Train travel in India Vande Bharat express

A 130 km/h Vande Bharat Express, as used between New Delhi & Varanasi.  Courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

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Around India by train

The best way to see India is at ground level on the incredible Indian railway system, not from 35,000 feet.  Experience the bustle of Indian railway stations and a comfortable journey on an Indian express train with the tea seller's cry of Chai, chai, garam chai wafting down the aisle.  Forget media images of crowded local trains with people sitting on the roof.  In an AC Chair Car or AC1 or AC2 sleeper on an express, all seats & berths are reserved and it’s safe, civilised, inexpensive & comfortable.  Even journeys such as Mumbai to Delhi or Delhi to Jaisalmer can be covered time-effectively by overnight sleeper, centre to centre, saving a hotel bill too.  Book Indian train tickets online at

small bullet point  Train routes & maps

small bullet point  How to check train times & fares

small bullet point  Which station in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Agra?

small bullet point  Classes explained: AC1, AC2, AC3, EC, CC...

small bullet point  Types of train: Mail, Express, Rajdhani, Shatabdi...

small bullet point  AVL, CNF, RAC & Waitlist (WL)

small bullet point  Quotas: General, Foreign Tourist, Tatkal

small bullet point  How to buy tickets online

small bullet point  How to buy tickets at the station

small bullet point  Tips for train travel in India: Luggage, food, security

small bullet point  Illustrated guide to the 11 classes on Indian trains

small bullet point  A recommended 2-week itinerary around northern India

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small bullet point  IndRail passes - now discontinued

small bullet point  Tourist cruise trains & the Palace on Wheels

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Page last updated:

13 June 2024

Train routes & maps

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Trains at a Glance

'Trains at a Glance' - train timetable for India

Once in India, you can buy the famous Trains at a Glance booklet for 100 rupees at bookstalls & railway stations.

Download for free

Click here to download the pages you need from Trains at a Glance for free.

Use the map to find which table you need. 

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How to check train times & fares

Tips for checking Indian train times

Which station in which city?

Example train times

 From Delhi to:

Train times:




New Delhi depart 06:00

Agra arrive 07:50.


Shatabdi Express - quality train, breakfast included

 Mumbai (Bombay)

New Delhi depart 16:55

Mumbai Central arrive 08:35 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, CC

Rajdhani Express - quality sleeper train, meals included.

 Kolkata (Calcutta)

New Delhi depart 16:50

Calcutta Howrah arrive 09:55 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, CC

Rajdhani Express - quality sleeper train, meals included.


Old Delhi depart 11:00

Jaisalmer arrive 05:30 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL

Shalimar Express - runs Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun

 Chennai (Madras)

New Delhi depart 21:05

Chennai arrive 06:15  (2 nights later).

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL, 2

Tamil Nadu Express


New Delhi depart 07:40 by Shatabdi

Express, change at Kalka, Simla 17:20

XC, CC then 1, CC.

By broad gauge train to Kalka, then Toy Train.


Delhi H Nizamuddin depart 18:25

Udaipur arrive 07:15 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL

Mewar Express

 Varanasi by day

New Delhi depart 06:00

Varanasi Junction arrive 14:00


Vande Bharat Express, a 160km/h streamlined electric unit.

 Varanasi overnight

New Delhi depart 21:15

Varanasi Junction arrive 08:05 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL, 2

Swatantrata S Express

Example fares from Delhi

 One-way per person, in rupees



AC Exec

chair Car




Chair Car





 Delhi - Agra by Shatabdi Express







 Delhi - Agra







 Delhi - Udaipur







 Delhi - Jaisalmer 







 Delhi - Varanasi overnight







 Delhi - Varanasi by Vande Bharat Ex





 Delhi - Mumbai by Rajdhani Express







 Delhi - Mumbai







 Delhi - Kolkata by Rajdhani Express







 Delhi - Kolkata







£1 = 105 Rupees, €1 = 90 Rupees, $1 = 82 Rupees.

Shatabdi Express = Premier daytime train, special fare payable, meals included.

Rajdhani Express = Premier overnight train, special fare payable, meals included.

Child fares on Indian trains since April 2016:  Children aged 0 to 4 inclusive travel free.  Children aged 5 to 11 inclusive travel at half fare if they do not take up a reserved seat or berth, but as from April 2016 they must pay the adult fare if they travel with their own reserved seat or berth.  I do not recommend that any child aged 5 to 11 travels without their own seat or berth in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair car or Sleeper Class, so this effectively means you must now pay the adult fare for children aged 5 and over.  Children aged 12 and over pay the adult fare in all cases.

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Classes explained

Which class to choose?

A typical Indian long-distance express or mail train

Above, a typical long-distance express or mail train with older carriages (not a premier Rajdhani or Duronto express).  You can just make out 3 cars in the centre of the train with different windows.  These are the AC cars, perhaps one AC1, one AC2 & one AC3 car.  The rest of the train is Sleeper class.  Courtesy of Albert Höchst.

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Types of train

Which train to choose?

Executive Chair class on a Vande Bharat Express   A Vande Bharat Express

Executive Chair (EC) class on a Vande Bharat Express.  These are India's most modern trains, capable of 160 km/h (100 mph) & used at up to 130 km/h (80 mph).  See courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip, see video of Varanasi-Delhi Vande Bharat Express.

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AVL, CNF, RAC & Waitlist

When do bookings open?

The remarkable Indian Railways system

Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC)

Waitlist (WL)

How likely is a given WL ticket to be confirmed?

The Vikalp scheme (ATAS)


How to check your current status

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General (GN) quota

Remote Location (RL) & Pooled (PQ) quotas

Handicapped, senior & ladies quotas

Foreign Tourist (FT) quota

Tatkal (TQ & PT) quotas

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How to buy tickets online

Option 1, buy at


Buy train tickets for Indian train tickets:  The painless option, accepts overseas credit cards, with no need to register at to buy India train tickets

Option 2, buy at for Indian train tickets:  Now accepts overseas cards.

How to register for an IRCTC account

How to buy tickets at

Option 3,,,

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How to buy tickets at the station

New Delhi International Tourist Bureau (temporarily closed)

New Delhi railway station International tourist train reservation bureau at New Delhi

New Delhi station Photos courtesy of Eric Barchas


New Delhi tourist reservation bureau.

New Delhi international tourist counter

New Delhi international tourist office New Delhi international tourist office

Entrance to Rail Reservation Centre.  The building is behind the trees.


New Delhi international tourist counter 124These photos courtesy of Martyn Cook.

Mumbai CSMT, formerly Bombay Victoria Terminus

A station to rival London's St Pancras, Mumbai CSMT is an attraction in its own right.  Completed in 1887, its full title is Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or (officially) Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, station code CSMT.  Known as Bombay Victoria Terminus until 1996 and still known as 'VT' by many, see

Foreign Tourist Counter:  At Mumbai CSMT you can easily buy tickets from the foreign tourist quota at the Foreign Tourist counter, counter 4 downstairs in the Reservation Centre at CSMT.  It moved from counter 20 upstairs in 2018, please let me know if it changes again.

Mumbai CMST, formerly Bombay Victoria Terminus Mumbai CMST, formerly Bombay Victoria Terminus

Mumbai CSMT, the former Bombay VT.  Photos courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

Mumbai CMST, formerly Bombay Victoria Terminus Mumbai CMST, formerly Bombay Victoria Terminus

Ticket hall.



Reservations centre, Mumbai CST Foreign Tourist counter, Mumbai CST

Mumbai CSMT reservation centre Photos courtesy of Tom Whitehead


The Foreign Tourist counter.

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Tips for train travel in India

Checking your reservation

  Train reservation lists are posted on platform noticeboards about 2 hours before departure...

The reservation lists posted on the platform at Agra Cantonment station.

  Indian Railway app
  Indian Railway Ixigo app

Use an app!

The reservation system is very efficient and the days of finding your reserved berth already occupied by several passengers are long gone.  Your train, coach & berth number will be printed on your ticket - unless you're travelling in AC1 in which case the reservation list with your allocated berth numbers is only compiled a 2-4 hours before departure.

Reservation lists for each class in each long-distance train are posted on the notice board at each station about two hours before departure, showing the name, age and sex of each passenger reserved in each berth in each coach.  The age and sex help the ticket inspector identify that the right passenger is in the right berth.  A reservation list for each coach used to be pasted next to the entrance door on the train itself, but this is no longer done.

If you need to check your reservation, you can do so on your phone or laptop by entering your PNR (= booking reference) a PNR status-checking website such as or, or using one of the Indian railways apps.

Download an app

I recommend downloading an app for your phone.  There are a bewildering number to choose from, some official, some 3rd party.  The official IRCTC apps seem unavailable outside India, so try these:

Indian Rail IRCTC for iPhone or Ixigo for iPhone.

Indian Rail IRCTC for Android or Ixigo for Android.

With these you can:

Check train schedules between any two stations.

Check a train's schedule at each of its calling points.  It also shows the train formation and carriage numbering to help you find your seat or berth.

Check your PNR status to see whether a Waitlisted ticket has become RAC or Confirmed.

Check real-time train running to see if your train is on time.

Check the platform for your train using the Live Station Info button, so you won't have to rely on the station departure displays to find your train.

Set a destination alarm to warn you a certain number of kilometres before your destination.

Luggage on Indian trains

Luggage is not a problem on Indian trains, you take your bags with you onto the train and place them on the overhead racks or underneath the lower berths.

The free luggage allowance is generous:  You can take to 70 Kg in AC1, 50 Kg in AC2, 40 Kg in AC3, AC Chair class or Sleeper class, 35 Kg in 2nd class seats.  Most western travellers are unlikely to exceed that, but if you really need to, you can pay an excess luggage fee and take up to 150 Kg in AC1 or 100 Kg in AC2.  However, the maximum is 40 Kg in AC3 or AC Chair class.

Theft of luggage is rare, but for peace of mind take along a bicycle lock or medium-sized padlock to secure your bags.  In the sleeping-cars, there are wire hoops hanging down underneath the seats to which you can padlock your luggage while you sleep.

Carriage numbers

  Carriage number

Carriage number A1:  The 'A' denotes AC 2-tier, the '1' shows it's AC 2-tier car number 1.  The wooden board above the 'A1' shows the train's origin & destination in Hindi, the board to the left of it shows it in English.  Courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

The carriage numbers shown on tickets, on reservation lists and on the side of each coach consist of a letter and a number, for example H1, A1, A2, B1, B2, S1, S2, S3 and so on.  The letter shows the class of accommodation in that car.

A = air-con 2-tier (2A).

B = air-con 3-tier (3A).

AB = composite coach, half air-con 2-tier, half air-con 3-tier.

C = air-con chair car (CC).

D = non-air-con 2nd class reserved (@S).

E = executive chair class (EC).

G & J are used for AC 3-tier & Air-conditioned Chair class on Garib Rath trains.

H = air-conditioned 1st class (1A).

HA = composite coach, half AC1, half AC2.

S = sleeper class (SL).

There's typically just one air-con 1st class sleeper on a given train, so that's usually numbered H1.  If there were two air-con 2-tier cars on a train, those cars would be numbers A1 & A2.  So if you booked an AC2 ticket you'd expect to be given a car number 'A1' or 'A2', if you booked AC1 you'd expect to be in car H1 or HA1.

Food and drink on Indian trains

  Meal on a Rajdhani Express

Dinner in AC1, included in the fare on the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express & served at your seat.  Courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

There are no restaurant or buffet cars on Indian Railways, but on long distance trains an attendant will appear in your coach and ask you if you would like to order food.  He will note down your order (usually a choice of 'veg' or 'non-veg') on a bit of paper.  An hour or so later he will reappear with some rice and curry in small foil containers from the kitchen car.  It is not expensive - you can reckon on £2-£3 per meal.  Attendants also regularly pass down each car selling soft drinks, snacks, or excellent hot sweet Indian tea (garam chai) for a few rupees.  On the premier Rajdhani Express trains (linking Delhi with Mumbai, Kolkata, etc.) and the premier daytime Shatabdi Express trains (linking Delhi with Jaipur and Agra, etc.), food is included in the fare, served at your seat.

Pre-order your food from a restaurant of your choice.  Alternatively, there are now several Indian websites that allow you to pre-book food to be delivered to your seat on the train from various vendors along the way.  If you have a confirmed train booking you can go to, enter your PNR, select a vendor you like the sound of who is located at a station where your train calls at a suitable time, and select specific items from their menu to be delivered to you on board the train at that station - reports so far have been very positive, but feedback is always appreciated!

Cleanliness, toilets & crowding

The efficient reservation system means that you can safely forget any pictures you've seen of overcrowded Indian trains with people on the roof or hanging on the side.  These these photos show suburban or local trains, or unreserved 2nd class on long-distance ones.  On fast long-distance trains in AC1, AC2, AC3, or AC Chair Class, all passengers have an assigned seat or sleeping berth so there's no overcrowding.  Don't expect pristine western standards anywhere in India, but you'll find AC1, AC2, AC3 and AC Chair class clean by Indian standards, with both western-style and squat toilets usually in a reasonably sanitary condition, see the train interior photos below.  On the other hand, Sleeper Class gets much grubbier than the AC classes and unreserved passengers can sometimes enter the coaches making it crowded.  2nd class unreserved can be incredibly crowded.  Toilets in sleeper class or basic non-AC 2nd class seats can leave a lot to be desired.

  AC2 sleeper on an Indian train

AC2 2-tier sleeper:  An AC2 bay of 4 berths.  There are more photos of what each class is like belowCourtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip

Safety & security

Indian trains are safe to travel on, even for families or women travelling alone, and you are unlikely to have any problems.  As in any busy place anywhere, pickpockets operate at the major stations (for example Delhi and New Delhi), so take care.  Oh, and be prepared:  If anyone tells you that your train is cancelled, that the ticket office has closed or has moved to a travel agency across the road, or your pre-booked hotel has burnt down or been abducted by aliens, please politely ignore them, even if they look 'official', to avoid ending up in a travel agency paying for a car and driver at vast expense, or booking their 'alternative' hotel which of course will luckily have a room available.  These are all well-known scams (yawn...) to get travel agency business, usually obvious to any regular India hand, but first-timers have been known to fall for them.

Do Indian trains run on time?

Indian Railways are generally remarkably efficient, but Indian trains do run late, sometimes hours rather than minutes.  To get a feel for it, why not go to either or and see how late yesterday's Delhi-Jaisalmer Express arrived, or last Thursday's Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express?  At, select the origin and destination that interests you, and bring up the train list.  Now find the train that you want and click on it.  Now select a date and click the 'train running status' button.  It will show you a table of scheduled times and actual times at each station.  Data is only held for the last few days, not weeks or months ago.  At, you simply enter the train number or name, then select from a list of possible trains.

Alternatively, these examples from my own travels may give you a feel for the likely delay:  Delhi-Varanasi overnight express spot on time, Bombay-Howrah Mail 1½ hours late, Chennai-Mumbai Chennai Express 40 minutes late, Kolkata-Delhi Rajdhani Express spot on time (Rajdhani Expresses get priority and are pretty punctual), Delhi-Agra Shatabdi Express spot on time (Shatabdi Expresses also get priority and are pretty punctual), Jaisalmer-Delhi Express 2 hours late starting and 3 hours late arriving, Delhi-Kalka-Simla Himalayan Queen spot on time, Varanasi-Agra-Jaipur Marudhar Express 50 minutes late, Chennai-Delhi Grand Trunk Express 1½ hours late.

Recharging mobiles & cameras

There are shaver sockets in most AC1/2/3 sleeper cars and many Indian trains now have power outlets for mobiles and laptops.  However, I never travel without an Anker powerbank which can recharge your phone several times over if you're on the move and can't get to a power outlet.

Other Indian train tips

Bring your own toilet paper.  You'll normally find one western toilet and one squat toilet at one or both ends of the car.  In AC1, AC2, AC Chair Class and even AC3 the toilets are normally reasonably clean by Indian standards, and in full working order.  Sleeper Class and 2nd class toilets may be a different matter!

Make sure you research when to visit India carefully - in summer it can be unbearably hot, and you also want to avoid the monsoon rains.  And in January & February in Northern India that there can be major disruption to road, rail & air due to thick fog, so bear that in mind.

Finally, forewarned is forearmed

In India, if someone asks which hotel you're going to, then announces that this hotel has been flooded, burnt down, or abducted by aliens, they are of course trying to get commission from sending you to another hotel - that's often painfully obvious and it's almost funny!  Smile, ignore them, and persist in walking to your own hotel, which will of course be open as usual.  But similarly, especially at big stations such as New Delhi, if an official-looking person (they may even show you a badge) says your train has been cancelled, or says you can't board without a boarding pass (with an e-ticket you can get on the train, there's no such thing as a boarding pass), smile, ignore them, walk past, and persist until you see the actual departure indicators and get your train.  If necessary, go and see the station master!  Although this has never happened to me, there are occasional reports of travellers being conned into buying new tickets from a nearby travel agency, being sent to a nearby travel agency when they wanted the genuine New Delhi foreigners booking office, or being conned into hiring a private car and driver for hundreds of dollars when they already had trains booked, which of course weren't really cancelled.  So smile, ignore, persist, go and see the departure boards with your own eyes, find and get on your train, and have a giggle about it later!  If you encounter any of this, feedback (and a good laugh) is always appreciated!

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The 11 classes on Indian trains

There are 11 classes of accommodation on Indian trains or at least, 11 different class codes in the system.  You can argue that 3E is a variation of 3A, EA a variation of EC and that 2S & GN are the same (both are 2nd class seats, one reserved, the other unreserved).  But that's still 8 classes!

Only a small selection of classes is available on any given train, a typical long-distance train might have one AC1 car, one or two AC2 cars, perhaps an AC3 car, then a long line of 6, 7 or 8 Sleeper class cars and maybe one GN or 2S car at the end.  But it varies, of course.

Here are the classes, in roughly descending order of cost, together with the usual 2 & 3-letter abbreviations.  A request:  If you get any clear interior photos of AC2, AC3 or Sleeper class which would better illustrate these classes, please get in touch!

Air-conditioned first class (AC1 or 1A)

AC1 is a comfortable and civilised way to travel, although it's only found on the most important long-distance trains and costs twice the price of AC2.  In AC1 you're typically mixing with bank managers and army officers.

A corridor runs down one side of the car, off which open a number of fairly spacious 4-berth & 2-berth sleeper compartments with washbasin, lockable from the inside.  All necessary bedding is provided, and berths convert to seats for daytime use.

You cannot specify that you want berths in a 2-berth rather than a 4-berth compartment when you book, nor will you be given specific berth numbers after booking, as specific berth numbers are only allocated by Indian Railways at charting, when berth numbers will be shown on a reservation list posted at the station and online if you check your PNR status.  Couples are normally given preference for the 2-berth coupés, families and passengers travelling alone are normally allocated berths in one of the 4-berth compartments, but of course this can't be guaranteed.

Click for car plans & berth numbering in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class.

AC1 2-berth sleeper   Rajdhani Express

Newer AC1 2-berth sleeper on a Rajdhani Express:  This is a 2-berth coupé on the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express, the car also has 4-berth compartments although you cannot choose which you'll be allocated.  Clean sheets, pillow and blankets are provided.  The better trains usually have more modern Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) cars like this  Photos courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip See larger photo.


Newer AC1 4-berth sleeper on the Darjeeling Mail:  Above right, a 4-berth compartment, also in a more modern Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) car, seen from the doorway from the corridor.  Photos courtesy of Nonstop EurotripLarger photo.

  4-berth AC1 compartment on the Bombay to Delhi Rajdhani Express

Older AC1 4-berth sleeper:  Above left, a spacious 4-berth compartment, looking towards the door into the corridor.  Older trains are usually now painted cream with red lining as shown here, using cars built by the Integrated Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai.  Photos courtesy of Peter Pitt & Nonstop EurotripLarger photo.

Air-conditioned 2-tier (AC2 or 2A)

AC2 is relatively clean & comfortable, with room to spread out.  It's the class typically used by middle class Indian families and a good choice for most western visitors.  AC2 is found on almost all decent long-distance trains including the premier Rajdhani & Duronto expresses.

AC2 offers padded leatherette seats by day which convert to flat padded bunks at night.  AC2 coaches are open-plan with berths arranged in bays of four on one side of the aisle (two upper, two lower, transverse across the car width), and in bays of two on the other side of the aisle, arranged longitudinally along the coach side above and below the windows.  If you're tall, you should book a transverse berth.

Each bay is curtained off for privacy, and an attendant distributes pillows, clean sheets and blankets in the evening.  Update:  Curtains were removed  as a Covid-19 precaution and may still be absent.

Click for car plans & berth numbering in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class.

AC2 sleeper   AC2 sleeper

AC2:  Looking from a bay of 4 berths across the aisle to 2 longitudinal berths, with all lower berths converted to seats.  Larger photoCourtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip


Bay of 4 berths in an AC2 sleeper.  The lower berth has been converted to a seat.  At night, the seat back folds down to form a bed.  Larger photoCourtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip

AC2 sleeper   AC2 sleeper   AC2 sleeper

AC2, aisle.  Larger photoCourtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.


AC2:  Bay of 4 in a more modern car.  Larger photoCourtesy of


Longitudinal berth.  You don't want one of these if you are tall.  Larger photoCourtesy of

Air-conditioned 3-tier (AC3 or 3A)

AC3 has a similar layout to AC2, but instead of upper & lower berths it has 3 tiers of bunks - upper, middle and lower - arranged in bays of six on one side of the aisle, and longitudinal bays of two - upper and lower - along the wall on the other side of the aisle.  As in AC2, an attendant distributes pillows, sheets and blankets in the evening.  Berths convert to seats for daytime use.

With 3 people sitting on each bench seat during the day rather than just 2, it feels a lot more crowded than AC 2-tier, and at night there is less height-space between each bunk - the top bunks are significantly higher up near the ceiling.  AC3 may lack the privacy curtains and individual berth lights usually found in AC2.  As in AC2, you should avoid the longitudinal berths if you are tall.  Still, if you find AC2 fully-booked, most western travellers will find AC3 an acceptable fall-back.  See car plans & berth numbering in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper ClassPhotos courtesy of Rachel Poschi.

AC3 sleeper   AC3 sleeper   AC3 sleeper aisle   AC3 sleeper side berth

AC3, bay of 6.


AC3, bay of 6.


AC3 aisle.


AC3 longitudinal berth.

Air-conditioned 3-tier economy (3E)

A handful of trains offer AC 3-tier economy, shown as 3E.  The only difference from normal AC3 is that  on the side of the aisle with the longitudinal berths there are upper, middle & lower bunks instead of just upper & lower as in 3A.

Executive Anubhuti chair car (EA)

This is only available on a few Shatabdi Express trains, very similar to Executive Chair class but with a few extra amenities such as seat-back TVs and legrests.

AC Executive chair class (EC)

AC Executive Chair Class is only found on the high-quality Shatabdi Express, Vande Bharat Express & Tejas Express trains.  Seats are arranged 2+2 across the car width, basic pre-packaged food & drink is included in the fare, served at your seat.  It's also known as First AC Chair class.  Seat numbering plan for AC Chair cars.

AC Executive Chair class on a Shatabdi Express

AC Executive Chair class on a Shatabdi ExpressCourtesy of Dan Stowell.

Gatimaan Express exterior   Complimentary snacks on a shatabdi

AC Executive Chair class on the Gatimaan Express, also a popular choice between Delhi (H.Nizamudin station) & Agra Cantonment.  Photos courtesy of Nonstop EurotripLarger photo.

AC Chair class (CC)

AC Chair class is a good choice for daytime journeys.  Comfortable & air-conditioned, they have seats arranged 2+3 across the car width.  AC Chair Class is found on the Shatabdi Expresses, Vande Bharat Express, the several Tejas Express trains and a number of other inter-city daytime trains, for example Delhi-Jaipur, Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Kalka for Simla.  Seat numbering plan, AC Chair cars.

AC Chair class on a Shatabdi Express

AC Chair class on a Shatabdi ExpressCourtesy of Dan Stowell.

Included meal in EC class on a Vande Bharat Express   A Vande Bharat Express

Meal included in the fare on a Vande Bharat Express.  Courtesy of Albert Höchst.

AC Chair Car class on a Vande Bharat Express.  Photo courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

Sleeper Class (SL)

This is the way the bulk of the Indian population travels on long-distance trains, but it's also used by many more adventurous backpackers who are prepared to take the rough with the smooth.  The majority of cars on a typical long-distance mail or express train will be sleeper class.

Sleeper class consists of open-plan berths, arranged in bays of 6 bunks (upper, middle and lower) on one side of the aisle, and bays of 2 bunks (upper & lower) along the coach wall on the other side of the aisle.  Bunks fold away to form seating for daytime use.  It's the same basic layout as AC3, but without the air-con and without any privacy curtains.  Bedding is not provided, so bring a sleeping-bag.

Sleeper class is found on almost all long-distance trains except for the premier Rajdhani & Duronto services.  Sleeper class can be crowded (although in theory all berths must be reserved, so it can't get overcrowded), and it's fairly grubby and basic.  On the other hand, you get a better view of the countryside then in AC coaches, where the windows are sealed, tinted and sometimes dirty.  In summer, there are fans on the ceiling and a breeze from the windows.  In winter, wrap up warm at night and take a sleeping bag and fleece, as it can get cold.    Berth numbering system, AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class cars.

Indian trains:  Sleeper class car   Interior of sleeper class

Sleeper class windows are fitted with bars to keep out intruders (there are several emergency exit windows). Each window has a glass pane & shutter, both of which can be raised/lowered. 

Sleeper class: Middle & lower berths have been folded away to form seats on this side of the aisle.  Berths are in night mode on the far side of the aisle.  Larger photo.

1st class (FC)

Traditional non-air-con 1st class has now almost disappeared, as Indian Railways have progressively phased it out in favour of AC 2-tier.  But for the record, ordinary first class consists of non-air-conditioned sleeper coaches with lockable 4-berth and 2-berth compartments, a similar layout to AC1 but without the AC.  Bedding is not provided, and it's much grubbier than AC1, AC2 or AC3 as it's not sealed against the dirt.

2nd class seats (2S = reserved or GN = unreserved)

Open plan cars with wooden or padded plastic seats, sometimes reserved and shown online as 2S, sometimes unreserved and shown online as either GN or II.  Not recommended for long distance overnight journeys (you'll see the huge scrum of Indians all trying to bag a seat in unreserved 2nd class), but quite acceptable for daytime journeys of up to a few hours if you're on a budget.

2nd class seats on an Indian train (2S)   2nd class sitting carriages

2nd class seating car.  Larger photo.  Photos courtesy of Albert Höchst

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IndRail passes:  Discontinued in 2017

Indrail pass agency SD Enterprises reports that Indian Railways discontinued the Indrail pass scheme at the end of 2017.  A quite incredible decision, given the difficulty of booking Indian train tickets.  You will now need to book an itinerary as point to point tickets, either through a reliable agency such as or online as above.

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Where to go in India

First-time visitors often wonder where to start in such a vast country and they're sometimes told to tour only a small area, for example stick to Rajasthan or perhaps the beaches of Goa.  But I suggest a bolder approach.  Use the remarkable Indian train network to see a varied cross-section of India's highlights, picking one example from each type of place:  A big city, a colonial hill station, a princely city or two in Rajasthan, then Agra of course for the Taj Mahal, and also Varanasi, the classic Hindu holy city on the Ganges.  This way, you'll see some incredible highlights and complete contrasts, with overnight trains minimising both daytime travelling time and hotel bills.

A suggested itinerary

Here's what I personally consider the best itinerary around Northern India, taking in an amazing variety of classic Indian cities in as little as 2 weeks.  Highlight after highlight in a 2-week itinerary.  If you have longer to spare, add an extra day or two here and there and/or add one more Rajasthani city, Udaipur.

How to book this itinerary

Option 1 is to arrange it all yourself.  First sketch out your itinerary, perhaps using the technique explained here.  Then book each train journey at (hassle-free, although naturally they charge a reasonable agency mark-up) or get yourself registered with IRCTC and book as explained here.  Then book each of your hotels separately using  This is the budget option, if you don't mind the legwork and managing it yourself.

Option 2 is to have it all booked for you, hassle-free.  I've arranged for train specialists Railbookers to offer this exact itinerary as a package, with trains, hotels, transfers (and if you like, your flight to India) all sorted for you.  This costs more than sorting it all out yourself, but it saves a lot of effort (and possible frustration) and as it's then a package, if anything affects one part of the tour Railbookers will sort things out for you.  Their suggested tour can be customised to your own requirements, to spend more or less time in each place.  Railbookers is an ABTA member and holidays including flights are ATOL protected.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600,

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

Alternative versions

Alternatively, just pick on big city, one hill station, a couple of cities in Rajasthan, and a couple of places from the 'other' list below and create your own itinerary.  How about:  Kolkata - (overnight sleeper train to New Jalpaiguri then the famous Darjeeling Toy Train) - Darjeeling - Varanasi - (overnight sleeper train) - Agra - (daytime train) - Jaipur - (overnight sleeper train) - Kolkata?

The big cities

Mumbai (Bombay)     

It's been described as London on acid, a wonderful sub-tropical parody of 1950s London.  Colonial banks and offices (complete with foliage sprouting from the roofs), red double-decker buses and Victoria Terminus (CSMT), a railway station to rival St Pancras.  If your budget will stretch, the place to stay is the famous Taj Hotel, right next to the Gateway to India.

Kolkata (Calcutta)

The former capital of British India, before it was moved to Delhi.  Lots of historic buildings, the famous Hooghly bridge, the Victoria Memorial, the site of the infamous Black Hole, well worth a visit.


India's capital.  Crowded Old Delhi with its Jama Masjid mosque and the famous Red Fort sits next to the new British-built capital with its elegant buildings designed by Lutyens.  Also visit the Qutub Minar (an ancient tower plus a strange iron pillar) and Himayun's tomb, a trial run for the Taj Mahal.

Chennai (Madras)

An even older colony than Bombay or Calcutta, in Southern India.

The royal cities of Rajasthan


The 'Pink City', and one of my favourite cities in India.  Roads full of trucks and camels.  See the royal palace, the old observatory and the famous Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds).  Make a day trip to Amber Fort a few miles away.  The Shahpura House Hotel gets good reports.


A fantastic and beautiful place, built around a lake with a royal palace overlooking the lake and another equally famous palace - now a hotel - on an island on the lake itself.  Not to be missed!  If you can't afford to splurge on the famous & luxurious Taj Lake Palace Hotel on the lake itself, the Lake Pichola Hotel is a great low-to-mid-price choice, very central and with its restaurant terrace overlooking the lake.  Also check out the Jagat Niwas Palace, also overlooking the lake.


A walled city in the desert full of beautifully carved temples, havelis (merchants houses) and palaces.  Probably the most amazing place in Rajasthan and perhaps India - don't argue, just go there.  It used to be one of the most time-consuming places to get to, being right next to the Pakistani border, but there's now a direct train from Delhi.  In Jaisalmer, the Mandir Palace hotel is absolutely wonderful, as long as you ask for an upstairs room.  The hotel was indeed once a palace, and the rooms are straight out of Arabian nights - yet remarkably cheap.


Another fascinating Rajasthani city, worth a visit for the fort overlooking the town.

Old Colonial hill stations


Arguably the most famous hill station of them all, up in the cool foothills of the Himalayas.  Mock Tudor houses and a church straight from the Home Counties.  Before dawn, take a vintage Land Rover to Tiger Hill to see the sunrise - you'll see Kanchenjunga in the distance, and on a clear day you can see Everest.  Pay your respects at the cremation site of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Everest fame.  To reach Darjeeling, take the overnight Darjeeling Mail leaving Kolkata (Sealdah station) at 22:05 and arriving New Jalpaiguri (NJP) at 08:40.  The famous narrow gauge toy train leaves NJP at 09:00 and arrives Darjeeling at 15:30 (Update June 2017:  The Toy Train was cut back from daily to running 3 times per week in 2016, but was restored to daily operation in May 2017).  Don't miss this spectacular trip to Darjeeling on the toy train - although buses are quicker, the toy train is a UNESCO world heritage experience but the buses certainly aren't!  If your budget will stretch, stay at the incomparable Windamere Hotel.  See 'a personal favourite' below.  If you can't get a reservation at the Windamere, try the Elgin Hotel instead.  Check the current operating status of the Darjeeling toy train at


Mock Tudor houses from a suburban town in Surrey, transplanted to the Himalayan foothills with an Indian bazaar tacked on the side.  In the days of the Raj, Simla became the capital every summer when Delhi (and before that, Calcutta) became just too hot.  Don't miss the journey to and from Simla on the narrow-gauge 'toy train', a spectacular trip up from the plains at Kalka up into the hills.  The daily 07:40 Kalka Shatabdi from New Delhi (AC Chair class and AC Executive chair class, breakfast included) connects at Kalka with the daily 11:55 toy train which reaches Simla at 17:20.  Alternatively, the 22:50 sleeper (AC1, AC2, AC3, sleeper class) from Delhi Junction arrives Kalka at 05:00 next morning.  The Shivalik Deluxe Express leaves Kalka at 05:30 and arrives Simla at 10:15.  The Shivalik Deluxe Express has plush 1st class armchairs and an at-seat meal service included in the fare - AC2 IndRail passholders can use this train (and enjoy the meal) at no extra charge.  I recommend the lovely colonial-style Clarkes Hotel.



A old colonial hill station, southern India-style, now also known as Udhagamandalam.  Take the overnight Nilgiri Express from Chennai (depart 20:15) to Mettupalaiyam (36km beyond Coimbatore) arriving 06:20.  Change for the 07:10 metre-gauge train, still steam-hauled, up to 'Ooty', where you arrive at 12:00.


A lesser-known hill station close to Mumbai, also served by its own hill railway from the mainline junction at Neral.

Other places to see


The Taj Mahal is an icon and well, it just has to be seen.  Two bits of advice for Agra:  first, don't plan to spend more time than necessary in Agra to see the sights.  One or two days is enough, then high-tail it to somewhere less touristy with fewer touts and less hassle.  But second, there's more to Agra than just the Taj Mahal.  The 'baby Taj' and Agra Fort are both well worth a visit.  And most importantly, the deserted royal city at Fatephur Sikhri, 40 km West of Agra, is superb and in many ways more interesting than the Taj.  Buses link Agra with Fatephur Sikhri every hour or so, trains run irregularly from Agra Fort Station.  If there's two or three of you, it's not too extravagant to hire a car and driver for a day or half day.


One of the holiest Hindu cities in India, on the banks of the Ganges.  This is one city that should really not be missed.  The upmarket Western tourist hotels are all in the new town well away from the old town and Ganges - to see the most of Varanasi, book a lower or mid-range hotel overlooking the Ganges, for example, the excellent Hotel Alka (it's clean, comfortable, has air-con, and I'm sure you can do without a fluffy bathrobe or complimentary slippers for a night or two!).


A famous and well-touristed temple complex (but without much else to see in the area) with erotic carvings in a remote location in North India.  Khajuraho now has a station, with an overnight train 3 times a week from Delhi's Nizamuddin station at 21:35 on Tue, Fri & Sun.  It  returns from Khajuraho at 18:15 on Mon, Wed, Sat.  Alternatively, you can use a bus or hire a car & driver from Jhansi, Kanpur or Allahabad.

Two personal favourites:  A ride to Darjeeling

A personal favourite is the ride to Darjeeling on the narrow gauge Darjeeling Himalaya Railway (DHR), and a night or two at the wonderful Windamere Hotel.  The DHR is now a UN World Heritage Site.

Travel from Kolkata's Sealdah station to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) on the broad gauge Darjeeling Mail, leaving Sealdah at 22:05 and arriving NJP at 08:15 next morning.  The Darjeeling Mail has AC1, AC2, AC3, sleeper class and 2nd class accommodation.  Then take the connecting DHR 'toy train' up to Darjeeling, leaving NJP at 10:00 daily, arriving Darjeeling at 17:30.  It's a long ride on a narrow gauge train, sometimes next to the hill road, sometimes through jungle, and sometimes through the streets.

You can check the current status of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway at - it has it's ups and downs, if you'll pardon the expression.

Some guide books recommend taking the bus from NJP to Darjeeling (a 4 hour journey, so much quicker than the 'toy train') and treating the railway as a theme park ride for a quick trip on a short section - ignore them.  Four hours on a bus is cramped, uncomfortable and hardly a UNESCO world heritage experience.  The leisurely day spent on the toy train through the Himalayan foothills will be one of the best you spend in India.  The daily 10:00 train from NJP is diesel-hauled except for certain days when the diesel is being maintained, but other services are still hauled by steam locomotives.

Once in Darjeeling, the place to stay is the Windamere Hotel.  Originally a boarding house for bachelor tea planters, it became a hotel in 1939.  Meals are served by white-gloved, turbanned waiters and eaten by candlelight to the sound of Cole Porter tunes on the piano.  Even if you can't afford it, make sure you come along for afternoon tea - probably the best cup of tea you will ever drink.

Seats car on the daily toy train from NJP to Darjeeling   The daily toy train from NJP to Darjeeling

The daily Toy Train from NJP to Darjeeling on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.  Photos courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

A ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

For much of the way, the line runs next to the hill road with wonderful views, at one point it runs around a loop to gain height.  At Kurseong, the train runs through the streets like a tram. Forget the bus, take the toy train.

The bar of the Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling   The lounge at the Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling

The wonderful Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling.  Photo courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

...and a ride to Simla.

A little bit more robust than the line to Darjeeling, the similar toy train up to Simla in the Himalayan foothills is the way to reach Simla, once India's summer capital.  Take a fast broad-gauge train from New Delhi to Kalka and change there onto the Toy Train up into the hills.  The train ride to Simla is one of Simla's highlights on its own.  If you get the chance, use the Shivalik Deluxe Express on the way back down from Simla (it connects with the overnight express to New Delhi going forward next day to Kolkata).  The Shivalik Deluxe has plush fabric-covered first class armchairs, and a meal is served at your seat, included in the price.  Although it gets dark as you descend, at stations without electricity the signalmen hand the single-line token to the driver whilst holding burning torches, the shimmering flames lighting up the side of the train.  It's wonderfully atmospheric.

Simla station   The Toy Train to Simla

Simla station.


A wonderful ride up to Simla on the Toy Train.

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Tours of India by train

The cheapest option is to arrange everything yourself, independently, but this takes time and effort.  If you want a customisable itinerary with all your train tickets, up-market hotels and transfers arranged for you, you can do this through train specialists Railbookers.  Their website has various example itineraries including a one-week Golden Triangle one visiting Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, but have a look at the suggested itinerary above covering Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jaisalmer & Simla as I think it's the best 2-week itinerary around northern India that you'll find, and I've arranged for Railbookers to offer it.  Railbookers takes good care of their clients and gets very good reviews.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600,

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

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Tourist cruise trains

There are now several luxury cruise trains catering for tourists and offering sightseeing itineraries around Indian cities.  All of these trains are in effect 5 star international hotels on wheels, allowing you to see India in great comfort.

The Palace on Wheels

Other luxury cruise trains

The Palace on Wheels is no longer the only cruise train in India, and it's not even the best.  Others have sprung up, though prices are sky-high.  Be warned that most of these companies quote a rate per night, not for the whole tour!

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International trains, buses & ferries

There are international trains to Pakistan & Bangladesh, and buses to Nepal.  Here's a quick summary:

  Closing ceremony, Atari on the Pakistan-India border.

The border closure ceremony at Atari.  You can attend this if you use buses or taxis to cross. Photo courtesy of Koen Berghuis.

  Travelling between India & Pakistan on the Samjohta Express train

The Samjohta Express crosses the India/Pakistan border.  Photo courtesy of Sudhir Mehra.

Delhi - Amritsar - Lahore, Pakistan

Delhi - Jodhpur - Karachi, Pakistan

Delhi to Kathmandu, Nepal

Kolkata to Dhaka, Bangladesh

India to Sri Lanka by ferry

India to Burma (Myanmar)

India to China

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Europe to India overland

Lonely Planet guidebook Istanbul to KathamnduEurope to India via Istanbul, Iran, Pakistan

Europe to India via Moscow, the Trans-Siberian Railway, Beijing & Lhasa

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Hotels in India

Personal hotel recommendations

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search: is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally use it to book all my hotels in one place.  I've come to trust's review scores, you won't be disappointed with any hotel that scores 8.0 or more.  Crucially, usually lets you book with free cancellation, which means you can confirm accommodation risk-free before train booking opens and/or you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when planning a trip.  I never book hotels non-refundably!

Tripadvisor hotel reviews is a good place to find independent travellers' reviews of the main hotels.  It also has the low-down on all the sights & attractions too.

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Flights to India

Overland travel by train around India is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But if you need a long-haul flight to reach India in the first place.

1)  Check flight prices at Opodo,

2)  Use Skyscanner to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines

skyscanner generic 728x90

3)  Lounge passes

Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think!  See

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For independent travel, the best guidebook to take is either the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.  I gave Sarah the Lonely Planet and Karen the Rough Guide and we road-tested both of them head-to-head across India.  The result was a tie, with similarly excellent levels of both practical travel information and historical and cultural background.  I personally prefer the Lonely Planet, but Karen preferred the Rough Guide.  Just make sure you take one of these two guides with you..!  If you buy anything at Amazon through these links, gets a small commission to help support the site.

Buy Lonely Planet India at   Buy Rough Guide India at

Lonely Planet India - Click to buy online   Rough Guide to India - Click to buy online

Alternatively, you can download just the chapters you need in .PDF format from the Lonely Planet Website, from around £2.99 or US$4.95 a chapter.

Also for your reading list

OK, so Rudyard Kipling's 'Kim' is a novel, not a guidebook - but you'll need a reading book for your trip, right?  Trust me on this - 'Kim' is a magical tale, that captures the feel of Northern India even today.  Buy Kim online - it costs all of about £1.25!

Once hooked, you'll probably want to get Peter Hopkirk's book, 'The Quest for Kim', which tells you about the real people and places on which the characters and places in the novel are based.  Buy 'The Quest for Kim' online.

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Travel insurance & other tips


Staysure travel insurance


Columbus Direct logo

Always take out travel insurance

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

UK flag offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & gets 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot.

UK flag is also a well-know brand.

US flag  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA. logo

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a mobile data package for the country you're visiting and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM card so you don't need to buy a physical SIM, including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data.


Curve card

Curve card

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month at time of writing.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:  1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than digging a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card, they'll give you £5 cashback through that link.


Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  Why you need a VPN

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I get a small commission to help support this site.


Anker Powerrbank

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, vaccination records and Interrail or Eurail passes are often held digitally on your mobile phone, so it's vital to keep it charged.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over if I can't get to a power outlet.  Buy from or from buy from


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