Getting there by rail

The HFO guide to rail travel

So, you've booked yourself a skiing holiday, and you've realised that you've got the prospect of a long rail trip ahead of you. A very long rail trip ahead of you. What are you going to do about it?

The HFO have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt, and now we're here to tell it like it is.

Last update: October 2015


Be Prepared
On Board
On The Way
When You Arrive

First of all...

Even before you get on the train, you need to be sure you've got yourself prepared for what can be quite an ordeal. As we've said before, you need at least a basic level of fitness to go on a skiing holiday, and the first place that could become apparent is when you're forced to sit in a cramped train seat for a couple of hours. Make sure you're up to it!

What to take

HFO members who have travelled by Eurostar have reported that the carriages are not really designed for travellers taking large amounts of luggage. You'll be responsible for getting your stuff to the station as well as carrying it between trains and out to whatever transport awaits you at your destination. This may sound stupid, but make sure you're capable of carrying your kit. Just don't give yourself a hernia in the process, OK?

Identification, please...

You might think it's really silly me raising the subject, but if you get to the Eurostar terminal and find you've forgotten your passport, you're unlikely to get much further. Your passport is one of a number of things that come in very useful when travelling, so make a list of them all before you pack and check that you have them with you.

To labour the point still further, even if you have got your passport with you, if the person at the immigration desk at your destination notices that it expired last autumn, you're going to look really silly, aren't you? When does yours expire? Go and check it, right now.

And remember, it's got to be still valid when you come back to the UK as well - it's no good to you if it runs out half way through your trip.

It's good to talk

In these days of dual-, tri- and quad-band mobile phones, it's worth arranging for international roaming with your service provider. If you're travelling with friends, having your mobiles with you is a good way to make sure you don't lose each other!

If you don't sort out an international package, make sure that you remember to turn data roaming off or you could end up with a very nasty surprise on your next bill.

Get comfortable

Rail travel to some European ski resorts can involve an overnight trip, so unless you have the luxury of a sleeper compartment, you're going to want to make sure you're wearing something that you're comfortable sleeping in.

Have something warm you can wear as well; your body temperature will drop once you fall asleep. While they're not the greatest of fashion items, a hoodie is great for coach travel. You can block out a lot of light by pulling the hood up and over your eyes when you want to sleep. It'll also keep your head warm, which makes it much easier to nod off.

I strongly recommend getting one of the horseshoe shaped travel pillows you see advertised in the papers. I've had one for a while and I actually manage to sleep during journeys these days. Pillows are usually either inflatable or filled with buckwheat husks. I prefer the buckwheat type; they're a little more expensive and bulkier to carry, but they don't deflate!

A pillow stops your head lolling about and gives your neck some support. They really do make a big difference.

Make sure you've something to keep you occupied. Having a good selection of mp3s on your phone or player helps to pass the time, as does a good book. If you've got a Kindle or an iPod, remember to make sure it's fully charged before you set off.

Have a contingency fund

From experience, it's always a good idea to have enough money with you to finance a change of plan if you miss your connection. These things do happen, and it's not something you can do a lot about. As a rough guide, the taxi fare from Geneva station to Avoriaz ten years ago was 75 pounds sterling. One member of the HFO researched this for us when his train from Paris was delayed by two hours and the minibus to the resort left without him.

All set?

Got your tickets? Passport? Seat reservation? Luggage? Then you should be good to go.

Don't load up with gear

You're going to say this sounds stupid, but believe me it happens. Make sure you know what your luggage looks like. You need to be able to identify it when you get off the train, and you're going to look pretty stupid if you end up with someone else's stuff. Label it clearly, and put some form of identifying item on it that'll let you spot it quickly.

If you're lucky, you'll have to leave most of your luggage in the parts of the train designed for suitcases and the like. If you're unlucky and it's an older train, you may have to find space wherever you can. But the result is the same: you don't want to load yourself down with a huge pile of gear.

Have a small bag you can take with you to your seat to keep your essentials in. Most trains don't exactly go overboard on the amount of luggage space available, so keep what you take with you down to the absolute minimum you can survive with.

We think that a couple of small cartons of fruit juice and a cereal bar or two are essentials for your bag. Not chocolate - chocolate melts too easily.

Enjoy your trip

Assuming that you've managed to catch the train in time, find your seat and settle yourself for a long journey. Have your tickets and passport handy for inspection.

One of the advantages of train travel is that the facilities are usually pretty good. In fact, travelling by train in the continent was quite a shock the first time I did it. I hadn't expected it to be so pleasant.

Most buffet cars are excellent, and often offer a trolley service, but on the more heavily-used trains the amount of luggage in the aisle may prevent it from reaching your carriage. If you do go in search of sustenance, be sensible - take your valuables with you or leave them in the care of someone you trust.

If you can get a window seat, take full advantage of the chance to stare blankly out of the window at a foreign country.

If you have to transfer during your train journey, make sure that you are absolutely certain of the station where you change trains. Know when it's going to happen, too - you will need to ready. And be aware that for most places on the continent, if the timetable says a train is going to leave at a particular time, that's exactly when it will leave. If you're a minute or two late, it's not going to be there. Make sure you have enough time to catch it.

Know where you're going

No, I'm not joking. Make sure you know the name of the station where you're supposed to get off! Just as in the case of changing trains above, make sure that you know when you're going to arrive so that you can be ready to disembark quickly, and do it with all your stuff. Trains have a timetable to keep to, after all.

The train now arriving...

Be careful getting off the train. Mind the gap. Stand clear of the doors please.

Make sure you have everything with you that you had when you got on the train - you don't want to end up watching the train pull away from the station before you realise that your skis are still on board. And as we said before, make sure the luggage you picked up is yours!

You made it. Well done.

Now you have one thing left to do: have a great holiday!