10 must-have items for long distance train travellers

Matthew Woodward has travelled the world by rail. Here he lists the gadgets he can't do without

7 mins

The late Alan Whicker once told Michael Palin that anyone could be uncomfortable, and the essence of good travel was to make your environment as pleasant as possible. I have always taken this great advice to heart. Here are 10 items I suggest you consider packing to make your next rail adventure an even more amazing experience.

1. An espresso maker

Yes – you did read that correctly! If your taste buds are tired of instant coffee, it is now possible to make a reasonable cup of espresso on the rails. In the past I have used a simple bit of kit from California called an Aeropress, but last year I treated myself and upgraded to a Handpresso – it's a clever and portable hand pump machine that you just add coffee and hot water to. It's perfect for some weapons-grade coffee in the morning.

2. A personal power source

These days we are all reliant on being able to regularly recharge our electronic devices. Some trains have very few working plugs and fluctuating or low voltages. I suggest that you de-risk the possibility of limited train power and add a back-up battery to your packing list.

They come in various shapes and sizes. I use the Power Gorilla – it is big enough to store the power to recharge a phone or tablet several times and uses intelligent technology to charge devices up to 24 volts as efficiently as possible. It's a very rugged bit of kit, and suited to train travel. You can recharge it in a couple of hours.

3. A bag of cables

You never know quite what you might need until you realise you haven’t got it with you. I carry cables, spare cables and several plug adaptors in my bag. If I rented them out to other travellers I would be a rich man.

It might sound overly cautious, but I have yet to go on a trip where a cable or plug has not failed, so I tend to always carry a back up for each of my key devices. Bargain cables and connectors are not always good value if they let you down and quickly need replacing.

4. Cutlery & mug

You can buy simple sets of knife, fork, and spoon that lock together in most camping shops. Instead I sometimes carry a single titanium Spork and a small sharp knife for cutting meat and peeling fruit (read the rules for carrying any sort of knife in the places you will be visiting). Treat yourself to a metal mug with hollow insulating walls. These keep your drinks hot for longer, are almost indestructible, and are also easy to keep clean.

5. 'Point It' book

A simple but indispensable pocket book with pictures of loads of things you will not know the right word for in the local language or dialect. It’s much more reliable to use a picture than a phrase book, which might not translate in the way you intended!

6. Cards & trinkets

You will never know when you might need something to say “thank you” to someone you meet, or to put a smile on the face of an unhappy child. I carry postcards of my hometown, the wildlife, and the Royal Family, as well as some badges and key rings for just such a situation.

7. Portable hard drive

It can be a good idea to back up your priceless photographs to an extra device on the go, in case of the unlikely event that your flash card should fail. These days it is possible to just plug the memory card into a portable hard drive, even if you don't have a computer with you. Modern storage devices are also often wireless, and the memory can be so large that they can even stream movies stored on them to your other devices.

8. Herbs & spices

It’s worth assembling a range of sauces and seasonings to give your taste buds a boost after a few days on a long train journey. You can buy sachets and miniature bottles of most of your favourite condiments online. Trust me, you will feel like a gourmet, even in a poorly-supplied Russian restaurant carriage! I recommend that you store these in a small plastic box in case of accidental spillages.

9. A good map

Savour your progress across the world each day by bringing a map along. If you have marked your route on it in advance then this can be a great way to explain to people where you are going. By all means carry a blow up globe if you prefer, but it is unlikely to have the rich detail of local geography that a map will offer you. Marking one’s route and progress on a map is, to me, the very essence of being an explorer.

10. A pocketknife or multi-tool

I personally like to carry a Swiss Army Climber tool. It is quite a simple penknife, but has useful scissors in addition to a short blade and a vital corkscrew. Of course there are many more sophisticated models available, but bigger knives tend to cause security concerns in some places. Multi-tools are often more versatile, but their purpose can sometimes be misunderstood if your luggage is going to be frequently inspected.

It can prove difficult to choose which items deserve space on your packing list, but try to bring not just “essentials”, but also a few real luxuries. Don't forget that if it is important to you, it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks.

Matthew Woodward has recently returned from his third Trans-Siberian rail adventure, now having covered over 50,000km on the train from his home in Edinburgh, reaching Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo. His blog can be found at Toad's Travel Adventures.

Main image: On the train in Sabah, Borneo (Shutterstock)

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