I like to think of myself as a pretty seasoned traveler. I’ve been around. I’ve stayed in hostel dorms, on couches, in sketchy neighborhoods. I’ve traveled solo quite a bit as well. Trains have always been one of my favorite ways to travel. It’s a cheaper option than flying and less of a hassle. Even if it takes a little longer, getting to and from the stations is always more convenient. And besides, it allows you to mingle with more local clientele while catching some awesome landscapes through the window.
But I got on the wrong train several times. When I did a two month stay in Germany and France I bounced from city to city and met up with friends along the way. This gave me ample opportunity to enjoy the inter-European rail system and make plenty of mistakes.
Going from Hamburg to Cologne I arrived early and went to the little supermarket in the main station to pick up a sandwich, some juice, and a Ritter Sport (heck yeah!). That’s my main tip for trains– always stop at the supermarket for some snacks ahead of time, food they sell on the train is more expensive. Most bigger stations have a market in them if you don’t have time to go to another one and you’ll need a few treats to get you through a 4-6 hour ride.
So, I had snacks, a paperback, and my luggage. I was waiting on the correct platform, ticket in hand. My train was late. It was announced as having a short delay. Finally, it arrived. I bid my friend farewell and hopped on board. I found a seat and settled in by the window to get comfortable.
About an hour into the ride someone finally came to my car to check tickets. She said to me, “You’re on the wrong train.”
Apparently, there had been a last minute track change. My late arriving train was swapped to the opposite track and another train was redirected to my original track. I was told to wait and the lady coordinated some things. She came back, took my ticket and started writing on it. She directed me to get off at a different station and then wrote a train that would be arriving shortly after that would take me to my destination. I took advantage of the free wifi on the train to contact my friend in the next city to let her know what happened.
I made it to my destination (a little late), but intact. I’d like to say that I didn’t make any more mistakes, but segmented train stations in France, more platform changes in Germany, and the generalized disorientation that comes from travel conspired against me. In the end though, it was an important lesson. I was fine. These mistakes didn’t ruin my experience or put me in mortal danger. Besides, I got to see some lovely countryside along the way. It proved my theory of train travel being less hassle wrong. It proved my assumption that European rail travel (especially in Germany) would be orderly and efficient, completely wrong.
It tested my personal resources. And it didn’t end up destroying my love of trains anyway. It’s still a great way to see the countryside and travel within the continent. But of course, trains let you interact with a lot more people with fewer security measures, so be sure to take precautions. And if you make some mistakes while traveling, know that you can recover and don’t let it ruin your trip.