Renting and driving a car may offer more schedule flexibility in some countries; however, the train system overseas is often the cheapest, most convenient and dependable way of getting around. Travel by train has its own etiquette; here are four insider tips to make your next train ride more pleasant.
Buy ahead of time or last minute?
While you can purchase your ticket at the last minute, be aware that the fare is often cheaper if you book well in advance. Keep in mind that in places like Scandinavia, the trains fill up fast, and you might end up waiting in the train station for the next departure. If you are not on a tight schedule, this could be an option to ride at the very last minute if you are so inclined.
Most countries will not allow you to purchase your ticket onboard the train. If you are riding a train without a ticket, you can incur a spot fine by the train inspector when they make their rounds. If you have a ticket, some countries also require that you validate it beforehand - if you’re not sure, ask a conductor before boarding.
General train safety
Splurge: In many third world countries, the difference in price of a first class ticket and a third class ticket is negligible, and the benefits far outweigh the cost of the upgrade. From a security standpoint, it usually means you are in a safer, cleaner area with more space and amenities.
Never walk away from your backpack if the train has stopped. Thieves can jump onboard during stops, grab whatever they can and hop off before the train moves again.
Trust your gut, if you are uncomfortable sitting next to someone, especially alone in a compartment, move or request a move from the train attendants. It is always better to risk offending someone than to stay in a potentially dangerous situation.
Night trains and securing your valuables
When riding on overnight trains, always secure your valuables such as your wallet, passport and electronic devices in the bunk with you. Lock up your suitcase or bag as well if possible. As an alternative, use a carabiner and tie a string, paracord or belt through a backpack strap and a fixed object to keep someone from taking it while you sleep.
A question of manners: Someone is in your seat
In Morocco, I often found someone in my assigned seat. The solution in this situation is simple: Just smile, show them your ticket and kindly ask them to move. Hand gestures are usually enough to get your point across if you do not speak the language. If they still do not move, find a train employee who has the authority to make them relocate. An empty seat might look like an easy option to avoid a confrontation; however, the fact that it is unoccupied now does not mean that seat is vacant for the entire journey. Assignments are also given to individuals who arrive at later stops. If you decide to sit in a different place, you could be putting someone else in the same situation.
Trains are notoriously dependable and punctual, which means it will leave you behind if you are not in your seat on time. It’s easy to be delayed overseas; having travel insurance will protect you in the event you’re left standing at the station.
My favorite part of taking the train is the ability to gaze out the window as you roll by, often seeing countryside you would have missed if you had to focus on the road while driving. Taking a nap is a close second, and relaxing on a train is a great benefit.
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