7 Lessons I’ve learned from long journeysLizet Wesselman - 05/02/2023
7 Lessons I’ve learned from long journeysLizet Wesselman - 05/02/2023
Despite travelling mainly in Europe, I cover quite a lot of distance, especially by train. In 2022, I’ve travelled a total of 6,364 km by public transport. That’s roughly from Amsterdam to central Türkiye and back. By far, the longest (bus) trip was from Valencia to Prague, which was a total of 29 hours of sitting in the bus. And that was intense! But if you prepare well, a long train or bus trip doesn’t have to be that tough at all. I actually prefer train travel over anything else, so here are my tips on how to get trough them.
1. Cut up a long journey
This really is my biggest tip. If you decide to take a long trip by public transport and you have the opportunity to stop somewhere, do that! I understand that if you only have a short holiday, it’s hard to just set aside extra days for that. But at the very least, try to plan an itinerary that gives you a few hours of layover time, so you can have a good stretch of your legs and a good meal before moving on again.
So I took the Flixbus from Valencia, Spain, to Prague, Czech Republic. This would have been a 35 hours double night bus trip, if I’d have done it in one go. I would arrive at noon in Lyon, France, and take the next night bus to Prague at 6pm. That seemed like a good idea! Then I could spend 6 hours wandering around Lyon, and I’d probably be tired enough to get a good night’s sleep on the 2nd long bus ride.
In the end, I figured, why not just spend a whole weekend in Lyon? I had a few days to make the journey so I wasn’t in a hurry. And this really one of my best decisions ever! The first bus ride was exhausting, but after a good night’s sleep I was rested enough for the next one. But by choosing to spend a full weekend in Lyon, I got to explore an amazing city, which I probably wouldn’t have gone to anytime soon otherwise. I fell in love with Lyon and I now know I’ll definitely be back someday. So, cutting up your long journey helps you discover places you might otherwise never go to.
2. Make sure you have enough to eat and drink
This may sound obvious, but people really underestimate this. If you take a night bus or night train, you probably hope to sleep most of the time. Unfortunately, this might not always be that easy. So, that can mean you’re already awake at 6am, still on the road until 1pm, while you only brought breakfast. And there you are, with a growling stomach, for the rest of the bus- or train ride. Also don’t count on breakfast being included in the journey or available on board, this isn’t always the case.
It’s also no guarantee that you’ll come across shops or restaurants during the stops. Sometimes they are closed, or the timing of the stops is just off. Moreover, I also notice that I don’t always fancy the things I expected to like. So make sure you have a little bit of everything with you, something to snack on, something healthy, something good filling etc. Just prepare for everything and eat what you haven’t eaten once you arrive at your destination.
3. Make sure you keep yourself entertained
Just like I said at point 2, you probably hope to sleep through the night. During the day, you might assume that you will spend the whole drive staring out of the window and enjoying the beautiful views. And while both are quite possible, there is also a good chance that you won’t. You might not be able to sleep at all, and you might quickly get tired of the scenery or have a spot where you can’t see much.
So make sure you have plenty of things to do and prepare for everything. Download movies for when you don’t have internet. Bring a (puzzle) book for when your phone/laptop/e-reader/tablet are all down. Bring earbuds/headphones to listen to music. Or anything else you like. For example, I always have my laptop with me and always have photos to edit or blogs to write. Both I can do without internet. Then I have a book for when the laptop is empty, or I don’t feel like staring at my laptop screen.
4. Charge your electronics and bring powerbanks
Despite many trains and buses having power sockets these days, this isn’t always the case. Either they don’t have them at all, or there are only a few and others have already nicked them. Prepare for this and make sure all your electronics are fully charged. And take powerbanks with you so you can at least charge your phone if it runs out of battery. Even though you might take a book with you, chances are you’ll still spend hours on tiktok watching videos or constantly checking where to go, how long it will take, where to eat tonight, etc., that your phone will run out faster than you expected.
5. Don’t count on Wi-Fi or even mobile data
We sometimes get so used to our luxuries that we forget they are luxuries. Not all public transport has Wi-Fi and even if you have a local SIM card, you don’t have coverage everywhere. Especially on long train- or bus trips, you often pass through areas where your coverage isn’t great, or you have no coverage at all. And even in big cities, your internet can go down just like that. So, never assume that you will open Google Maps on location to see how to get to your accommodation. Download a map you can use offline, just in case. And download your tickets, just in case an app suddenly stops working and you can’t show your ticket.
In short, just make sure you prepare for a trip back to prehistoric times, then at least you can be sure you won’t have to stress about it. I got on the wrong train once and almost got a €150 fine because my internet didn’t work, and I couldn’t buy a last-minute ticket. I really don’t wish that stress on anyone! Do you really need internet? Then ask if someone can create a hotspot for you to use, locals usually have a better reception. Or bring a mobile Wi-Fi router with you, that you can use anywhere. These work with a simcard, so basically the same as your phone. You might still be out of Wi-Fi in off the grid places, but it does give you more security about Wi-Fi in general.
6. Keep delays in mind
Of course, the likelihood of delayed trains and busses vary from country to country. Some countries are so structured that you can count on your travel time being about right, with minimal delays. But in some countries, you’ll be lucky if your bus or train shows up at all. Or nobody knows exactly what time the bus/train is coming so you just stand by the side of the road until it arrives somewhere between now and an hour…
Do your research before you travel by public transport in a country and adjust your trip accordingly. Going to a disorganised country? Then don’t plan an 8-hour journey with 3 transfers, as you might miss 1 and immediately be delayed by 2 hours. In such countries, cover shorter distances and do more layovers. Or go for night busses or trains that cover the entire stretch in one go, without transfers.
Generally, busses tend to have more delays because they are dependent on other traffic. A bus trip that passes rush hour times, will be more likely to have delays than a train in those same hours because there isn’t suddenly more traffic on the rails. So be more flexible with busses in general. For both goes that you just need to be flexible. Leave early so you don’t have to stress to catch the last train or bus. It’s never fun to have to wait for the next train or bus, but if gets worse when it’s already late and dark.
7. Don’t count on a seat if you don’t pre-book it
You never know how many people want to travel with the same bus or train. You also don’t always know how many people they allow on the train or bus, in different countries. Some countries are perfectly fine with pushing in extra people. You would expect a night bus, for example, to take at most as many people as there are seats, but do always check if you indeed get a seat. With trains, there is very little consideration at all, so just assume it’s going to be full. Want to make sure you can sit? The pre-book your seat on the train.
Want to travel on a budget and not pay extra for seat reservations? Then prepare to either stand for a long time or sit on the floor. Do you think that’s a dirty idea? Then first of all, budget travel might not be the right choice for you. But if you do choose that, just take something to sit on. There are several reasons I travel with a backpack instead of a rolling suitcase. One of those reasons is that a backpack is nice and easy to throw on the ground to use as a chair. Nice and soft and more convenient than having to sit on the ground. But a towel, scarf or jacket works as well.