When it comes to comfort, most travelers would pick trains over planes any day. Train cars usually offer more leg and elbow room than airplane cabins, there are no seatbelt signs to keep you from getting up and moving around, and the slower pace of travel makes time zone changes less taxing. And yet, being stuck in a seat for hours on end means long train rides can still be tough on the body and mind.
From seat recommendations to advice on what to pack for train travel, the following tips will help make your next long rail journey easier and more comfortable.
Spring for an Upgrade
If budget and availability allow, upgrading your seat is perhaps the most important thing you can do to make a long train ride more comfortable. That might mean booking a sleeper cabin instead of a seat so you can lie down on overnight rides, or a first- or business-class seat instead of a spot in coach to land yourself more legroom, a footrest, and greater recline.
Choose the Right Seat
Window seats on planes are popular with travelers who like to enjoy the views and/or have something to lean on, and window seats on trains have the same appeal—if not more so, since you’re even more likely to have scenery worth seeing out the windows of a train.
Many trains have both front- and rear-facing seats; if you’re prone to motion sickness, snag one of the former so you can see where you’re going.
Let’s face it: A standard train seat may be comfortable for some, but it won’t suit passengers of every size and height. Got short legs? Consider bringing an inflatable footrest so your feet aren’t dangling the whole journey. Suffer from lower back or tailbone problems? Pack an inflatable seat cushion to take pressure off your spine on long train rides, or a lumbar support pillow to prevent lower back pain after prolonged sitting.
Bring Your Own Entertainment
A tablet stocked with books, movies, and music can be a lifesaver on long train rides, but you’ll need a plan for keeping it charged. Some trains have power ports at every seat; make sure you have the right adapter for your charger if you’re traveling in a foreign country. On trains without power outlets, consider bringing a portable charger to keep your devices running longer.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
When deciding what to pack for train travel, comfy clothes should be at the top of your list. This is not the time to pack your tightest skinny jeans or your highest heels; instead, opt for clothes with a relaxed fit that are made with soft, stretchy fabrics. Options include ultra-stretch chinos for men, high-rise black leggings for women, and slippers for those late-night trips to the bathroom on an overnight train.
It’s always a good idea to wear layers in case the temperature on the train is too hot or cold for your taste.
Block Out the World
Part of the appeal of traveling by train is watching a variety of landscapes slip by outside your window, but once darkness falls—or if you simply need a nap—you might want to block out your surroundings for a while.
A luxurious silk sleep mask and a set of ear plugs can shield you from harsh overhead lights and the chatter of fellow passengers. Noise-canceling headphones are a good option if you like to fall asleep to music.
Choose the Right Bags
One of the best things about traveling by train is that the luggage restrictions are typically less onerous than those of the airlines. Amtrak, for example, allows each passenger two personal items, two carry-on items, and two checked bags—for free.
The good news is that you don’t have to try to fit a week’s worth of clothes into a bag the size of your kid’s school backpack in order to avoid fees. The bad news is that you still have to lug your stuff through the train station and sometimes (depending on the train) heave it into an overhead luggage rack—so it still behooves you to pack relatively light. This 20-inch carry-on weighs just five pounds and is easy to lift onto luggage racks and maneuver down narrow train aisles.
Because larger suitcases may be stowed in an inaccessible part of the train, you’ll want to have a smaller bag to keep near your seat with valuable items such as gadgets, travel documents, your wallet, and medications. Consider a tote bag or day pack for this purpose.
Bring Your Own Snacks
Some upscale long-haul trains serve gourmet feasts on white tablecloths with real silverware—but if you’ll be taking a not-so-luxe train, your options might be significantly less appetizing (think salty convenience foods and overpriced snacks). That’s why you might want to stock up on your own favorite eats.
Fortunately, the airlines’ 3-1-1 rules for liquids and gels don’t apply on trains, so you can bring items like yogurt or veggies with hummus, stored in a small travel cooler. Tasty, healthy options that don’t require refrigeration include nuts, granola bars, fruit, and trail mix. Prefill a reusable water bottle to save yourself money on drinks.
After a long day or night on a train, freshening up a little can help you feel cleaner and less rumpled. Give your face a quick wipe-down with a water-free cleansing cloth, get the sour taste out of your mouth with a spray of Listerine Pocketmist, and kill off any germs you picked up from your armrests with a squirt of antibacterial hand gel. And having some travel-size deodorant on hand is never a bad idea.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Speedy Train Routes in Europe That Are Faster Than Flying
- The World’s 6 Most Incredible Luxury Train Trips
- The Best Destination for a Scenic Train Trip
Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.