Fall in Love with the Romance of Solo Train Travel

Traveling solo by train has many advantages over flying. When one considers all cost and time factors, including things like parking and wait times in airports, it can be a more efficient mode of travel. If you compare it to road trips, you have the opportunity to focus on the landscape rather than the road.

From an environmental impact perspective, again, train travel wins out. “Train travel remains overall the most environmentally friendly mode of motorised passenger transport in Europe — in terms of greenhouse gas emissions — as compared to travelling by car or plane, according to two transport and environment studies published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today.” Source

In fact, France banned short-haul domestic flights as of May 23, 2023 so that any journeys that are possible in less than two-and-a-half hours by train cannot be taken as a flight.

In addition to all the practical benefits, there is something romantic about solo train travel.

  • The rhythm of the train on the tracks.
  • The opportunity to socialize in the dining, bar, or observation cars.
  • A sense of time and space that flying cannot deliver.
  • Time for reflection as you watch the landscape go by.
  • An opportunity to slow things down in our very busy world.
  • A sense of true leisure as you spend time actually enjoying the trip.

Table of Contents

Solo Train Travel: 10 Tips

Train travel varies around the world. The class system exists and is different everywhere. Comfort changes from one country or continent to another. However, there are some tips I can offer to get the most out of train travel just about anywhere.

1. Plan Ahead for Deals

Fare discounts may be available by booking early or buying passes. Amtrak always promotes deals for seniors, veterans, students and on certain journeys. Via Rail in Canada offers seniors 10% off. They often have Discount Tuesdays for 10% off as well. In Europe, deals come in the form of rail passes that cover all the trains run by the national operator in the country or countries they cover. If you want a deal, sign up for the newsletter of the train line you’re interested in.

2. Consider a Classic Rail Journey

Amtrak has a number of amazing train journeys. I’ve traveled the City of New Orleans from Chicago going south and the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles. Their most famous is The Zephyr which I haven’t yet taken. You can see all their routes here. In Canada you might want to take the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer or take the less expensive Via Rail. For international train journeys, here’s Lonely Planet’s top train journeys.

3. Take What You Can Carry When You Travel Solo by Train

A carry-on bag is best for train travel though you do have the option of checking baggage that you might need at your destination. By having everything in a carry-on you have everything you need in one place. When a trip takes a full day and more, this is important.

4. Don’t Keep Your Valuables in Your Carry-on

There’s a social contract about your things on trains. With everyone vulnerable, no one is supposed to touch anything. But, you can’t count on this. Plan to have all valuables on you in a purse or daypack. Keep it with you at all times so that you can comfortably enjoy the full train experience.

5. Roam and Explore

Get out of your seat and into the social areas like the dome, dining, and bar cars. This is where you will meet people and have a great time.

6. Plan for Meals and Snacks

Some trains have dining cars which is great for solo train travel. Make a reservation and you’ll be seated with other passengers as they don’t have the space to give you a table to yourself. It’s a great opportunity to chat and learn. If there is no dining car, you may only have access to snacks and terrible food heated in a microwave. Know what your route offers before you go. Also check on whether there are options for any dietary restrictions. If necessary, bring food with you.

7. Count Your Stops When Traveling in Another Language

If you don’t speak the language that is used for the announcements, take note of your arrival time and the stations that come before yours so that you are ready to get off when you get to your station.

8. Don’t Rule Out an Overnight in Coach

Book a sleeper if possible. If you’re riding coach, use your carry-on to extend your seat–it is almost the exact height of a seat on a train. On one trip, I was lucky not to have anyone beside me so for two nights I was able to use the carry-on to extend the two seats into a fairly uncomfortable bed (though far more comfortable than sitting up all night).

9. Arrive Early as Trains Typically Leave on Time

Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before departure. If you are unfamiliar with the station, the system, and the language, leave more time.

10. Pack Disinfectant Wipes

Carry disinfecting wipes and a small amount of toilet paper in your day pack to make that bathroom (that far too many people have used while the train bumps along) a bit more pleasant.

Explore Beyond the Train Station

When you arrive at your destination or if you arrive at your departure station early and want to explore, take a walk a few blocks away from the station, noting your route. In some cities, train stations are magnets for pickpockets and other undesirable situations. Restaurants also tend to be more expensive at the station. However, trains typically go to the center of cities. They are central and there will likely be interesting things to see nearby.

The Eurostar runs between London and Paris.

Solo Travel by Train: Inspiration from Our Community

It seems I’m not the only one who loves train travel. Here’s what members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook have to say when I asked about their best and worst train trips.

  • I love it! I traveled from Delhi to Kochi by train via Jaipur, Bangalore, Mysore, and Goa. Best three weeks of my life. I also crossed the Taklamakan Desert from Jiuagyan to Kashgar, another fantastic experience. There’s nothing quite like it. Rosemary
  • Best train experience: Seward/Anchorage/Denali. Worst train experience: none so far. Rui
  • Five days from Shanghai to Urumqi. It was my birthday, so I got a first class compartment. I shared it with a Chinese couple til Lanzhou, then they were gone and for over three days it was just me and Western China. Well, there was the birthday bash back in coach, with a crazy Uiyghur man and his boombox, but that’s another story! Scott
  • Taking the train in India is one of my all-time fave travel adventures–though it can be frustrating due to delays, disorganization, noisy kids, A/C turned up way too high, and slightly scary food choices. My worst trip ever was 21 hours from Delhi to Jaisalmer on a crowded, old, dirty train. I saw rats on the floor and cockroaches crawling the wall beside my head as I was falling asleep. Mariellen
  • I love solo train travel in Europe. In Burma, the seat was so uncomfortable on an over-nighter I was tempted to lie on the floor. Velo
  • On a trip from Rabat to Casablanca, passengers brought their goats on board! Christie
  • I adore it! On the Florence to Munich night train on Christmas Eve we brought Champagne on board, had our own private car, woke up as the sun was coming up and the snowy scenery was stunning. As for the worst, I can’t beat Christie’s goat story. My creepy dudes on a blacked out train from Taormina to Palermo just sounds like me whining. That’s hilarious!
  • Love it! I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned the Trans-Siberian yet. I did the Trans-Mongolian in 2009 over Christmas: 3 weeks from London to Beijing by train all the way! The longest bit was Moscow-Irkutsk, sharing a cabin with a Russian who played solitaire on his laptop for five days straight. The constant clicking drove me insane. But I will never forget the incredibly white landscapes, the ladies selling fish at the stations, the soldiers showing me their photos, the emptiness of the Gobi desert, nor the bone-shattering cold. -35C on Christmas morning searching for a hotel in Ulanbataar was a highlight only because of the warm welcome I received when I finally found one. It was one of the best trips of my life (so far!)
  • My best train trip was from St. Petersburg, Russia to Kiev, Ukraine. We partied all night with cheap vodka and crackers. My worst trip was a train ride in Peru (Cuzco to Machu Picchu) which was boring and long. Kristine
  • On the overnight train in Myanmar, there were no beds, so I just slept on the floor in the aisle, between Burmese businessmen and officials. Not a disaster, by any means, but not comfy like the Thai and Malaysian sleeper trains, that’s for sure! LashWorldTour

Planning a solo trip? Here is a quick list of some useful posts:

  • The Ultimate Solo Travel Guide: Travel Alone & Love It
  • A Complete Guide to Travel Insurance for Solo Travelers
  • Bare Minimum Packing: Here’s Your Packing List
  • Solo Travel Safety: 50+ Proven Tips to Keep You Safe

Last updated: 21st June, 2023

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *