Travel divides people. Of course, it separates them physically (and also brings them closer together) but what I’m talking about here is the way people either love travel, or hate travel. And, as with anything in life, it all depends on what you make of it. A train journey can be an inconvenient waste of time and energy — a means to an end — or it can be a positive extension of the trip you’re taking. As someone in favour of the train journey, I’ll be sharing with you my top five train-hacking tips for optimising your experience. Let’s get started:
If you’ve ever ended up at a deserted station, exhausted, far from home and with a week’s worth of luggage weighing you down, you’ll know just how stressful travel can be when it goes wrong. Station closed? Engineering works? The dreaded replacement bus-service? All these things can fill an unprepared traveller with horror.
What you need to do is make sure you never end up in this position. Instead of thinking about how awful it is, and how it’s managed to happen to you again, make a promise to yourself that you’ll avoid these situations in future. Think of it as a form of self-care, like putting on sun-cream so you don’t get burnt, or choosing not to marathon The Sopranos at 2am when you have work in the morning.
So, plan your journey ahead. Buy tickets in advance online and check for updates on the rail company’s website before you leave. If you’re going through London, download an app for the Tube. Most of them are free, and they can tell you the quickest route from A to B — and which stations have delays or maintenance works. It will change the way you do London, I promise.
I’m not going to pretend trains are dirt-cheap, because they’re not. That said, there are a lot of ways you can cut costs, especially if you’re a regular traveller:
- Book online in advance. You can cut up to 40% off your journey this way.
- Get a railcard. The new Two Together railcard gives you a third off if you travel with a friend, partner or colleague. It’s not too expensive, so if you travel regularly with this person (or are embarking on a one-off journey that costs over £100) you’ll be able to save yourself some money.
- Ban yourself from spending money inside the station. Really, this should extend to buying tickets, but sometimes that can’t be helped. Stations are expensive, though. Bring your own food and drink before you leave. And never buy a sandwich on the train. They are disgusting and overpriced. Don’t let the miniature wine-bottles tempt you, either.
This might sound odd to you if you’re one of those people who hates travel, but trains can be really comfortable. ‘Most services allow travellers to upgrade to First Class for £5 on weekends,’ says Matt Davies, director of Direct Rail. ‘I think a lot of people had the idea that First Class is exclusively for the wealthy, and this scheme seems to be changing that notion.’
And he’s right. If you travel First Class (on weekends, at least) then you’ll find people from all walks of life. It’s quieter, and everybody else in the carriage is trying to do the same thing as you — have a comfortable, no-fuss, peaceful journey. You usually get a free cup of tea, too.
For times when you can’t travel First Class, here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:
- Wear layers. That way, if you’re rained on, you can just take off whatever’s wet. You’re bound to be hotter on the train, and with layers, you can just peel off. Also, sweatshirts, coats and jumpers make fantastic pillows, so you can have a nap on the way, too.
- Don’t buy a coffee at the station. I’ve already said it’s expensive, but it’ll also make it very difficult to get through the gate (and navigate a busy train) without scalding your hands and spilling hot liquid on other passengers. If you want coffee, bring a flask.
- Comfortable shoes are a necessity.
- Bring sunglasses so you can sleep without feeling self-conscious.
Noise and families
There’s an unwritten rule stating that if you try to sleep on a train, you’ll be disturbed by a wailing child. Nine times out of ten, the kid screams, then the parent screams at the kid, then the kid screams more, and by that time you’re ready to start screaming, too. The solution? The quiet coach. Don’t wait until you’re uncomfortable and weighing up the pros and cons of moving — head straight for the quiet coach when you get on the train.
If you’re ever torn between taking a suitcase and taking a holdall, take the suitcase. Cramming all your stuff into a bag and lugging it around the station will kill your back and shoulders. Do yourself a favour and take something with wheels. A suitcase seems like a bigger burden than a bag, but it really isn’t. It’s all in your head.
Sometimes, travelling with heavy luggage is unavoidable. Christmas-time and holidays are the worst for this. Unfortunately, if you’re travelling to (or from) a big city, the standard class coaches will be far, far away from the ticket gate. By the time you’ve actually found a carriage that isn’t First Class, you could already have walked half way to your destination.
The only real solution is paying that £5 for an upgrade if it’s a weekend. Otherwise, just make wheeled luggage more of a priority than usual. Loop other bags around the handle so there’s nothing to carry, and your entire upper body will thank you. When you get on the train, sit as close to the luggage storage as possible, and put all your stuff in a column, rather than a row. This saves you having to move other people’s stuff when it’s time to get off the train.
Above all, you just need to keep calm. Meditate, if that helps, or listen to music. Chances are, one easy rail-journey will restore your faith in train travel, and that will be enough to stop you dreading the next trip. Have any train-hacking tips to share? Let us know in the comments!