Tips For A Successful Solo Train Trip

Solo travel in all its forms is a must for any true wanderluster. Still, if you have never considered a train trip before now, you may be wondering why anyone would travel this way when there are planes, buses, cars, and cruises. Well, each mode of transportation offers a whole new set of situations to navigate and ample opportunities to see the world from a different perspective. Whether this is your first solo getaway or your first time embarking on a journey by train, you will quickly come to see that there are countless advantages to train travel that go beyond the ease, overall comfortability, and gorgeous scenic views.

As a solo wanderer ready to explore the world via train, there are a few important things to keep in mind when cultivating your getaway for one. If you love traveling to far-off regions, other countries, nearby states, or bustling city centers, then gallivanting by train is definitely for you. And, with the right tips at your disposal, you can have a successful solo train trip — one that will likely influence the way you choose to wander about the globe in the future.

Consider an off-season train adventure

When deciding to take a solo train trip, one of the first things you should consider is the cost and logistics of off-season train travel. Whether keeping it stateside or incorporating a mini-adventure into your vacation while visiting another country, you can save money and make your overall experience less crowded if you book a train trip during the off-season or, at the very least, off-peak hours. Plus, many people who head out to new places during the low season find that service throughout the travel industry is simply better than the alternatives.

In fact, there are quite a few reasons to book an off-season getaway via train. Solo travelers who book during the non-peak season tend to have their pick of accommodations both onboard and off. Many passengers feel less rushed when traveling off-peak and get to see a new side of their intended destination or experience the more authentic side of any stops taken along the way too. But that's not all — the best part of off-season travel via train is you have more flexibility with your schedule, so if you want to take a later train or switch things up last-minute, you absolutely can.

Decide what type of train trip works best for you

Now that you figured out when you should embark on your solo train excursion, it is time to decide what type of trip works best for you. To start, there are more than a few types of train tickets (single, return, open, round trip, a single and a return combo, or a package deal, which includes accommodation). In the U.S., solo wanderers have several different types of train trips to book — scenic rail journeys, national park rail getaways, short historic train rides,  luxurious rail experiences, plus cross-country and roundtrip railroad trips. International train riders can often choose overnight or multi-day rail excursions, lavish jaunts to major cities, express rail vacations, high-speed train trips to other countries (Eurostar), mountain adventure getaways, and more.

So, you definitely have some options to consider when traveling by train. Solo explorers new to this way of traveling should consider an overnight or 24-hour plus train excursion — if you don't mind the extra time it may take to get from point A to point B. If you want something that's a little shorter, like a quick train getaway to a nearby place or a trip to a popular attraction a few hours, then you will need to plan a little differently as this is more of a solo day trip by train.

Solo travel safety rules still apply

As a solo explorer, you must always consider your surroundings and follow common party-of-one safety rules, even when traveling by train. Solo traveler safety tips like trusting your gut, doing your research beforehand, and letting someone back home know about your whereabouts, plans, and itinerary — are all essential. Minor things like downloading the offline versions of maps, taking pictures of your travel docs, and stashing cash and other valuables in more conspicuous places can also make a world of difference when traveling alone.

Other helpful tips to keep in mind when riding the rails solo include boarding the train early, listening to the announcements, and avoiding changing trains at night. Keep an eye on all your belongings, use theft-resistant bags and luggage locks, and be sure to have an RFID blocker wallet to help protect you from identity theft and pickpocketing. Moreover, female solo wanderers, in particular, should decline any food or drink offered by other passengers on the train, speak up if they feel unsafe, and avoid providing too many trip details to strangers they encounter along the way.

Plan your itinerary and off-train accommodations in advance

Solo train riders need a detailed itinerary for all types of journeys. Typically, a train trip itinerary involves more research and planning than your average solo getaway or multi-person vacation. This is especially true if you are interested in embarking on an extended adventure via train. Though it may seem daunting at first, having a clear and well thought out plan-of-attack will make riding the rails much easier. Figuring out where you want to go, which stops you would like to explore, and the kinds of activities you are interested in ahead of time makes for a streamlined train getaway.

Cultivating the bulk of your travel arrangements in advance will also help you stay organized and allow you the freedom to customize your vacation in great detail. And while you're at it, don't forget to plan out your outside accommodations — spending time in any cities along the way means you will need to plan accordingly and likely book your accommodations before you detrain. The good news is that there are last-minute hotel deals and other budget-friendly places to stay, often right around the corner from the larger train stations. Overall, it is worth figuring all this out ahead of time — especially in the event of last-minute changes to your trip or unexpected delays. Planning ahead will allow you to quickly see what adjustments need to be made so you can continue having an epic solo adventure by train.

Pack wisely

Packing smart and light is always the best way to ensure your train trip goes smoothly. Of course, if you are heading out on an overnight adventure, then you will likely pack less than you would for a cross-country trip. But, even if you opted for a shorter train journey with several days at your intended destination, you must pack accordingly. Generally, frequent rail riders recommend packing at least several shirts and tops, one to two pairs of comfy train pants, your must-have toiletries, easy slip-on shoes, flip flops for the shower, and comfortable walking shoes for any off-train excursions.

For travelers who will be on board the train for several days, extra loungewear, plus additional snacks and beverages, are packing musts. And if you are planning to spend more time at your final destination, then it is highly recommended that you pack more items for the off-train portion of your vacation. That said, solo wanderers should be able to carry their belongings without injuring themselves or violating train baggage policies, and have just the right amount of clothes for their time both on and off the train. 

Book a roomette or bedroom

As briefly suggested, booking a roomette or a bedroom is definitely the way to go for longer and overnight excursions. Though this space is usually reserved for two people, it is perfectly acceptable to splurge a little in order to enjoy having a private room with more area to spread out. Roomettes are double cabin-sized train accommodations with an in-cabin bathroom. In contrast, onboard bedrooms are larger spaces with a sleeping area, daytime seating, and a private bathroom complete with a shower.

If, however, you are only going on a day trip, then booking coach, business class, first-class, or some other seating arrangements are likely the more cost-effective options. Here, even if you have a several-hour journey ahead of you, you can bring along your travel pillow, eye mask, earplugs, and a blanket. If you opt for these seats, just make sure to stow your belongings properly and keep an ear plug out so you can listen for your upcoming stop(s).

Take the traveling-by-train must-haves

Regardless of the length of your journey, solo travelers should still make sure they have the train trip essentials in tow. For instance, packing accessories aren't just for the airport. Things like packing cubes, space-saver bags, organizing cases, toiletry bags, and more make packing for your solo train trip a breeze. Likewise, everyday travel essentials such as a weighted eye mask, roll-up pillow, wearable blanket (or even a sleeping bag liner), sunglasses, and an extra hoodie or light jacket are all great to have onboard with you as well.

Furthermore, travel must-haves such as noise-canceling headphones, a smartphone, chargers, a power bank, luggage locks, e-readers, your camera, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, a smartwatch, and a reading light will make your journey by train more enjoyable. Hand sanitizer, biodegradable wet wipes, and even a few face masks are also train travel essentials that should still be in your daypack. It doesn't hurt to have your own bag for trash either, since trash bins onboard are often small or not always readily available.

Dress for comfort

In addition, to having all the necessary accessories, essentials, and must-haves to make for an enjoyable solo train adventure, passengers should always dress for comfort. Clothing ensembles that are comfortable, breathable, and stretchy will make your 72+ hour ride feel like you are just lounging about with incredibly scenic views. Dressing in layers is also highly recommended since predicting the overall temperature onboard is often difficult to do, especially when leaving a colder destination for somewhere that's rather warm (no matter the season).

Of course, solo explorers don't have to stop there. Cozy slippers for longer train excursions, a favorite loungewear set, leggings for ladies, and ultra-stretch chinos for gents should all make the list when deciding what to wear and pack for train travel. Really anything with an expandable waistband is your friend here. Other items that will ensure you are comfortable onboard include a good travel scarf, an extra pair of warm socks, and some long pajamas (for overnight or longer excursions). Solo train rider tip: If you decide to book a seat rather than a roomette, then make sure you put your layers, blankets, or other clothing items back in your bag before venturing to other parts of the train.

Bring reading materials and other entertainment

With likely no less than several hours on board, solo wanderers may be tempted to immerse themselves in social media or their phones. Though you may want to share every second of your fabulous train trip with your followers and friends, this time is more likely better spent disconnecting. Think about it — it isn't every day that you get the opportunity to just enjoy the ride, take in your surroundings, and relax while someone else takes the wheel or, in this instance, steers the train.

So why not use this time for yourself instead? Solo passengers can leave all the distractions behind, even if it is only for a few hours or a night, by simply unplugging and partaking in some leisure reading, meditating, or possibly catching up on some much-needed sleep. That said, if all else fails, solo travelers can enjoy downloaded playlists, podcasts, and their favorite films or TV episodes on any of their electronic devices.

Socialize in the lounge car

A common downside to solo travel, in general, is feeling lonely on occasion. But similar to feeling bored in moments of stillness, it really doesn't take much to turn your mood around. In fact, solo wanderers who feel lonely or bored just need to take a look around sometimes to see that they are not alone. There are fellow travelers nearby, solo explorers likely a few roomettes down, and other people all around — even loved ones are only a phone call or text away.

So if you watched all your downloaded episodes, solved the latest murder mystery podcast, and read the latest installment from your favorite author, only to be left thinking to yourself, well, now what? Then, get up, stretch your legs, and make your way down to the lounge car. Not only is the lounge car a great spot to chat with others, but it is also the perfect place to possibly make new friends while riding the rails. However, if you noticed once there that you really just needed a slight change of scenery and now want to get some work done or a Wi-Fi chat with a loved one, then do yourself a favor and find a less crowded and quieter section of the train.

Don't let delays get you down

Delays can happen when traveling by train, much like with other forms of transportation. But solo explorers shouldn't let the unexpected deter them from experiencing an amazing solo train trip. This is actually where doing a little extra research comes in handy — staying up-to-date with your final destination's travel situation, your general route, and any possible advisories can help you keep any potential delays in mind when creating your itinerary or booking your outside accommodations.

Still, there is no denying the fact that you cannot plan for any and all delays. But what you can do is remember that train trips are meant to be relaxing, and every minute of your solo adventure doesn't have to be filled. At the very least, try not to overbook outside activities (or book multiple things back to back) and give yourself ample time at various train stations along your journey, regardless of whether you are coming or going.

Train trip hacks

As a solo wanderer, it never hurts to have a few travel hacks at your disposal, and there are more than a few train trip quick fixes that can help improve your overall experience. For instance, you may never have thought you needed to pack items like duck tape, kid scissors, or even a dummy wallet. But now may be the time. Surprisingly, duck tape and kid scissors come in handy on newer and older trains — and are perfect for keeping rattling noises at bay in your roomette (particularly on Amtrak). So if you don't want to be kept up for hours, you might want to invest in some tape and scissors.

On the other hand, a dummy wallet is a little less perplexing — the goal here is to ensure that pickpocketers don't make off with your travel docs, money, or passport. Other rail trip hacks recommended by frequent train riders include practicing gratitude when feeling lonely, bringing a reusable water bottle, and inflatable travel props (for additional comfort). Train passengers should also take advantage of layover stops, be prepared for border crossings when traveling through multiple countries, sign up for train traveler rewards programs, and utilize train travel apps.

Things to remember when traveling solo

Traveling by yourself is a rewarding experience, especially when you opt to try out new forms of transportation. Moreover, experiencing the world via train is truly worth the extra planning and research. Plus, when traipsing through Europe and other far-off destinations, adding a short or multi-day rail excursion to your itinerary is just one more way to break out from the overly touristy areas and fully embrace the opportunity to see and do more on your getaway.

As a solo train traveler, yes, you will have to step up to the plate and mind the gap all by yourself. But that shouldn't deter you from trying something new or reaping the many benefits that come from exploring the world solo. Of course, there will always be moments when you'll have to go beyond your comfort zone — but by now, you know that's usually where the fun awaits.