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How to Pack for Train Traveling

Updated on August 27, 2016

Traveling by Train Means Choosing Luggage

So you are going to be making a train trip! What a fun adventure. Before you get started, go to the railroad company website that you will be traveling on and have a good look at the rules for sizes of luggage. Trains tend to be stricter than airlines on what you are allowed to bring. Get out the tape measure and measure your bags that you are planning on bringing.

Look at your luggage carefully. You may be carrying it overtrain tracks in some areas, or pulling it for long distances yourself. When a friend and I took the Trans-Siberian from Perm, Russia to Moscow, it was an eye opening experience. Not only did we have to purchase tickets for ourselves, but we had to purchase separate tickets for our luggage. Had I known, I would have packed much lighter.

Realize that in rural areas, there may not be a porter to help you with your bags, or they may already be hired by someone else. Don't let strangers handle your bags, you may never see them again.

Luggage should meet the following criteria:

  • In good to excellent condition with no tears, rips, faulty zippers or closures
  • Be wheeled with wheels that are in excellent condition. You can replace original luggage wheels for ones that are more durable
  • Have a good handle to pull the luggage behind you
  • Have luggage tags filled out with contact information of your home and destination
  • Be sturdy and well built

Luggage should also not be black if that is at all possible for easier identification.


Choose What to Pack for Your Train Trip by Knowing What You Need

Packing for a train is different than packing for an airline trip. If your trip involves air and train, always follow the stricter of the two rules. What does that mean?

  • Plane travel may have restrictions on the size of liquids that are allowed to go into the cabin with you
  • Size of suitcases allowed may vary greatly, select the smaller of the allowed sizes
  • Some trains have showers and full baths on board, so you can arrive much fresher than with a plane

Choosing what to pack is very easy. You will need to make the following determinations to know what to pack:

  1. What is the weather like where you are coming from and going to? Be mindful of this if there is a difference.
  2. How many days will you be on the train, and how many will you be at your destination?
  3. Will you have access to laundry facilities once you get to where you are going?
  4. Are you going to have a cabin or simply a seat? If there is a cabin, is it a private berth or shared with strangers?
  5. Are meals included in your plan or will you be bringing food with you? Are there food items not allowed on the train?
  6. Do you have medications that you need to take?
  7. What are the hours of operation on the dining car? Is there a snack area where you can get food outside of those times?

Once you have answered those questions, you will have a complete idea of how many changes of clothes to pack, as well as other items. I always put a copy of my itinerary and contact information in every bag, should I be separated from my things for any reason.

Here are some things that I bring along with me on every train trip:

  1. Lip Balm-trains can be drying to your skin if the central heat or air is running constantly.
  2. A sweater or a hoodie or a shawl. Nights can get colder than you think, or a misaligned air vent can make for a miserable chill, even in the hottest of summer.
  3. Sunglasses for the glare of the windows.
  4. Slippers for my feet swelling.
  5. Toilet paper. I have been on a train that ran out of toilet paper and I will never go through that again. I always bring a few travel packs of toilet paper with me.
  6. Wet wipes to be able to wipe my face and hands.
  7. A small blanket that folds very small. Perfect for chilly legs when riding in a seat.
  8. Snack bars and fruit.
  9. An empty water bottle that I refill as often as needed.
  10. A notebook to write down information as I need to.
  11. Copies of all tickets and identification.


How to Pack a Suitcase

Packing a suitcase should be easy. Fold clothes, lay them into the suitcase. It is not that simple. Shoes take up a lot of room. Plan on wearing the shoes that take up the most room. If you can manage, only bring one pair of shoes, the ones that you will be wearing. If you cannot, use the inside of the shoes to store small items such as socks, underwear, alarm clocks and similar.

Rolling your clothes takes up far less room. Done correctly, you can roll clothes very tightly. Don't forget to leave room for souvenirs if you are planning on bringing items home. Choose items that take up the least amount of space when you are selecting clothes.

Rolling clothes is easy. Simply roll them as you would a tortilla and make the roll tight and snug. I always bring plastic shopping bags to put dirty clothes in, and I roll them when I put them in the bag to take up the same amount of space.


Can You Manage to Lift Your Luggage?

As I mentioned before, you may have to carry your suitcase over tracks and more to get to where your next train is, especially if you are travelling in rural areas. The distance can be great. Can you carry your luggage if you have to?

Don't assume that you can roll your luggage. One of the train tracks we had to cross was horrible and bleak, and it was far more efficient to carry our things than to struggle with wheels that were never designed for all terrain travel.

My saving grace was that I chose at the last minute to pack very light. If I had gone with my original selections, I never would have been able to manage walking across the tracks. If you cannot personally handle all of your luggage, you need to lighten your load. I have said that there may not be porters. When we arrived in Ukraine, it was in the middle of the night. There was no one there except the people that got off the train and the police. As we were crossing those bleak tracks I wrote about, I was concerned to see parents trying to navigate with small children, strollers, multiple bags and themselves. It was a horrific situation because we were unable to help, as we were battling the tracks with our own luggage. No one miraculously came to the aid of anyone. It was bitterly cold and we were all desperate to make the connection of the next train.

Don't make the only pair of shoes you pack flimsy dress shoes. One of the women walking that track with us was wearing a pair of high heeled sandals. Her feet were literally bleeding by the time we all made it to our next track. Practical shoes will save you if you have to make the walk like we did.

Look for luggage that has back straps. A couple traveling with children had obviously been on the train before. They and their children all had small sized luggage. When we got off the train, each member of that family took their suitcase and put their arm through the straps and walked way ahead of the rest of us. Even the children had suitcases with back straps. They were the envy of everyone else walking.

Arrive Early for Your Train

Trains are not always on a strict timetable. My Russian train was late by over an hour. I was told that the times were approximate, and that it was my responsibility to be there on time. Make sure that you follow the rules that are posted, have all of your belongings there with you and that you are in the correct seat.

Do not expect the staff of the train to wake you for your stop. They will check for your ticket, so have that somewhere that is convenient to get to. You may be asked to present your ticket several times. I bought a ticket wallet online that went around my neck. It was the best idea I had in purchasing it. The conductor could see my ticket without waking me, and it was safe from being lost or stolen.

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