Thriving urban centres, beautiful beaches, awe-inspiring scenery… Eastern Europe has a lot to offer. And what better way to experience it all than by train? By riding the rails, you save yourself the hassle of car rentals and unfamiliar traffic regulations, plus chances are you aren’t going to get lost en route to your next destination. Sound appealing? Read on for some tips that will help your Eastern European train adventure-planning stay on the right track.
Your Ticket to Ride
Before you get started on your grand adventure, you’re going to need to figure out what kind of train tickets to buy. One option is to buy a rail pass, which gives you flexible, unlimited travel within the days you’ve selected. This option is best if you plan on covering a lot of ground as it tends to wind up being cheaper than paying as you go. That being said, Eastern Europe is notoriously inexpensive so if you’d prefer to play it by ear, chances are you aren’t going to break the bank.
The last thing you need is heavy luggage as you train hop from country to country. Invest in a travelling backpack that allows you to carry your possessions snail-style. Things to consider include durability (you’ll probably be tossing it into a couple rammed luggage racks), weight (even the most comfortable pack can feel unbearably heavy after a while) and storage capacity (there is such thing as too large).
Try the Road Less Traveled
Big cities are popular for a reason; they’re exciting, entertaining and generally have a lot to offer to tourists. There is, however, a lot to be said about venturing off the beaten path. If you find yourself in Poland, get off in Krakow and head over to the Krakow Salt Mines, which includes an underground museum, chapel, and sanatorium salt mine. When passing through Latvia, check out Riga’s Art Nouveau district or visit one of the city’s many museums that offer free admission. If you need a break from the rails, get off in Lake Balaton in Hungary and relax on the shore – the waters and muds are said to be therapeutic, something you’ll probably be quite grateful for.
Protect Your Assets
With rail travel, you typically don’t have the luxury of hotel safes or, in some cases, locking doors. In order to ensure that you don’t end up spending your holiday in a police station or embassy, you need to take a few steps to protect yourself. First, leave your valuables at home. Opt for a cheap watch and sunglasses and leave your investment pieces back where you know they won’t easily be snatched. Second, secure your important documents. Passports are hot commodities and you need to be certain that you know where yours is at all times. The Pouchsafe 150 Travel Document Organizer is an excellent option—it keeps your most precious possessions safe and on your body at all times without adding unnecessary bulk, which is something you’ll be grateful for when temperatures rise.
Learn the Languages
Eastern Europe boasts a lot of linguistic diversity and while it may be unreasonable to expect to become fluent in all of them, knowing a few key words can go a long way. Take some time before you leave to teach yourself a couple of phrases in the languages of the countries you’ll be visiting and chances are you’ll find that locals will go out of their way to help you out. Making the effort shows respect and most people are impressed that you’re trying, regardless of how badly you may butcher pronunciation. Plus, just think of how cool you’ll sound at your next cocktail party, casually dropping a little Latvian into your conversation. Sveiks!
Pack Your Patience
While Eastern European countries have come a long way since being hidden behind the Iron Curtain, you need to expect the unexpected and learn to embrace it. In some countries (Romania, for instance), train travel is notorious for being quite slow. This can be frustrating if you want to get somewhere fast but if you approach it as a way of truly taking in the scenery, you’ll find that it becomes a lot more enjoyable. Sometimes, Mother Nature gets in the way which means that you might be held up by fallen trees or flooding on track level. These are good moments to practice your deep breathing and try to find some humour in the situation. Just think of it as a little bit of added adventure.
Who is Kate Walker? She’s a freelance writer, yoga addict, and citizen of the concrete jungle. When not on the mat, Kate can be found at the dog park or on the dock in Muskoka. She is also pretty fond of running, skiing, and Settlers of Catan.