Right now I am sitting on an ICE train, around three hours into a train journey to Salzburg estimated to take around nine hours with one change in Augsburg. I love flying and the view from the sky, and there are direct flights between these cities served by budget airlines, so why would I do this to myself?
Sure, I admit it wasn’t my first choice to get up at 6 AM just so I could be trapped in a train compartment with a group of strangers for many hours. I was looking for flights first but for some reason, there weren’t any suitable flights available on this particular date. Staying one day longer or leaving a day early wasn’t an option on this occasion. Then I had a look at the Deutsche Bahn website and I found this train journey promising to get me to my destination by 4 PM and it was affordable. I was even able to get a first class seat for only EUR10 more. So I decided to book and ignore the daunting length of the journey. I would let my future self deal with the probable back pains and numbing boredom.
Now I am on the train dealing with all the issues I tried to ignore for weeks, and I’m trying to make the best of it, and here is what my findings are so far:
- If you take a long train journey through Europe there is a chance you might not be able to access WiFi on the train. Some train networks offer this as a standard, others (I’m looking at you, Deutsche Bahn) advertise it for their first class passengers on the website but then don’t follow through on their trains. If you absolutely cannot go offline for the duration of the journey, be prepared to spend money on mobile data. This is obviously especially important if you need to do work while you’re travelling. Do not expect access to WiFi anywhere, that way you cannot be disappointed
- Be nice to the people sitting next to you. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is especially important if you are slightly socially awkward or just not great with having strange humans around you. You don’t have to force yourself to keep up constant conversations with the people around you, but a friendly ‘Hello’, help with lifting luggage or the shared nuisance of being delayed can go a long way towards feeling more comfortable around these people, especially when you’re sitting in a closed train compartment. If your seat neighbour is asleep but you need him to move so you can go to the toilet, don’t be too shy to wake them. They will appreciate you not clumsily climbing over their lap or accidentally falling into their lap and then having to spend the rest of the journey in awkward silence after the intimate encounter. I bet it’s less painful to tap on their shoulders and politely ask them to scoot.
- Hand sanititsers! Deodorant! Two magic words for when you’re on a train and you cannot avoid having to use the toilets. These are still a sore spot in most train line’s fleets. Even when clean they can still smell like 2-year-old urine and when they’re not clean everyone starts hover-peeing over the moving target which makes the hand sanitiser an absolute must. And when you think you’re safe, you’ve cleaned the seat, put a layer of toilet roll over the seat and positioned yourself on the toilet seat the train might make a sudden move into a curve and you have to touch the walls of the cubicle to not slide of the potty and you accidentally hit a spot that has an unidentified stain or sticky substance on it. That’s when washing your hands with soap won’t feel like enough anymore, and the hand sanitiser will feel like liquid salvation.
- Prepare for delays. There are multiple reasons why your train might get delayed but all of them are a nuisance when your journey lasts all day already. While you will always be put on a different train without having to pay extra and you will get to your destination eventually, you might have to think about check-in times at your hotel and bringing extra snacks for the day.
- Bring lots of distractions. Books, music, films, Sudoku, writing utensils, colouring books, whatever floats your boat really. Try to do nothing for too long and move over to the next activity as often as possible. This will make you feel busier and time will go faster. You will then have less time to think about how much time you’re wasting on this train. If you can, try to have some sleepy time in between as well to give your body and brain some rest from the strenuous journey.
- Give your bones some time to stretch and walk around if you can. It is basically the same as on a plane, but it will be easier to move and walk around on the train with less of the air pressure issue. Your back and legs will thank you for a little exercise during the journey instead of just sitting around in your seat all the time.
It is now almost 7 hours later and I have finally arrived. Thanks to my combination entertainment programme of a book, Spotify and my tablet I have been able to make time pass fairly quickly. A 20 minute stop in the middle of nowhere on the first leg of the trip wasn’t very pleasant. Apart from the fact that it would have made me miss my next train in Augsburg, had that one not been delayed by 40 minutes too (Thanks, Deutsche Bahn!), the train conductor and attendants gave us contradictory statements in regards to what the reasons were for the unplanned stop. This made the people in my compartment even more nervous and soon there were speculations about a possible terror attack. If there is one thing you do not want to do on a 9-hour train journey is start a rumour about a possible terror attack!
All in all, I think this train journey wasn’t so bad. The only thing I did wrong was to not drink enough water because I wanted to avoid having to go to the toilets as much as I could. My brain was already on low battery from the early morning start and the lack of water on top of it meant I went to bed with a banging headache. So I will add this as my last advice: drink plenty of water. Keeping yourself hydrated will give you a better chance of being able to enjoy your evening plans after your arrival.
If all of the above hasn’t convinced you to swap your flight ticket for a train ticket, consider this: when you’re riding a train for hours, you will be much more aware of where you’re going. You will notice the signs on some of the train stations and see towns you never knew existed. You will see the change of landscapes and different styles of buildings and without knowing learn about a country’s history, geography and even the economy. It is such a great and easy way to explore new terrain, every travelling soul should try it out at least once.