Crossing India by train: 9 handy tips

I really love train rides and will always try to cover as much distance as possible by train. In a train you always have a toilet, you can walk around and I just feel safer on it than on the road. Plus… the view is usually stunning. Train travel is the way to really take in a country. So that’s what we did.

Here are 9 handy tips for train travel in India.

1. Book your tickets in advance

We crossed Northern India almost completely by train… and we were not the only ones. We found out that tickets for popular routes needed to be booked well in advance (around a week upfront), even for 3rd class. 

2. Book your tickets online

We always booked our ticket online via the Indian Railway website, which worked like a charm.

  1. Officially you need an Indian phone number (so SIM card) to create an account but we managed to create one from home by contacting the help desk ( and by sending them a copy of my passport. They are super friendly and answer very quickly.
  2. Later when we actually got to India we got an Indian phone number and added it to the account. Don’t forget to add an Indian address to the account so you’ll be able to pay by credit card.
  3. Whenever you booked a ticket you received an SMS to show on board and that’s it.

Pro’s of booking directly online: 

  • You can see all the trains going to a specific destination (and their different classes) and run through them all to see which one has still seats available.
  • No commission to pay to a travel agent.
  • You can see if there’s a waiting list (WL) or not: if there is, it’s still worth buying a ticket if there aren’t more than 5 people “in line” before you: because the cancellation fee is low a lot of people still cancel their ticket on the day of departure and when you are on the WL you can get theirs. You can check the progress you’re making online.

3. Take advantage of the “tourist quota”

On the super popular routes you can also get a “tourist ticket” which you need to buy in a special ticket office (not at the station). On certain lines they reserve a certain amount of tickets for foreigners. In Kolkata this office is at “Fairlie Place”.

4. Not all trains are announced on digital boards at the train station

If you can’t find your train on the digital boards look for a marker board where trains are penned on. You’ll probably find them near the ticket counter.

5. Sleeper class is the way to go during the day

Sleeper class or 2S is just fine during the day. When you’re in sleeper class try to reserve the side berths. On the side you only have 2 berths instead of 3. The lower berth transforms into 2 seats and you can use the top berth to put your luggage on.

6. If you like your privacy at night, sleep in 3AC or 2AC

In sleeper class you don’t have any curtains or sheets so I preferred 3AC or 2AC at night. 2AC turned out to be a bit easier when you have a lot of luggage: there’s one person less who needs to store his stuff underneath the lower berth.

7. Smell the sheets

Sheets may look worn but they are always washed (you get sheets from 3A up), you can smell it.

8. There’s always a Western style toilet on the train

There’s in fact one western style toilet in each wagon: look for labels on the door. If you are lucky there is toilet paper as well (but bring a roll to be sure).

9. There’s always a toilet in the station

You won’t find a sign for toilets in the station, they are always placed inside the waiting rooms.

  • Raj Kumbh

    October 2, 2014 at 7:23 am Reply

    IRCTC website is best to book online tickets. It is quick and easy and travel to anywhere in India.

  • Laura

    October 14, 2014 at 2:37 am Reply

    Yes I know it works like a charm, I loved getting everywhere by train! 🙂

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