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A friend of mine is going to take a very long train journey the next week. The journey takes 44 hours according to the train schedule and takes place in Europe. He has to change trains two times. Once after 12 hours, and the second time after 20 hours. There is not a lot of time between these trains on the stations. The journey starts early in the morning and lasts until early afternoon two days later.

He is a little bit afraid of this very long journey and therefore looking for tips how to prepare. For example how to get some sleep in a normal train compartment, how to fight the boredom, what do eat, etc.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 20 down vote accepted
  • Take your own food. As a rule, the food served on trains is bland and overpriced. He will probably have time at the stations to purchase extra drinks, or if not get them on the train.

  • He is probably not going to sleep that well in a regular train compartment (I never do at least). Obviously he should take a book. The main risk if he is travelling alone is that he will have an aisle seat and will have to try not to accidentally lean on the person in the window when he falls asleep.

  • Have the details of the changes written down and near to hand. Don't look at the tickets themselves whilst on a train station platform - the risk of accidentally losing them in the rush is too high. Instead write down all the info (including your seat number) on a seperate piece of paper that you can just shove in your pocket and keep your tickets safe in your bag.

  • Always try to get the window seat!

  • Find out what the words for "departure", "arrival" and "platform" are in the countries that you will be changing in. It is usually in English too, but knowing the German (or whatever) won't hurt.

  • Like mindcorrosive said, you have to watch out for things being stolen whilst you're sleeping. Personally I always have a seperate, small backpack (that I carry on my front if I have two backpacks), with all my valuables in and a padlock on it. I use it as a pillow, so it would be pretty hard for anyone to take it without me noticing, plus I get a free pillow :)

  • If he is taking a night train he should have booked a sleeping compartment! I know it seems expensive, but trust me, after one trip like this he will really understand why it's good value for money. You may not sleep that much better in a bunk, but at least you have space to put your feet and a personal reading light. I know the difference in price makes you think twice, and I've been persuaded by the cheaper ticket many times, but every time I cave and buy the cheaper seating ticket I end up regretting it. Obviously it's too late to change this, but for anyone else who reads this I can't recommend it enough.

    I've taken 100+ night trains in Europe and maybe 25% of them were miserable experiences because I had to sit in a six person compartment (3 people facing 3 people), in a middle seat, in the carriage next to the engine, with 5 people who didn't speak English and refused to turn the light off, with nowhere to put my feet and nowhere to rest my head for 12+ hours overnight.

Source: Taken many train journeys with 8+ changes lasting 48+ hours :)

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Thanks that sounds useful. I would be interested in the route of this 48+ train travel ;) –  RoflcoptrException Jan 10 '12 at 15:05
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A very common one for me is Newport (England) - London - Brussels - Cologne - Copenhagen - Malmö - Stockholm - Östersund which takes ~48 hours (or sometimes ~~36 hours if I risk a very short connection). –  victoriah Jan 10 '12 at 15:17
    
omg. that's insance ;) –  RoflcoptrException Jan 10 '12 at 15:23
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It was actually my very first international journey! Taken alone, no less. The second time I took it I was moving to Sweden and took a friend, so in addition to our usual luggage we had a guitar, a desktop computer, monitor, 2 suitcases full of books, and a plasma TV. No joke. –  victoriah Jan 10 '12 at 17:28

In addition to the sound advice from victoriah, here are also a few more points to consider:

  • Some trains have power sockets that you can use, so bringing an entertainment device (laptop/netbook/tablet) stocked with stuff to read/watch might be a good idea. Bringing a power strip will also make you popular among other travellers, if power sockets are in short supply.
  • If you expect to be sleeping on the train, make sure you schedule a few alarms on your mobile phone before each stop -- although train stops are usually announced on the intercom, you might miss it if you are overly tired from the journey.
  • A sleeping pillow like the ones usually brought on planes can help a lot and reduce the possibility of falling over your neighbour.
  • Probably goes without saying, but when travelling in countries where train theft is common, secure all your belongings (at least your handbag, or equivalent) so that they cannot be snatched without waking you up. Best is to put your most important belongings (wallet, mobile phone, keys, tickets!) in your trouser pockets. Otherwise, you could just wrap the strap securely around your hand, and put it in a position that will be difficult to open without you noticing. You may also lock it with a padlock, and even use it as a pillow (thanks for the tip, victoriah!)
  • Some trains are cold, so a warm thin blanket will be much more comfortable than staying with your jacket all the time. Remember also that body temperature drops while sleeping, and without something to put on, it makes for very awkward sleeping.
  • Take some "comforting" medications, such as anti-diarrhea pills. You never know, and train toilets are not always comfortable to use (some trains in Bulgaria used to have squat toilets until few years ago, for example).
  • Take some toilet paper. Trust me on this one.
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lol, your tips were way better than mine. all things i usually do myself, but it's hard to remember everything whilst sitting at home. i am also a super paranoid traveller and check everything 1 million times, set 10 alarms, check station maps before i leave, etc –  victoriah Jan 10 '12 at 17:25
    
although i don't recommend to store important things in the pockets. it's too easy for them to fall out whilst sleeping or for them to be pickpocketed. i usually have a smaller backpack that has all my valuables in (including laptop etc) which i have a padlock on, and i use it as a pillow, so no chance of anyone taking it without me noticing. –  victoriah Jan 10 '12 at 17:31

Food

Make sure to buy some food before you go. My favourite train snack is pistachios, because they take a while to eat - chews up time ;) Also make sure you have plenty of refreshments, especially caffeine if you're the sort of person who needs a shot when you wake up! Some trains (Russia) let you get off at stations and there are dozens of people selling cheap food and drink, but this is less common in Europe. And DO share your food with others - it's a good bonding activity, and you get to try out some of their food too!

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Seating

Firstly, if you're in a cabin/carriage with just seats, you'll want a window seat. If you're ok with being a jerk about it, when the adjacent seat becomes available, you could put your stuff on it. This gives you an extra seat to use when you sleep. However, this will depend on seating numbers and whether you can change or not as well. In a train from Berlin to Krakow, a Brazilian girl and myself hunted through the train until we found an empty cabin. It had 8 seats facing each other. We each stretched out on four seats, and went to sleep. This worked well except for a random period from 4-6am when some kids came in and used 3 of the seats for two hours, and then they were gone again.

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Security

If you're travelling alone, this is even harder, but make sure to keep your possessions close by, if at all possible. Keep you wallet in your clothes, and if you're comfortable doing so, perhaps use a daypack as your pillow, with your valuables inside. I try to lock my leg through a strap on my pack if possible, for extra security. Consider using one of those wire-mesh security wraps for your pack - makes it much harder for someone to get in while you're asleep.

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Entertainment

If you're in a carriage with others, it's chatting time! Everyone you meet has a story, find out theirs! And this is the best part - even if they're speaking in a foreign language, make it a game to figure out words - even if it takes you an hour to work out where they're from, what does it matter - it's a LONG train ride! Perhaps get them to teach you some words in their language - count from 1 to 10 etc. If you have playing cards, these are fantastic to use, and cheap.
Also consider books, a Kindle, netbook - whatever you use to entertain yourself while others are busy, or if there are no others around. Quite often travellers are keen to see your photos, and if you're as snap-happy as me, you can easily spent a couple of hours looking at each others' photos. By the end of the ride, you may have made a friend, found accommodation, or know a lot more about your destination, including locals' secret tips!

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And DO share your food with others - it's a good bonding activity, and you get to try out some of their food too! I would strongly recommend NOT to try this in India. There have been many cases where strangers mix sleeping pills in food and then rob you! You have been warned. –  TheIndependentAquarius Feb 7 '13 at 8:49

Having done London to Singapore by train¹ I know a little bit about long train rides.

Victorah and mindcorrosive covered most things already. Here are a few more random thoughts:

  • If your friend is lucky he gets one of the older compartments with 'pullable seats'. There are usually three seats on each site and you can pull the seats towards the center of the compartment to get one huge flat area (see photo) where you can sleep much better than in a seat. These type of seats used to be pretty common in Europe but are less so now. However I've been in such a compartment in the last few months someone in Eastern Europe, so they are still around.
  • In some trains you can get hot water for free, so bring a cup and a few tea bags.
  • If the toilet is just a squat toilet and you can not remember the answers to 'how on earth should I use a squat toilet?', (which is even harder on a moving train), look for another WC, most carriages have one each of the two types. The first class carriages always seem to have western ones.
  • Obviously, bring something to read, audio books, podcasts or just music to listen too.
  • Bring playing cards or another small game and play it with fellow passengers. If not everybody speaks English it can be fun to teach/learn the rules of the game.
  • The enjoy-europe.com website has a lot of information about Night Trains in Europe

¹ Okay, I had to take buses in Cambodia and I also did stop in places on the way.

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Route from London to Singapore? –  Mark Mayo Jan 10 '12 at 19:11
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London-Brussels-Berlin-Warsaw-St.Petersburg-Moscow-Irkutsk-Ulaanbaatar-Beijing-S‌​hanghai-Hanoi-Saigon (bus to the Cambodian Thai border) Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore. In reality I took a lot of side trips and several buses too, but that was the general route. –  Peter Hahndorf Jan 10 '12 at 19:17
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Epic, I like it. –  Mark Mayo Jan 10 '12 at 19:19
    
How long did doing that take, and what was the split in time between transit and touristing time? –  Dan Neely Jan 11 '12 at 13:49
    
I did it in 9 months, as I said I did a lot of stops and side trips. An rough estimate for the actual time on trains would be 16 days. –  Peter Hahndorf Jan 11 '12 at 15:35

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