It’s easier to be a travel blogger than it is to take public transport in Sri Lanka. And this is saying a lot since I absolutely love taking the bus or train. Photoshop skills help because then you don’t actually have to visit a place to blog about it (and by blog, I do also mean Instagram Stories and whatever else the kids are up to these days). It helps to have a personal photographer, preferably someone who knows a thing or two about filters. But besides a few basic skills, you don’t really need much to become a travel blogger.
Because I’m supposed to be putting more effort into doing things I love (writing) and I consider myself quite the expert travel blogger (don’t challenge this. I’ve looked at a minimum of two dozen travel destinations this year alone), I thought of sharing some of my wisdom with you.
Travelling by train is an excellent way to reduce the cost of a trip and drastically increase travel time. Trains can take you to a lot of places and the rest can be travelled by bus, tuks, or foot. It’s convenient and fun. And the biggest perk of train travel is that you have access to a bathroom (good news for those of us with tiny bladders). No more hoping the bus would speed up so you can go pee or get your vehicle to stop by a somewhat deserted area so you can go behind a bush.
So if I’ve managed to convince you to take the train to your next holiday destination, here are some tips to surviving a long-distance train journey.
1. Reserve tickets in advance
Not all trains come with a reservation option (no, not even if you pester or sweet talk some poor man at the Fort Railway Station) but some do. If you don’t want to run to the train and fight for good seats, make a reservation in advance. If I remember correctly, a single connection can only book tickets worth up to Rs. 4,000.
If you reserve tickets via your mobile service provider, be sure to take down the reference number they give and not be a gob and go to the collection centre with the hotline number you called instead. If you are bad at talking over the phone, make a note of your travel dates, destination, and number of travellers before dialling. Also be sure to double check the route (apparently, you have to take the Colombo-Batticaloa train to Pasikudah and not the Colombo-Trincomalee train). You can also just go to Fort and reserve tickets. The people there are quite helpful.
If you can’t reserve tickets or waited until the last minute so now have to take a chance with regular tickets, get to the station early. For Batticaloa, we were told the tickets are sold an hour before time of departure.
If you are travelling with a few others, go in separate directions. Find seats to accommodate your group and gather the troops. Invest in walkie talkies for higher success rates of finding the best seats.
2. Plan your meals and snacks
If you are taking the night mail, you will need dinner and breakfast (depending on your destination). For dinner, short eats, sandwiches, etc. would do, but breakfast is tricky since most food goes bad overnight. The solution is to take a slightly unhealthy path with manioc (chips), kadala (easily found in cocktail mixture), and biscuits.
If you are travelling during the day, you will be constantly hungry. We recommend ¾ savoury and ¼ sweet items. Marshmallows and kisses are great, cake cravings are real, and Tipitip is the best. Those tiny packets of biscuits are excellent too. Remember to pop your snack packets in advance if you are headed to the hills.
Put all the snacks into a big bag and keep it with you. Have another bag for all the trash that will accumulate. Don’t be the asshole that throws plastic out of the train. Once you get to your destination, get rid of the garbage in a responsible manner.
Note: If you are travelling to an area that doesn’t have a fancy supermarket, take your snacks and beverages to be consumed during your stay with you but don’t dig into them in the train.
3. Stay hydrated
Carry plenty of water with you, but it’s easier to have a small bottle with you and a large bottle in your main travelling bag. Trains have a few long stops during which you can refill your bottle as needed.
We also recommend a citrus or ginger drink because by the end of the trip, you will feel grubby and dirty and only ginger or lime can make you feel a bit better about yourself.
4. Don’t forget toilet paper
Listen, train toilets smell. You can’t travel without that occasional whiff of piss. But unless a fellow passenger was hit by explosive diarrhoea, the toilets are somewhat clean. If there’s anything that needs washing, carry a bottle of water with you. Take toilet paper too. Waiting for a long stop at a main station is ideal for a bathroom break because you don’t want to accidentally make contact with the toilet seat.
Keep the toilet paper near you when seated because most of the snacks listed above require hand wiping. We recommend having wet wipes and hand sanitizer too with you but we’ve never remembered to take them during our many (two) travels.
5. Sleepy times
The night mail is perfect if you want to sleep on your way to the destination so that you get there ready to go exploring or whatever. It’s nice to have at least one journey during the day (preferably return). You can sleep during the daytime train too, depending on the crowd and route.
Ways to keep yourself occupied during the journey include:
Talking with your friends
Listening to music
Enjoying the scenery
Watching a movie
If you are taking the night mail or travelling to a colder part of the country, carry a hoodie or jacket with you. Wear your comfiest pants. If you wear a bra, sports bras make things a tad bit more comfortable.
While shoes can be annoying, we’ve always worn them so that no toilet water gets on our feet. It also hurts less when people stomp on your feet.
7. Personal space? Wat dat?
From stinky men standing right next to you to conveniently oblivious achchis taking up ¾ of the seat, there’s no such thing as personal space in the train. If you sit by the window, you are lucky but if not, prepare to have vendors and passengers bumping into your shoulder every few seconds.
We have no tips on how to survive this. Sorry!
If you take these tips to heart, taking a long-distance train will be as easy as becoming a travel blogger, so book that hotel, take that train, enjoy your holiday, and stay safe.