Best Train Journey Ever?
June 7, 2010 3:13 AM   Subscribe

Travel hacks filter: how to have the Best Train Journey Ever?

My partner and I are going from Sheffield (England) to the Wye Valley (England/Wales) and back by train this week. We've got standard class tickets with a couple of changes. The journey takes about three hours in total for the way there and four hours for the way back. A friend is taking our tent and luggage so all we have to carry are things for the journey, and his little netbook.

This is the only holiday I get for a while and I'll be celebrating the end of my exams - how do I make it the Best Train Journey Ever? Ideas for snacks, activities, things to make us more comfortable, train-themed music that we should totally listen to, fun games to play and any of your travel hacks would be very welcome!
posted by teraspawn to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take your shoes off.
posted by fire&wings at 3:22 AM on June 7, 2010

This may be obvious, but you can download shows from iPlayer to watch on the Netbook (if you have earbud headphones, you can use one each if you don't have two headphone ports or a splitter). I find that this makes the journey go very quickly.
posted by sueinnyc at 3:46 AM on June 7, 2010

I made a playlist for a train ride recently. YMMV, but it felt important to me to have songs that fit the time of day & the fact that I was alone & where I was going to be. It ended up with some Motwon, some hip-hop, some modern hipster rock. It all flows in this "Things are moving along, and you're just sitting back to watch the countryside roll by".

Snacks: Stuff that doesn't require utensils, packs well, and just plain isn't messy! Fruit leather, beef jerky, granola bars are all good options.

Games: I'm not sure if this is what you meant, but try for some non-electronic ones. Take a deck of cards and a book of crossword puzzles.
posted by knile at 4:45 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Don't travel in rush hour. Book a seat that is forward facing and not next to a pillar, so you can see out of the window. Don't buy things on the train you could bring for less than half the price (e.g. crisps, biscuits). Don't drink the coffee they serve straight away unless you like a burnt mouth. Check out the cost of an upgrade to first class. It can be as low as £10 each way sometimes. Bring a pen. And some paper. If all else fails you can play competitive tournaments of noughts and crosses. Or anagrams of stations you pass through. Or only rude anagrams of stations you pass through. Use your snacks like a drinking game and play "I Spy". They'll last longer and you'll actually spend some time admiring the countryside rather than locked onto a DVD. Buy one trashy magazine each. Swap and read the other person's from cover to cover. Don't listen to nuanced music. The noise of the train over the tracks will destroy the subtleties in the music. Don't make a playlist. Instead, make a 10 track playlist for your travelling companion. Ask them to do the same. Have a half an hour nap. The journey will go more quickly and you deserve it.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:13 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

For longer journeys, upgrading to first class is completely worth it. The comfort is marginally-to-considerably higher, but the quality of fellow passengers is great. (Unless you're a rowdy passenger, in which case spare them).

Take along some really nice food as you would for a picnic, maybe pop into the nicest cafe in town for sandwiches, or a fine deli to make your own. The satisfaction of unwrapping your gourmet sandwiches and fine wine whilst others are popping cellophane wrappers and drinking weak bitter tea is immense. As for utensils -- if you get one of seats with tables in the middle and bring disposable cutlery, you can have a little banquet without trouble.

I personally enjoy tracking train journeys on GPS maps, but I'm a geek like that. I also like listening to Radiolab podcasts with headphones on a splitter so we can share. They are light, make for good conversation, and don't prevent one from looking out of the window.
posted by tavegyl at 5:52 AM on June 7, 2010

+1 for "good food". Snacks are great, but there's something fun about eating great food in a unique situation, esp. when it contrasts with what you'd expect.
A washcloth and small bar of soap, to freshen up if feel travel-foggy.

This might strike some as odd, but..
A new or newish & freshly laundered pair of socks to slip on.
Comfy slouchy clothes, yr not planning on being picked up by a limo and whisked away to a board meeting. I've even worn pajamas under my pants. :)
posted by Jack Karaoke at 6:04 AM on June 7, 2010

Sorry, hate to break it to you but the best train journey in the world is not going to involve two changes in three hours, especially if one is at Birmingham New Street.

You've got about an hour from Sheffield to Birmingham. Let's hope you have seat reservations for that bit. Have a cup of tea - taken with you in a travel mug? or bought on the station if you have time? You will be able to buy one on a Crosscountry train, but it'll be more expensive. Depends what kind of budget you're on whether it's worth taking a travel mug or a flask with you, I suppose. Read the Metro and/or a trashy magazine as mentioned above.

You've got fifteen minutes to change at Birmingham, which is good. Probably the best thing you can do in preparation for the journey it to find out where the Birmingham-Cheltenham train is going (Paignton? Plymouth? The booking thing at Eastcoast is handy for this). This makes it really quite a lot easier to work out which platform you need to get to at Birmingham.

Birmingham-Cheltenham is 40 minutes or so, possibly on a train where you can make seat reservations. If so, do. Do the sudoku from the Metro you found on the last train, if you haven't already. Or read some more trashy magazine/find another commuter's discarded newspaper.

You have 20 minutes at Cheltenham to find the train to Maesteg (I think? Don't know what station you're going to, but I'm guessing it's that line!). This is unlikely to be difficult, unless of course something is delayed. Then it'll be another half an hour or so.

I really wouldn't bother with DVDs or much other electronics on this journey, because of the frequent changes. *Maybe* on the first train. Take drinks that you know you like - a bottle of juice/water/something fizzy, ideally not cans unless you know you're going to drink it all at once; resealable is good. Take food that is tidy, and/or a little packet of wet wipes. Egg sandwiches do not belong on public transport, even if you really wanted to use up the last eggs before going on holiday. Take some cereal bars or something in case of delays/missed connections. Don't get anything that claims to be low-calorie, they're mostly hideously over artificial-sweetenered, and completely pointless anyway. Muffins may be nice but inevitably end up squashed.
posted by Lebannen at 6:07 AM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: tavegyl: we're not rowdy but on the way back we'll definitely be stinky.

Lebannen: It's just one change on the way there and two on the way back so it shouldn't be that bad! The journey's course varies dramatically depending on the time of day.
posted by teraspawn at 6:27 AM on June 7, 2010

Why nobody's suggested drinking lots of alcohol is simply beyond me. Trains are the best places on earth to consume bourbon. Just be sure to drink lots of water while you're at it. Being drunk on a train is fun; being dehydrated at your destination is undesirable.
posted by The White Hat at 6:32 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: I've been on a few chunks of that line and the scenery is pretty good, so remember to look out of the window every now and again, especially if you normally live in a city! Following the route along on a map, maybe taking photos along the way, could be interesting.

The most fun train journeys I've had in the UK have been the ones where I've had a game or two with me and managed to persuade some strangers to join in. Especially if you're heading out of the city on a weekend, you'll be around a pretty interesting mix of people who're mostly in an optimistic mood. I tend to like cheat (if playing with two people, randomly take ~30% of the deck out of the game so it doesn't become a card counting exercise), and a version of sh*t head. Backgammon is good fun too - some strategy, some luck and a lot of stitching your opponent right up! I'd avoid chess or draughts because it's tempting to take them too seriously.

One thing that I occasionally do is try to avoid showing your ticket during the journey. The game isn't to refuse to show it, just to see if you can complete the whole journey without ever being asked for your ticket. Obviously, doing anything to inconvenience the ticket inspector loses you the game.

Logistically, make sure you know what station comes before each of your changes and, ideally, how long you'll have after that station to get your stuff together and disembark. Make sure you have something warm/rainproof that's fairly easily accessible just in case the station is cold or wet. Also, know exactly how long you have for transfers and check for information on your next train as soon as you arrive.

If you want to be silly about it, treat the whole thing as an epic journey: take a photo at each of the stations with you and your partner looking increasingly haggard and travel-worn; insist on buying a "local delicacy" from the station cafe (read: chololate bar, bag of crisps) as souvenirs for your camping friends, etc. Then bore your friends senseless with your travelling tales when you meet up with them.

There's also joining the "120mph club", if your train has unusually large and clean toilets. Only the Virgin Pendolinos tend to have toilets spacious and clean-looking enough for this, IME, and I doubt you'll get them on that line. It'd certainly be a memorable trip.
posted by metaBugs at 6:46 AM on June 7, 2010

Er, being drunk on a train isn't so great for your fellow passengers, if my occasional experiences with drunken fellow travellers on British trains are anything to go by. The drunk with his dog a few weeks ago was actually OK (he was amiable but so drunk as to be incoherent--the dog made more sense than he did) but the two girls, one completely smashed and one not, were not. They were discussing the drunk one's boyfriend and didn't like him much. Please don't get that drunk.

Food is good. Try to take your own tea/coffee--even if the rail tea is any good it will be expensive. Reserved seat is good. First-class upgrade is definitely worth considering.
posted by Logophiliac at 6:53 AM on June 7, 2010

There's also joining the "120mph club", if your train has unusually large and clean toilets. Only the Virgin Pendolinos tend to have toilets spacious and clean-looking enough for this

Really? I've always found them a bit whiffy and tend to call them Poodelinos.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bring an MP3 player and get a window seat.
posted by cmoj at 10:35 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Dress up, bring really yummy snacks, a bottle of sparky wine, cloth napkins, wine glasses, and possibly nice table ware. Pretend you are in 1st class. Bring a good trashy book.
posted by theora55 at 11:48 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Bring window cleaner. I've used Windex brand wipes, that come in a small package similar to facecleaner wipes, because I really care about the view. I've only done this on trains in the USA so take it for what it's worth -- I don't want you to get thrown off the train! Bring your own bottled water and a sweater.
posted by SandiBeech at 12:03 PM on June 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions guys. In the end we took some (non-stinky) cheeses, crackers and a salad and did the crossword.
posted by teraspawn at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2010

« Older Initiative to learn, but not to create   |   Hmmm, pay you people $50 a month or buld a short... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.