Train safety tips
Sleeping on an overnight train is a relatively safe endeavor, but take a few sensible precautions to avoid pickpockets and thieves and sleep more soundly
As with all safety tips, keep in mind that this is all worst-case-scenario stuff. The odds are against anything bad happening to you.
However, if you follow a few dull but easy safety rules and routines, you can tip those odds even more in your favor.
The main rules
- Don’t flash your valuables. You’re sharing a cabin a with a stranger. My philosophy is one of pragmatic optimism: always assume the best of other people...but prepare for the worst. (Also: Simply don't pack any valuables. Or at least, only pack those strictly necessary: camera, cellphone, etc. Leave the Rolex and the family jewels at home.)
- Keep your stuff where you can see it. Don't use the luggage bins by the door vestibules of some trains. Haul everything to your seat and either muscle it into the overhead bin or, of there's plenty of room, plop it in the seat next to you. (I give my pack the window seat and take the aisle; that way, no thief trolling the aisles can grab my bags while I doze and jump off just as the doors close and the train pulls away—yes, this sometimes happens.)
- Most train stations are fairly safe, but because they are central clearinghouses for bewildered tourists overwhelmed by a new city and probably not paying close attention to what's going on around them, pickpockets abound. Be careful, never abandon your bags, and don't be distracted by any hotel touts offering you rooms.
- Make sure the cabin door is locked. Sleeper cabin doors lock from the inside and can only be unlocked from the outside by a special key the conductor carries. If you are traveling alone and get the standard double, feel free to underscore the importance of this to your bunkmate so that, if he or she gets up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom, they'll remember to lock up when they re-enter (the conductor usually emphasizes this, but be a nerd and do it yourself, too).
- Wear your money belt while you sleep. Do not take it off. After you’ve taken care of tickets with the conductor, you may want to excuse yourself to the bathroom and strap that moneybelt around your upper thigh instead. This sounds incredibly creepy, but thieves with light touches do sometimes unzip your pants and deftly empty the money belt while it’s still on your sleeping person—but if it’s around your thigh, there’s no way they can get to it without you noticing.
- You might want to make a pillow out of your valuables. It’s not the most comfortable way to sleep, but if you wrap things in your sweater and poke it in a stuff sack, it may be soft enough to lay your head on.
Remember: You're sharing a room with a stranger, so don't flash anything valuable. You should be fine. After 30 years and many, many overnight train rides, I have witnessed only one train robbery only a few years ago (while we were both sleeping, the stranger who shared my couchette had his bag stolen from where it was hanging next to his head in the middle bunk. The door was unlocked when I awoke, but neither he nor I nor the conductor could figure out how it happened, unless the victim unlocked it in the middle of the night to nip out to the bathroom, forgotten to re-lock it, and was now stonewalling to cover his shame, or simple bleary forgetfulness).
- Nationalrail.co.uk - Covers all of the lines once operated by the (since-privitized) old British Rail, as well as info on all British rail stations, including maps and services. This includes most major British railways, but notably does not cover many urban area light rail systems (such as London, Glasgow, Manchester, Blackpool, Sheffield, and Midland Metro), nor does it cover the Eurostar, Heathrow Express, nor a handful of heritage or privately owned railways. Still, it's the closest thing to one-stop shopping for finding train connections across the mainland U.K. (though not Northern Ireland).
- BritRail passes - Book railpasses good for travel all over Great Britain—or just in parts of all of England or Scotland.Partner
- Eurostar.com - The super-fast train through the Channel Tunnel connecting London with Paris (2.5 hrs.), Brussels (2 hrs.) and—though those hubs—the rest of Europe. » more
- Europetrainsguide.com - General train info from a private site devoted to European rail travel.
- Seat61.com - General train info from a private site devoted to rail travel, including detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to get from London to just about any other country in Europe via rail.
- Traintaxi.co.uk - Search stations to find out whether they have taxi ranks/stands, and the phone numbers for pre-booking a cab. (Not being updated after April 2016, but still handy.)
- Sleeper.scot - overnight train
- Heritagerailways.com - An association of historic, heritage, and narrow guage railways—many operating steam trains on historic scenic routes. The site is pretty bare-bones, but if you click on a railway and then look for the link in the box below the map (not teh name on the map itself), you can get to the website for that heritage rail line, train museum, or tourist train
- Train map - A rail network map courtesy of Nationalrail.co.uk.
- Neck pillow - For the plane or long train rides. I prefer one that cinches at the front to provide all-around-the neck support (wear it backwards to keep your chin up); some rave about the the funky J-Pillow; other go for the Travel Halo with its built-in eye mask.
- Eye mask - Some love 'em; some don't. I find every bit of help sleeping helps.
- Tablet/E-reader - For long plane and train trips. If a tablet or e-Reader, load up on titles before you leave, or get one with WiFi (so you can download outside the U.S) or a Kindle with 3G (which connects for free in 100 countries).
- Noise-canceling headphones - The one silly travel gadget I actually use (it makes flying less stressful, even if you don't sleep; also: way easier to hear the movie). There are tons of models. I currently rock a JVC HANC250—les than half the price of Bose; nearly as good. Or go super low-tech with earplugs (sadly, I'm one of those people who cannot tolerate wearing them).
- Book - Just bring one or two. Some hotels have book trading shelves. Also, Britain has excellent book stores!