Travel Etiquette: By Train

Vintage Pullman Ad

No matter how glamorous the old movies I watch make train travel seem, I just can’t help but associate it with poverty. Until about 8 years ago Australia had no budget airlines. Living in rural NSW meant plane travel was absolutely out of the budget. Those with a pension card (like my single mother) were allowed to travel for free twice a year and in most cases kids under 13 also travelled free (or at a super low cost). I remember school holidays on the train filled with other bogan** families on their holidays, screaming kids, chaos and lots of drunk people. It wasn’t fun. While I don’t mind a short V-line (the trains servicing rural Victoria) trip I don’t think I could handle another XPT trip to Sydney.

That being said, in places like Europe, I can definitely see the advantage of train travel. They have multiple country/days passes that let you see so many places. I might take up train travel again if someone would be so kind as to purchase me a flight to Europe….

Vintage Train Travel

Train Manners

In a dining car on a day’s journey – especially on the Atlantic seaboard – you usually do not have to speak to your companion at table, beyond a possible ” May I have the salt, please?” But in a country hotel or on a transcontinental journey, if you happen to sit next to the same person for a number of meals, it is extremely snobbish and bad manners to sit in wooden silence. 

During the day in a sleeping car, the seat which faces forwards belongs to the occupant of the lower berth; the occupant of the upper berth rides backward. It would be an act of courtesy for the lady who has the right to the seat facing forward to ask her companion whether she minds riding backward – and if she does, to make a place at her side. The window seat would naturally belong to her – unless she prefers the other.”

– Emily Post’s Etiquette (1945 Edition)

There seems some pretty specific rules of train riding etiquette back in 1945 and I can’t help but think we could all use some more of it. The latest edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette seems to keep things a bit more simple…

On Seat Mates…

“Hogging space is a major breach of etiquette. Don’t put a suitcase on the seat next to you to keep another passenger from sitting there; use the overhead racks for your luggage. You may be sitting for hours with a seat mate so it’s nice to exchange a few pleasantries, but don’t spend the trip chatting unless the person is clearly interested.”

– Emily Post’s Etiquette (18th Edition)

Please, please brush up on your people reading skills before jumping on a train. Now you may be super chatty, but I am an introvert. I don’t like to spend a lot of time chatting. Some signs I am not interested are

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Very short responses to your questions (and then no engagement afterwards
  • I have headphones in
  • I am reading
  • I am asleep

I can’t tell you how often people try to talk to me when I have both headphones in and am reading. No need to be rude, but if the person clearly doesn’t seem to recognise that you aren’t interested a simple “I am really sorry, but I would really just like to sit and read my book quietly.” will do.

Vintage Train Ad

On Cell Phone Use….

“Unlike airline passengers, people on trains and buses are usually permitted to use cell phones. However, a growing number of train and bus lines are posting notices discouraging cell phone use. Some train services have introduced “quiet cars” where cell phones and other noise making devices are prohibited.

As in all public places or where there’s a captive audience, keep calls brief and speak quietly. No one minds calls advising others of delays and changes in schedules. Even then, try to move to the rear of the train car or wait for a rest stop when travelling by bus.”

– Emily Post’s Etiquette (18th Edition)

Personally I always, ALWAYS have my mobile switched to silent when I am on the train. It vibrates instead. Other peoples super loud annoying ring tones get in my head. I also would really love to not have to hear your fight with your other half while travelling. Other no-no’s include playing your music without your headphones in…not everyone is into women hating rap music believe it or not.

Finally some do’s and don’ts…

“• If you sit at one of the tables in the club car of a train, don’t monopolize it. Eat your meal, then return to your seat.
• If you prepack a meal or snack, be considerate of your fellow passengers and don’t choose things that have a strong smell or are likely to spill. And do clean up after yourself.
• Other than a quick swipe of lipstick or pass with a comb, take care of personal grooming in a restroom.
• When walking down the aisles, keep to the right if others are walking toward you. When you can, step into a vacant row when someone else is trying to pass.
• Watch your children. Don’t let them run about or bother other passengers.”

– Emily Post’s Etiquette (18th Edition)

Vintage Train Travel

Lastly a very important Q&A

If passing a woman in a narrow corridor of the train, what should I do so that she may pass without coming into close contact with me?

You step into an empty compartment if there is one, or, if there isn’t, you flatten yourself, face inward, against either wall.”

– Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette: Answers to Today’s Etiquette Questions (1956)

Miss Fairchild xoxo

Stay Tuned for more in the travel series….

** Edited to add – Definition of what a “Bogan” is can be found HERE

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17 Responses to Travel Etiquette: By Train

  1. nessbow says:

    I really adore this series. I’m a regular train traveller, and I wish that some of the people I’ve travelled with over the years had read this post. In particular, people who will try to carry on a long conversation with me when I’m trying to read. I don’t mind a few pleasantries, but some people don’t seem to understand that I’m happy just reading. Or that I’m not holding a book as a conversation-starter. I don’t want to be asked, “what are you reading?” “What’s it about?” “Is it any good?”. I just want to quietly enjoy the story.

    • Absolutely. If I am reading it’s because I want to read. It isn’t me trying to get someone to talk to me. It’s suppose to prevent people from doing just that LOL.

  2. My goodness what a great post! I’m gonna share this 🙂 I love all the images and the etiquettes! You are right though, I think Australia makes train traveling non-glamorous, but Eurostar is definitely completely different. To be able to get to Paris from London so quickly – amazing!

  3. oh gosh, some of the LOUD phone conversations people have on the train do my head in. You know the conversations where other passengers are looking at eachother, signalling strangers with those “WTF?” raised eyebrows? I was on the tram recently and a woman was boasting to someone on the phone about “you know what I’m like when someone says “don’t you dare” to me, I dare and I do it. So he said don’t you dare put that video on youtube and that was like a red rag to a bull to me so I said oh I do dare and I uploaded it when I got home and he was so pissed off, but I was all hey you know what I’m like so you shouldn’t have said don’t you dare”. And you just knew all the people around were thinking what an obnoxious bogan she was…

    I’ve been on a tram and bus where the driver had to tell some passengers to stop talking so loudly on their phones!

  4. Rosy says:

    So funny this post. It’s a shame that all these good manners are missing, I remember going by bus when I was about to give birth to my children and men sitting in seats undeterred, that I make the trip standing in the bus. Love those ancient customs ….

    • I was once on a packed bus heavily pregnant and only one person offered me their seat…at the very back of the bus. People actually sighed and sneered at me for pushing past. Grrrr people have no manners.

  5. Rosy says:

    Dear Miss Fairchild, I’ve linked one of your posts on my blog, just in my last post, I hope this is okay with you. Kisses.

  6. Teresa says:

    Train travel overseas is sooooooooo much better! I love it. The VLine is okay too… but yeah… definitely could be more glamorous! 😉

    All of these tips are great and I wish more people were this courteous.

  7. great photos and great advice. I love the idea of train travel but the reality is so often lacking.

    kate the old fashioned way

  8. erikaheidewald says:

    I love train travel! It’s definitely not classy anymore though, it’s usually pretty grimy. I kind of like that though – feeling like part of the moving human mass. It’s interesting. I do wish people would follow more of these etiquette rules – playing music out loud is one that I will never understand. It’s so rude!

    P.S. What’s a bogan?!?!

  9. The Quirky Quaintrelle says:

    Perfect timing with this post as I’m off on hols next month and part of the trip is Adelaide – Perth via train! Thanks for the pointers, gorgeous girl xo

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