Mistakes People Make While Traveling By Train

Traveling by train can be a magical experience. You can enjoy stunning scenery as you pass through parts of the world you might not have the opportunity to see otherwise. It’s also a more eco-friendly alternative to flying or driving.

But like any form of transit, train travel also comes with its fair share of stress. To help train-goers, we asked experts to break down some of the most common mistakes people make while traveling by rail. Read on for their observations and advice for making the journey as smooth as possible.

Traveling With Too Much Luggage

Compared with air travel, taking a train can be a more relaxing experience, as you don’t have to worry about bag rules. But you should still aim to pack as efficiently as you can.

“Although you can take as much as you can carry and there are no luggage restrictions on the vast majority of trains, bear in mind that you will need to carry this on and off trains, as well as securing its spot in the luggage racks,” said Simon Hodge, managing director of the U.K.-based Tailor Made Rail. “It is best to travel light.”

Not Bringing Enough Food

Hodge noted that another common mistake in train travel is not bringing enough food on board for a long journey, and planning to rely on the dining car ― if there even is one.

“These restaurant cars can run out of your preferred choice very easily, and there are no restrictions to bringing your own food and drink on board, unlike airlines,” he said. “Take a picnic on board for longer journeys.”

But do be mindful of…

Taking Out Strong-Smelling Foods

It’s important to pack enough food for yourself, but make sure you give some thought to what, specifically, you plan to eat on the train.

“That wonderful speciality cheese you see in the deli on the way to the train station is perfect for ending dinner at home with friends, but it may not smell so great after several hours on a hot train,” said Rail Europe CEO and executive chairman Björn Bender, who commutes by train between Paris and Switzerland almost weekly.

“Pack a picnic for the journey, to be sure, but go easy on strong-smelling foods,” Bender told HuffPost. “Anything too spicy or pungent may test the patience of fellow passengers in your carriage.”

Misunderstanding The Seat Assignment Policy

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the seating situation before you book your train journey.

“A common mistake people make that affects their fellow travelers is not being familiar with seating assignment policies,” said Staffo Dobrev, director of communications at Wanderu. “Generally, train seats are offered on a first-come first-served basis, unless you have booked a business or first class fare, both of which allow you to reserve a specific seat ahead of time. Because of that, people who travel together sometimes end up not being able to sit near each other, which may result in frustration and even confrontations with other passengers.”

Booking A Regular Seat For An Overnight Train

“Here at Rail Europe, we’ve seen the renaissance of night trains across Europe,” Bender said. “That’s a great way of covering a lot of ground while also saving on hotel costs.”

If you choose to train through the night, however, consider upgrading to a car with a bed. Sometimes it doesn’t even cost much more.

“Always book sleeping berths,” Bender advised. “No-one enjoys an overnight journey in a regular train seat.”

Missing The Scenery

“Our guests choose rail travel to slow down and experience the epic scenery that is, in parts, only accessible by train while being able to reconnect with their travel companions. So, anything that detracts from this would be a mistake,” said Wendy McMichael, a train manager with Rocky Mountaineer. “For instance, spending time on tablets or phones when you can be enjoying the incredible scenery outside your window.”

Another way people miss breathtaking scenery is by choosing these routes for their overnight train travel.

“Don’t plan overnight train journeys through the Alps,” Hodge said. “People often take [overnight trains] on routes that are beautifully scenic, for instance traveling through the Alps, on a journey from Munich to Venice and missing out on the spectacular Brenner Pass route.”

A little planning can go a long way. If you can, try to avoid booking overnight trains for scenic rides, like those that go through the Alps.

Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

A little planning can go a long way. If you can, try to avoid booking overnight trains for scenic rides, like those that go through the Alps.

Intruding On Other Passengers’ Space

“Even if you’re on vacation, it’s always best to be a considerate traveler,” said Jody Ford, CEO of Trainline. “Respect the space of fellow passengers and be mindful of keeping your belongings out of other people’s way.”

Keep your feet where they belong, as well. Ford pointed to a recent Trainline survey of about 7,000 regular train travelers from the U.K., France, Germany and Spain, which found that one of the most cited pet peeves was people putting their feet up on the seats.

“A way to support everyone is by never stowing your bags and belongings on empty seats,” Bender noted. “Only take so much as you think you can store in the overhead racks or in the designated areas for bag storage at the end of your carriage.”

Disrespecting The Crew

“It should go without saying, but always be respectful of the train crew,” Dobrev said.

Remember that their job is to get you to your destination safely, and many things are out of their control. That includes your own train travel missteps.

“It’s normal to make mistakes, but it’s not acceptable to blame others for your failure to familiarize yourself with the details of your journey,” Dobrev said. “The crew is there to help you and make your travel experience better, but if you approach them with a confrontational attitude it’s less likely to get the best resolution to your problem.”

Booking At The Last Minute

You might not always know far in advance when you’ll need to a take a train, but in cases where you do, take advantage.

“Booking ahead where possible will always get you the best ticket prices,” Ford said. “A recent consumer survey in the U.K. for example found that ticket machines at stations can charge more than twice the price of online tickets. Plus, in many European countries, trains on popular routes fill up, so booking in advance means you can know your schedule.”

Selecting The Wrong Station

“In the United States, it’s not uncommon to have cities with the same name in different states,” Dobrev said. There are Newarks in both New Jersey and Delaware, for example, as well as Springfields across the country.

“As a result, sometimes travelers make the mistake of booking a train trip to or from the wrong city,” he explained. “That could lead to losing money when they try to change it, or even worse, completely derailing their travel plans because they did not realize their mistake until well on their way.”

Additionally, many cities have multiple train stations, and they might be in very different locations.

“Some travelers may not necessarily be aware of that and may think that their train departs from the one station they know of,” Dobrev said. “If they did not arrive early enough before realizing their mistake, they may not have enough time to make the trek over to the correct departure point.”

Traveling Without A Power Bank

You can’t always rely on trains to have ample working outlets, so if you’re going on a long journey, make sure your phone is fully charged and you have a way to power it back up.

“Take a power bank in case your phone is low on battery and there is no in-seat power,” Hodge advised.

Missing Transfers

“When traveling by train, sometimes you may need to transfer to a different train to reach your destination,” Dobrev said. “Unfortunately, many travelers don’t realize that’s the case with their itinerary, so they end up stranded because they did not change trains when they were supposed to.”

He emphasized the importance of paying attention to your trip details and itinerary so you don’t end up on the wrong train or miss a transfer. Don’t expect to have all the information on your ticket, either. You might need to keep up with updates on the train company’s app, or via information posted in the railway station.

“Make sure you know the exact station from which you are departing, and when you get there, look for the schedule board to determine the specific track from which you need to board your train,” Dobrev said. “If you have any trouble, don’t hesitate to seek help from a station attendant.”

Stay up-to-date with train departures so you don't miss your transfer.

COROIMAGE via Getty Images

Stay up-to-date with train departures so you don’t miss your transfer.

Being Unfamiliar With The Cancellation Policies

“One of the most common mistakes that we see passengers make is not familiarizing themselves with the change or cancellation policy of the fare type that they booked,” Dobrev said. “For example, Amtrak’s cheapest fare classes, such as Sale or Value, don’t allow any changes post-booking and only offer partial refunds of 50% and 75% respectively. As a result, passengers whose plans change may get frustrated that they are unable to get all of their money back.”

He advised travelers who need flexibility to book the higher-tier fare types that come with 100% refund and free change options.

“It’s important to note that no refunds or changes are allowed once the trip has commenced, so if you expect that you are going to miss your train, we highly recommend that you contact Amtrak ahead of time and arrange to get any refund that is available to you,” he said. “Knowledge is power and the more you know about your rights as a passenger and the train carrier’s regulations, the smoother your travel experience will be.”

Bender similarly suggested that travelers take advantage of rail passes, which can provide benefits like unlimited travel in designated places.

“Additionally, they offer flexibility, allowing you to adjust your plans easily,” he said. “Many travelers make the mistake of having a rigid itinerary with little room for change when purchasing individual tickets for each leg of their journey, locking them into a specific schedule. With a rail pass, changing your plans is effortless.”

Making Noise On Board

“While we don’t suggest leaving your cell phone behind, minimizing usage during the journey can enhance the experience for everyone,” Bender said. “Avoiding loud phone calls and being mindful of noise levels contribute to a more pleasant atmosphere.”

Dobrev similarly recommended keeping your noise levels down and doing your best not to disrupt others’ travel experiences.

“If someone is being disruptive towards you, seek help from a crew member,” he said. “They are trained to deal with difficult situations and de-escalate confrontations.”

Not Appreciating The Ride

Train travel can be a truly magical experience, especially if you take time to enjoy scenic routes and stop off in the smaller communities along the way.

“I encourage guests to sit back, relax, and take in the incredible journey that comes with train travel,” McMichael said.

Even if you aren’t taking a leisurely ride through stunning landscapes, there’s plenty to appreciate about this form of transportation.

“Don’t worry too much about making mistakes, and instead focus on enjoying your journey!” Ford said. “Train travel is a much better way to enjoy your vacation than hiring a car ― for example you have no concerns around local traffic laws, navigating foreign roads, traffic or parking. Instead, you get much more time to relax, enjoy the view or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi that’s available on many routes, before arriving at your destination in the heart of the city center.”

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