Some things I’ve learned during my week’s travel by train and ferry:
Make sure you always have some food and drink with you before you get on the train – even if it’s more than you thought you could carry. I was lulled into a sense of false security by my experiences on East Coast trains, and forgot this temporarily. I’m not sure if my tastebuds will ever recover from the shock of the Deutsche Bahn cheese sandwich.
Leading on from the first point, the catering arrangements on trains will hardly ever match what’s available at stations – especially at Brussels Midi and Stockholm Central. So it’s worth either stocking up on supplies as you change trains or eating if you have time between connections.
Talking of connections reminds me of my next point, which is that the longer you have between trains the better. On long distance trips, there is a good chance of delay somewhere. I am particularly over-cautious about this so I recommend at least two hours for connections, and even then an overnight stop is sometimes better. There were several occasions on my recent travels when I had less than an hour in hand, and I didn’t enjoy either running up the steps to the next platform in Brussels with all my luggage because the escalator had broken down and there was only ten minutes to spare, or arriving in Copenhagen half an hour after my train to Stockholm had departed.
This leads neatly on to the need to prepare before going away. I don’t mean preparing in the sense of making sure you have your passport and toothbrush with you, but in the sense of thinking about what to do in certain scenarios. I remember someone once asking me why I always expected things to go wrong with journeys, and I suppose it was because of past travel experiences. So although I didn’t have an exact plan for getting to Helsinki when I was stranded in Malmo and had missed my ferry, I had researched the different ferry options beforehand and knew there was a chance of catching the ship that sailed right into Helsinki instead of to Turku. For some reason it was always the connection in Copenhagen that worried me most when I was planning the journey, perhaps because it wasn’t even suggested by the Man in Seat 61! I think perhaps my final travel tip should be not to use routes or options not described in detail on his website.
However, my final tip instead is to try and relax and enjoy yourself, no matter what happens along the way. Sometimes it’s hard to do this after you’ve been travelling for 48 hours and things start to go wrong when the end seems to be in sight. But people will generally be a lot more helpful if you’re not shouting at them. (This could be a good tip for life too.)