Some tips on how to stay calm and carry on during train travel on holiday weekends. It isn’t just the M25 that gets congested when everyone heads off en masse.
We are all about slow travel, while also making your precious holiday time more relaxing and also keeping your carbon footprint to a minimum. However, we are also well aware that during the mass exodus weekends, train stations and services can get as congested as anywhere else. Here are our top tips to making train travel work for you over public holidays.
Get a seat reservation when possible
With most international train journeys a seat reservation is obligatory and, therefore, seats are allocated automatically when you buy your ticket. However, on shorter journeys, particularly in the UK, train operators often don’t let you reserve a seat. So you just need to get there in really good time. For UK services that do permit seat reservations, and if you haven’t already, you can do so after buying your ticket by taking your ticket to any station. If you are travelling in Germany with Deutsche Bahn, they will also let you reserve a seat after you have purchased a ticket. Read more here for details.
Give yourself plenty of time
Some people forget that train stations also get busy during holiday weekends, thinking that only happens on autobahns and at airports. So do get there at least half an hour early to compensate for queues at the ticket barriers, retail outlets and so on.
Pack a picnic in advance too, rather than rushing to join all the other people who are doing the last minute food thing. It is worth remembering that even if the train service has food on board usually, sometimes on public holidays they cut back these services to a minimum, so if in doubt, get your food before you leave home.
Keep your seat number to hand
Another tip is to have your seat number close to hand, and ask a train employee to direct you to the correct carriage. That way you won’t be traipsing through each carriage, getting stressed as you negotiate your way over buggies, backpacks and beach gear. It is also good to have these details to hand in case someone has pinched your reserved seats.
Treat yourself to an upgrade
If you are booking a train for a busy weekend, do look at the First Class fares as it may well be worth treating yourself to a bit more space on your journey. If you have already booked your ticket, you can upgrade it at the ticket office but do go there well in advance of your journey to do so, to avoid queues.
Lighten up on the luggage
One of the joys of train travel is that you don’t have luggage restrictions. However, going Zen means packing lightly too and using squishy luggage if possible. Always label your luggage and we recommend a lock too as it acts as a deterrent to thieves. Use the luggage racks provided and please don’t ever leave your bags in the aisle. That way madness lies.
Hydrating always helps
Water will keep you cool when things start to heat up. UK stations are now waking up to the concept of water fountains to refill your bottles. You can find them at London’s main stations, Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly but the list is growing all the time. Many retailers in UK stations have also signed up to provide free drinking water to top up your bottles including Costa, Nero, Pret and Leon, and they will also refill your reusable coffee cup, so don't forget to pack that too.
We highly recommend getting the Refill ‘app for tap’ which tells you all the best spots to get free drinking water on your travels. Refill has worked closely with stations to help them wake up to water, so bravo them. Look out for their Refill sticker on your travels.
If you have been lucky enough to travel on Eurostar, you will know that staff manage queues somewhat brilliantly, and pretty much always with a smile. To avoid queues at London’s Kings Cross St. Pancras if you are departing from there, consider going from Ebbsfleet International or Ashford International, but be careful, as not all services go through there. If you are driving to these stations, be prepared for slower traffic on the motorway.
The dreaded delay
We do everything we can to inform our customers about delays during busy periods which are caused by those three words that make every train traveller’s heart sink - planned engineering works. Read our Dreaded Delay blog on how to inform yourself fully in advance about timetable issues on your date of travel.
Travelling with children
Consider buying child tickets for under fives, even though you don’t normally pay for a seat for them. If you are travelling with two adults and two children, and you usually don’t pay for the young one who travels free of charge on your lap, that extra seat could make the world of difference. And with a Family and Friends railcard, this extra seat can be cheap as chips anyway. Read more in our 12 tips for travelling by train with children article.
This is probably our best tip. Breathe deep and remember that everyone else is trying to get a break too. Consider downloading a meditation app for your train journey. Our favourites are Buddhify, Headspace, Calm and Aura. The BBC Sounds app also has a brilliant Slow Sounds podcast or treat yourself to the book, also an audiobook, In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré.
If it all gets too much, remember that you could be in a traffic jam somewhere, with the Lake District or Cornwall coast feeling like a mere mirage. Or dealing with airport security and all the anxieties associated with liquids, laptops and luggage sizes. Trains won’t do that to you which you will find out when the Eurostar staff hand you a tray to help you take your coffee through security. Bon voyage tout le monde.
Image credits top to bottom: Reserved ticket on a train iStock ©tirc83, First class train seat - iStock ©David-Prado, Refilling water bottle iStock ©larzipan, Waiting room in station iStock ©KevinAlexanderGeorge, girl on train with teddy bear ©Loco2, Waterloo station clock ©Lena Maximova, women on train with coffee cup iStock ©Martin DM