10 Packing Tips for Rail Travelers
So you’ve decided to take a train trip through Europe. You’ve booked your plane tickets, secured your Eurail Pass, figured out a rough itinerary, and are now just a few days from departing for the journey of a lifetime. But then you remember you have to pack for this epic trip. If you’re unsure what to take on your first Eurail adventure, here’s a brief overview, along with some important tips and tricks.
Just because trains do not have the luggage restrictions of airlines, it doesn’t mean you should go overboard with your baggage. In fact, the reality is that on a busy schedule you’ll be hopping in and out of trains regularly. The high stairs, overhead luggage racks, need for quick alighting from carriages, and the occasional last minute sprint for a soon-to-be-departing train mean the lighter the better.
Take a backpack
Some people swear by luggage with wheels. But if you’re going to be doing lots of city walking and hopping on and off of trains, you’re better off with an appropriate backpack. Pick a small travel backpack that has enough space for your essentials. The best travel backpacks have detachable day packs — use these to store your valuables at your seat.
The most important items to pack are your essential documents. Make sure you bring your Eurail Pass, passport and proof of any advance seat reservations that you’ve made. A pen, for filling in your Global Pass, is also a good idea.
Offline directions to your accommodation
Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll find free WiFi on arrival in your new city that’ll direct you to your hotel, hostel or AirBnb. Though some trains and stations now offer free WiFi, this is not always reliable, if available at all. Download offline maps of your destination with Google Maps, and take screenshots of your walking route from the station to your accommodation. It also pays to go old school and write down the address and rough directions, just in case your devices run out of juice on the way.
Most trains in central and western Europe have careful climate control. This means that outside it could be sweltering, or freezing, and you’ll be sitting in perfect comfort. But the moment those carriage doors open you’ll know all about the weather. Most train stations are exposed and drafty, and they can be particularly unpleasant in mid-winter. The best approach is to dress in layers that you can easily discard or put back on as the temperatures change.
If you’re traveling through Europe in winter, remember that most cities can get fairly frigid. Conversely, during summer, it can be extremely hot. Read up about your destination’s climate ahead of time and plan accordingly.
Medication and Personal Care Items
Remember to bring any personal care items and medication. You’ll be able to get most important items in your city stops, but for longer train rides it’s important to be prepared with basic essentials. Remember that you may not have access to a store or pharmacy for up to 10 hours, so pack a basic kit of contact lenses, painkillers, and any other over the counter medication you may need.
Even the most ordinary train rides produce moments of brilliance, so you can expect to be gazing out the window for much of your journey. But there will be longer stretches on any journey where a bit of a distraction can help accelerate time.
If you’re set on still looking out the window, music, podcasts and audiobooks are the way to go. Train rides also offer good opportunities to read and write in a journal. If you’re traveling with friends, bring a pack of cards or a few small travel games.
More and more trains in Europe now offer WiFi and power points. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to charge that smartphone or tablet and connect to the outside world, but don’t count on this. If you’re embarking on a long journey, make sure you charge up your devices beforehand and bring a battery pack just in case.
Food and Drink
Unlike planes, there’s no restriction on the food and drink you can bring aboard a train. Though many long distance trains have dining carts on board, food there is usually mediocre and expensive. With the notable exception of the high-end tourist trains such as the Glacier Express, it’s almost always better to bring your own snacks for the journey. Fresh fruit, nuts, sandwiches and other light snacks will save money and help make the journey go by a bit faster. Bring a large bottle of water as well. And if you’re a fan of an alcoholic beverage or two, you can bring those on board as well.
Personal Comfort Items
Trains in Europe are generally very comfortable. But if you’re embarking on a mammoth cross-continental journey or taking overnight trains, some basic items can help make the journey more comfortable. Consider bringing a travel pillow, eye mask, small blanket, ear plugs, and a comfortable hoodie.
Camera and Electronics
Train journeys through Europe present some of the most spectacular photo opportunities imaginable. If you’re looking to snap photographs of your journey, keep your camera close at all times. Shooting photographs from the train window can be tricky, and a dramatic vista can appear out of nowhere.
If you can’t live without being connected to the outside world, consider purchasing a European sim card for your phone. All operators in Europe now offer free roaming across the continent. Pack an appropriate plug convertor and battery pack to stay charged. Remember to download the Eurail Rail Planner App that contains offline information for most train routes in Europe.
The beauty about traveling through Europe by rail is that you’re never very far away from a store to pick up supplies. So even though it pays to be prepared, don’t allow yourself to get carried away with overpacking for all eventualities. After a few quick train connections you’ll realize that all you really need is a good sense of adventure and your Eurail Pass, and the rest will take care of itself.