By Mark Ellwood
First time planning a train trip? Start here.
Seat 61.com is a fantastic resource if you’re starting from scratch. The site compares the routes, with everything from pricing data to the different amenities offered on each train. It’s Google for train lovers.
America’s much-maligned rail system is hiding a few gems.
One of my favorite trains is Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. Leaving Los Angeles, the train passes through Santa Barbara before heading north along the Pacific Coast, bound for Seattle. You feel as if you’re skimming along the edge of the water. During the trip, people were playing guitars, students chattered, and the spectacular scenery of Cascade Range unfolded before me. It’s the best way to spend a day.
If you’re overnighting on a train, plane, or ship, always pack these two things.
A silk sleeper sheet is a must-have. They pack down to the size of a tennis ball, keep you comfortable in both over- and under-heated compartments, and save you from having to sleep in a musty blanket provided by the railroad. I also have a pair of Adidas slides that fit into the side of my bag. There’s nothing worse than trying to lace up a pair of shoes in the middle of the night, when nature calls.
This traveling MacGyver is in everyone’s kitchen cabinet.
No matter where I’m going, I always take a stash of Ziploc bags with me. They’re great at separating wet clothing (like a soggy bathing suit) or spill-prone items (like shampoo) from the rest of your belongings. The bags also serve as additional protection for valuables. I keep all my paperwork, photocopies of visas — everything — in them, too.
Learn one phone number before any trip overseas.
Always find out the emergency number in every single country you’re traveling in. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use it.
The best place to snack in a city overseas? Try the market by the train station.
The morning of any long-distance train journey, stock up. Markets near the stations, especially in Asia, always have the kind of food that’s suited to these sort of journeys: dried fish, packets of noodles, jasmine tea. Turfan, in China’s Xinjiang province, has particularly great offerings. I remember finding huge cumin flatbreads, hot out of the oven and slipped into brown paper bags that were perfect to take on board.
The world’s best train experience is …
The Deccan Odyssey from Mumbai to Delhi is the most luxurious train experience in the world. Book the Presidential Suite, which features a massive bedroom and private bathroom with shower. Your personal butler greets you each morning with platters of fruit and piping-hot tea. Like a cruise ship, the train moves overnight. Each morning, you wake up in a new location, allowing you to explore places like the Ellora caves and Ranthambore National Park.