, arrive at your train departure city one day before the departure and plan to stay one night at your destination after arrival.

“Flights can be delayed, and your train won’t wait for you, and trains can be late, and you don’t want to be ruining your relaxing time on the train worrying about making your flight,” Hardy said.