Design Your Perfect Train Trip Itinerary

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Have you ever dreamt of taking a long train trip but not known where to start? From the Orient Express to the legendary Trans-Siberian, train trips are the stuff of dreams. They offer a unique blend of convenience, comfort, stunning views and immersion in the place while you travel. Yet a lot of people never make their dream trip because they imagine that it may be harder to plan and book than it actually is. In reality, train trips are easy to plan and if anything, they are getting easier. Websites like Seat 61 give you more access than ever to free, unbiased information which makes planning a train trip something anyone can do at home in under an hour with only a cup of coffee in hand. That said, exactly how you design your train trip will make a big difference to how much enjoyment you get out of it. Having made a number of these train trips myself I have learnt how best to design a perfect train trip itinerary. Below I share my tips for you.

Allow Yourself Some Flexibility in Timing

If you travelled thousands of miles by car you wouldn’t expect to be able to time it to the minute – and the same is true of trains. Train timetables can give a misleading sense of security with their line by line detail suggesting arrival and departure times which may be planned around to the second. In fact, however, the reality may be different. Some trains, like the Trans-Siberian, often leave on the dot. However, they build in fairly lengthy station stops, so they can keep leaving on time even if their arrivals at stations are more tardy than advertised. Others, like The Canadian, barely even pretend that their timetable is anything more than a rough guide. Although it may pull out of Vancouver on time, it is subject to delays as it pulls over to allow higher priority freight trains which are slow and long to pass. Losing hours in the schedule, what is supposed to be a morning arrival into Toronto could be an afternoon one – or deep into the evening. If your trip involves only one train, that is less of a problem – you just need to make sure not to book tight onward connections at the end. But if you are planning on changing trains, each tight connection could offer a challenge to the whole itinerary.

Read the Timetable very Carefully

Reading a timetable sounds easy – but you might not know how difficult it can be until it is too late. Timetables are a minefield for planning. You need to read them very carefully and pay especial attention to all footnotes, notes and letters lurking at the top of columns. First, be very clear about stations, especially if you plan to change trains. Many large cities have multiple train stations, and some like Moscow have a plethora of stations strung all around the city. Crossing a large city you don’t know with luggage may take you hours, so be aware of this. Secondly, check what time is used. Some timetables use local time, but some in countries such as Russia will use the capital time. So in some cases, when you think you will be arriving in early evening, your actual arrival will be during the middle of the night. This can be confusing and disorienting, so if it applies to your trip, you need to check the times with a fine toothcomb.

Decide on a Direction of Travel

A long train journey is usually available in either direction – but which direction you choose can make a big difference. The price will often be the same. However, the timings may not be and only one direction may suit your availability. Similarly, getting to the start in one place and home from the destination in the other may vary a lot in price depending on which way about you do the journey. The key difference here, though, is in the enjoyment of the views on the journey. One direction will often, although not always, easily faces better views that the other. Additionally, if you are going between east and west, one direction will go into the sun much of the day, the other will not. Choosing the direction makes a bigger difference to your enjoyment of the trip than you may expect.

Don’t Just Stay on the Train

On the perfect train trip you will pass some amazing places – but you don’t have to pass them all. Most train routes offer several trains a week, or even daily service, which means that you can step down from the train without adding a lot of time to your trip overall. This is a good way to avoid cabin fever from being cooped up in the train, and it also means that you will get to interact with the places you see. When planning the trip, start from the halfway point if you only plan one stop, and fan out in either direction to find somewhere interesting which can break up the trip. A train trip holiday can be both relaxing and invigorating. Key to its success is smart planning, but that can be simple. Our rules above will help you design your perfect train trip itinerary. Where would you like to go?