Train going over the Devil's Nose in Ecuador

The Devil's nose, Ecuador. Courtesy Colin Hodgkinson

Train travel in Mexico, Central & South America

Unlike in Europe, or parts of Asia or Africa, there's no real coherent international rail network, and most journeys must generally be made by long-distance bus or plane..  Indeed, most countries have no coherent national rail network.  But here and there you'll find odd rail lines that make an interesting way to travel and are worth knowing about. 

small bullet point  Argentina

small bullet point  Bolivia

small bullet point  Brazil

small bullet point  Chile

small bullet point  Colombia

small bullet point  Ecuador

small bullet point  Mexico

small bullet point  Panama

small bullet point  Paraguay

small bullet point  Peru (opens in separate page)

small bullet point  Uruguay

More information...

If you have any information, feedback or photos that would be relevant to travellers in South America, please e-mail me.

Europe to South America by sea

There are no regular passenger ships from the UK or Europe to Central or South America.  If you have the time and money, it's possible to cross the Atlantic from Southampton to New York with Cunard, catch an Amtrak train from New York to New Orleans then somewhere like El Paso, followed by buses down through Mexico.  See the United States page for more information.  Alternatively, some freight ships have a limited number of passenger places, and there may be the occasional cruise especially in spring & autumn when cruise ships relocate across the Atlantic. 

For Europe-South America cruises, try on 0800 408 6200 or on 0800 093 0622.

For travel by freighter, the best place to start your research is  UK agencies booking travel on cargo ships include &

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Train travel in Argentina

There are InterCity services on quite a number of routes.  Trains in Argentina are experiencing something of a revival, since the government intends to re-establish long-distance passenger trains between all major cities.  The network or British & French-owned lines was nationalised in 1948, re-privatised in the 1990s and renationalised again in 2015.

El Tren a las Nubes

Buenos Aires - Mar Del Plata

Buenos Aires - Rosario

Buenos Aires - Rosario - Cordoba

Buenos Aires - Rosario - Tucuman

Sleeper compartment on the Tucuman to Buenos Aires train   Catering car on the Buenos Aires -Tucuman train

Sleeper on the train from Buenos Aires to Tucuman...


Catering car on the BA to Tucuman train.  Photos courtesy of Nils

Buenos Aires - Bahia Blanca

Carmen de Patagones - Viedma - S.C. de Bariloche 

  • Traveller Stephen Hugget reports from 2008I travelled on the Viedma to Bariloche train 'tren patagonico'  in January on a ticket I bought locally, which involved a great deal of pot luck... There is no mechanism for online ticket purchase and any emails to the website result in asking for payment for reservations by Western Union. I resisted the temptation to part with £25 plus an additional £12 for the pleasure of transferring the money and was rewarded by an outstanding 18 hours in economy for £4.  The experience was no worse that getting a train into Cannon Street in the rush hour, it just lasted longer!  However, your webpage suggests that the above Camen de Patagones to Bahia Blanca line is closed.  The tourist office in Viedma where I managed to get my ticket in January 2008 insists you can still get from Buenos Aires to Carmen by train along the line via Bahia Blanca....  although I didn't ultimately use the line the lady in the shop was adamant that it is open.


The Tren Patagonico...

Photos courtesy Malcolm Green




Restaurant car...

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Train travel in Bolivia

The WaraWara slow train from Tupiza to Oruro.  Photo courtesy of 's'

There are a few train services in Bolivia, operated by two train companies, eastern and western. 

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Train travel in Brazil

Vitoria - Belo Horizonte:  Intercity train services operate on one route, from Vitoria to Belo Horizonte (see map).  This train is cheaper and more comfortable than a bus.  It leaves daily at 07:00 from Vitoria and 07:30 from Belo Horizonte, arriving at its destination around 19:30-20:00.  The train has two classes,  Executivo is the best with AC and aircraft-style seating with a decent amount of legroom or Econômica.  There's a restaurant car, although the food does not get good reports.  Operated by the most prosperous freight railway in Brazil, the journey is very scenic and it's a pleasant way to spend a day.  The most scenic section is towards the Belo Horizonte end of the trip, so you'll see more of this in daylight if you start at the Belo end, travelling in the Belo to Vitoria direction.  The train information part of their website is (the English version appears to omit the train info, so stick with Portuguese and remember that 'preços' is prices and 'horarios' means 'timetables').

Cafe on train from Vitoria to Belo Horizonte, Brazil   Seating on train from Vitoria to Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Cafe car on the Vitoria-Belo Horizonte (Minas) train. Photos courtesy of Jorge Degrazia Sarturi


View from the train... Photo courtesy of Pietro Ferreira.

Seating on train from Vitoria to Belo Horizonte, Brazil   Seating on train from Vitoria to Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Executivo class...

Photo courtesy of Pietro Ferreira.


Economica class...

Photo courtesy of Pietro Ferreira.

Traveller Pietro Ferreira reports:  "The Vitoria-Belo Horizonte journey is indeed a wonderful way to spend the day.  If you are travelling on weekends, it is highly advisable to buy your ticket two or three days in advance, as they may sell out quickly. Executive-class cars are comfortable and silent, although somewhat cold. Meals are charged separately and can be served at your seat. Drinks trolleys are frequent and are available on both classes. A great way to spend your time is to stand in the smokers area, where large windows are kept open throughout the journey. It is also a nice place to engage in conversation with other travellers."

The other operating train is a steam tourist oriented train but it offers transport in between two important Brazilian tourist towns, Sao Jao del Rei and Tiradentes.  The steam train makes a nice alternative to the bus. The trip takes an hour and is about 20km. It runs daily leaving Sao Jao del Rei at 10:00 and returning in the afternoon. The train ticket gives free entry to the train museum at the station in Sao Jao del Rei.  Internet info:

There is now no train service at all between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  There's a list of all Brazilian train services (regular and tourist-orientated) at

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Train travel in Chile

The Chilean state railways official website is, although for passengers trains use

Traveller Kalle Michielsen reports from the Santiago-Concepcion night train (2023):  "The train itself had 6 passenger cars, 2 Salón Turista, 1 Súper Salón, 2 Preferente and, to my surprise, a restaurant car. The price seems to fluctuate a bit depending on the departure date, but is around 22.000 pesos for Salón Turista, 26.000 pesos for Súper Salón and 32.000 pesos for Preferente. I decided to get a Preferente seat. The Súper Salón seemed most popular by the locals, and was sold out. Additionally, there were some large ancient cars at either end, though I have no clue what their purpose was. Just after departure, an attendant gave an extensive explanation of on-board rules to all participants. As most things in Chile, everything was in Spanish and you should not expect the staff to speak English. Most people were carefully listening and did not seem acquainted with train travel at all, quite an interesting contrast to Europe. Afterwards, a pillow and small blanket was provided. At around midnight the lights were lowered and everyone tried to keep quiet. The Preferente seat was quite comfortable, with a significant recline (though not completely flat). It also has electricity outlets (Type L, like in Italy) and a tray hidden in the armrest. I did not have time to explore the restaurant car or other classes, though it seemed like the restaurant car was open all night with drinks and snacks. The ride itself started smoothly, however the last section to Concepción is less well maintained. As the complete journey is in darkness I can’t say anything about the view, but I am quite sure that it would be spectacular during daytime hours, especially when the tracks follow the Biobío river. The arrival in Concepción was a tad chaotic, as the platform was not large enough for the train, so the last two carriages all had to go to the front to get off. The platform itself was a hole-filled mess, but it seems like they are working on fixing it."

Traveller Douglas Clark reports (2014):  "I took the Terrasur train from Santiago (confusingly, listed as Alameda on the online booking system).  This is an excellent service with two classes - standard and Preferente.  The train consists of a three-car electric unit with one carriage of Preferente stock in a 2+1 seating format.  There is then a standard carriage that features a cafeteria and then another open standard 2+2 carriage.  There are two services a day to Chillan, one leaving at 0840hrs and the other at 1830hrs. The Preferente seating is extremely comfortable with wide, well-upholstered seats that recline fully.  There is an at-seat service of refreshments in Preferente (for which you pay the normal cafeteria prices).

I tried to book my tickets to Talca and return online but the site rejected my credit card. In the event, I was glad I had to go to the booking office at Alameda station on the morning I was intending to travel. The cost of a return ticket online was 44,000 CLP (about£46) whereas at the station I was able to buy Promo fares that reduced the return ticket price to 19,000 CLP.

I stayed overnight in Talca so that I could catch the 0730hrs train the next morning to Constitucion.  I got to the station a little before 0700hrs and just as well that I did as there were few tickets still available to non-residents at that time.  Residents get priority on the train and you can only buy tickets in the couple of hours before the train departs.  The train was full to capacity when it left Talca and we picked up lots of passengers en route.  I travelled on a Sunday morning and after leaving the station at Gonzalez Bastia we picked up people at lineside halts most of the way to Constitucion - local farmers who were bringing produce to the Sunday market in Constitucion.  Long before we arrived at our destination the train was overflowing with people standing in every available space and with baskets full of tomatoes and other vegetables.

I had intended to take the train back to Talca. I turned up at the station in Constitucion at about 1430hrs, two hours before the train was due to leave, only to find a notice on the door of the closed station to say that were no spaces available to Talca on the train that afternoon.  Fortunately, the bus station is right by the railway station and there are several bus companies offering services to Talca. I was able to get a space on the 1515hrs PullmanSur bus to Talca for about the same price as the train and was transported by air-conditioned bus (in contrast to the rickety Buscarril) in a little under two hours (the train takes 3.5hrs).  However, the Buscarril is an experience as the last branch line in Chile.  The train trundles through a part of Chile that you would not otherwise see - along the Maule River valley - where there are no proper roads. For the sparsely-scattered communities along much of the line, the train is the only transport link that they have. 

I am so glad I managed to travel by train in Chile. It is such a pity that the rail network has been allowed to decay as it has: the coaches that ply frequently between the towns and cities provide an excellent service but there is no comparison with the Preferente class on the train. Unfortunately, the train is much slower than the coaches as the Chileans have invested heavily in the road system, whereas the rail network has been allowed to decline. There are signs of a revival, at least in the suburbs south of Santiago, where new track is being laid and new stations built for what I assume is to be a new fast suburban rail service by MetroTren. I think this should also allow the acceleration of the Terrasur service to Chillan, as many level crossings are being closed with overbridges and underpasses replacing them. Who knows how much longer the Buscarril service will operate? There were rumours when I was in Chile that the government is considering withdrawing the subsidy that allows the Buscarill to operate. That would be a pity - the line is not really marketed as a tourist attraction but it could become a well-used one. I would estimate that about 75% of the passengers from Talca were tourists, almost exclusively Chileans."

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Train travel in Colombia

There are few working railways in Colombia, after the State rail operator went bankrupt a few years ago.  However, a useful tourist train links Bogota with Zipaquira, where the salt cathedral is not to be missed.  The train makes a daily round trip at 08:30 from Estación de la Sabana in Bogota, with time in Zipaquira and Cajica.  For times, fares & online booking see

Traveller Sebastien Ferenczi reports: "It's a touristic train, but aimed at tourists, not railway buffs, as it's the best way to visit the tourist attractions of Zipaquira, famous for its salt cathedral listed as "not to be missed" by Lonely Planet, which is how I found the existence of the train. All information is on their website I used the train in June 2013. With only a short week-end in Bogota, I tried the online booking but they refused my credit card. So on saturday afternoon I rushed to La Sabana station where I grabbed one of the last seats, not on the steam train which was already full, but on the Autoferro they put as a relief train (technically, a two-car dmu pulling two more cars, quite comfortable). Touristically, this was even better as it left Bogota later (9.15) and left more time in Zipaquira. The train was full of local families, the trip was pleasant and Zipaquira is a very nice place, otherwise reachable only by crowded local buses or expensive taxis.
In Bogota, La Sabana station is close to the district of La Candelaria where all tourists stay, and served by the Transmillenio express bus network; a stop is also made at Usaquen to serve the "beaux quartiers" of Bogota."

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Train travel in Ecuador

The famous 446 km Guayaquil to Quito railway was completed in 1908, and was described even then as The most difficult railway in the world in terms of the Andean landscape through which it passes.  The line rises from around sea level at Duran (across the river from Guayaquil) to over 2,500 metres above sea level at Quito, with parts of the line above 3,000 metres.

Landslides blocked the line in the 1990s and for some years only parts of the route remained operational with occasional tourist trains.  However, the line was rebuilt and in summer 2013 the whole line reopened, offering a 4-day 3-night cruise train from end to end.  Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, Ferrocarril Ecuador went bust in October 2020 and operations ceased.  Money is being raised to perhaps resume operations in 2023.

Train times, routes, prices used to be at .

The route:  The main line runs Quito (0km) - Machachi (45km) - El Boliche - Latacunga (110km) - Ambato (149 km) - Riobamba (223 km) - Palmira (298 km) -  Alausi (321 km) - (Devil's Nose) - Sibambe (334 km) - Yaguachi - Duran (446 km, just across the Guayas River from Guayaquil). 

For background information on the amazing Quito-Guayaquil railways, see de Ferrocarriles Ecuatorianos. For a route map, see

Tourist train from Alausi over the Devil's Nose in Ecuador   Autoferra train over the Devil's Nose in Ecuador, on the Quito to Guayaquil railway.

The 08:00 and 11:00 tourist trains from Alausi over the famous 'Devil's Nose' consist of wooden carriages hauled by a locomotive (pictured above left).  The 15:00 train may also be like this, but if there aren't enough passengers it may be an 'autoferra', pictured above right.  Photos courtesy of Colin Hodgkinson.

Train going over the Devil's Nose in Ecuador   Going over the Devil's Nose on the Quito to Guayaquil railway.

Going over the Devil's Nose on the tourist train in Ecuador.  Photos courtesy of Alex Michaels

Devil's Nose viewpoint   Sibambe station

Above left, the train stops at a Devil's Nose viewpoint. Above right, Sibambe station.  Photos courtesy of Matthew Perret.

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Train travel in Mexico

Mexico used to have a good train service linking all major cities, with restaurant cars, sleeping-cars and observation cars, many inherited from the USA.  Sadly, the Mexican government pulled the plug on almost all long-distance passenger train service in the 1990s, leaving buses and planes the only way to get around Mexico, apart from a couple of services in remote areas such as the famous scenic Copper Canyon service.  However, a new network called Tren Maya started operating with modern trains in 2023, and it's due to expand.  For a summary of remaining Mexican train services see

Tren Maya

The first section of a modern train network around the Yucutan peninsula opened in late 2023, for a map and details see (in Spanish, use Google translate).

Ferrocarril Interoceanico

A new railway service started in December 2023, crossing Mexico from Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state on the Atlantic coast to Salina Cruz on the Pacific.  It uses ex-Amtrak cars and even some second-hand British Intercity 125s.  Trains seem to run every second day, once a day.  See (in Spanish, use Google translate).

An Intercity 125 in Mexico

A former British Rail Intercity 125 in Mexico, interiors unchanged from service with LNER.  Courtesy of Stellan Danielsson.

Mexico's Copper Canyon Train from Chihuahua to Los Mochis

The famous Copper Canyon train from Los Mochis to Chihuahua deserves a special mention.  In fact, there are two trains, the tourist-orientated Chepe Express 3 times a week between Creel & Los Mochis with Executive & Tourist class, and the Chepe Regional all the way between Chihuahua, Creel & Los Mochis 3 times per week with Regional Tourist & Economy class.   For times and prices see  There's no online booking, but their website gives phone numbers and email addresses.  You should book several months ahead in high season (July-August, Christmas & Easter).

On board the Copper Canyon train in Mexico   Scenery on the Copper Canyon train ride, Mexico   Scenery on the Copper Canyon railway, Mexico

An armed guard on the Copper Canyon train... 


Copper Canyon:  Superb scenery on Mexico's Copper Canyon train.  Photos courtesy of Graham Norman.

Traveller Martina Donkers reports:  "I travelled the Copper Canyon Train (called El Chepe locally) in June 2016. It was a fabulous experience. The train station in Los Mochis is easy to reach by taxi, and was fairly uncrowded at 5am. I bought my ticket at the window. It's only possible to buy tickets in Los Mochis, Creel or Chihuahua, but you can stop at any of the villages in between, and if you book your stops in when you purchase the ticket it doesn't cost extra. I booked myself to Bahuachivo with an onward journey to Creel 3 days later for 1600 MX. The train left on time, and the seats were quite comfortable - thy use old first class carriages on the economy trains. The scenery was excellent, as promised. The windows don't open but you can stand between the cars where things are open and get closer to the view. I alternated this with being back in my air-conditioned seat every so often - it was hot! Seeing the train zig-zag and loop back on itself to gain altitude was really, really cool. The dining carriage served ok food. At Bahuachivo station, you're met by a group of hotel operators. There's a bus that goes from Bahuachivo to Urique at the bottom of the canyon - it's well worth it, but you have to wait for the last train of the day to arrive, which might be delayed as it was the day I did the journey. I grabbed a lift to Cerocahui with one of the hotel operators and had a look around the village while I waited. The bus to Urique is a hectic 39km 3 hour ride on an old yellow school bus straight down the sheer side of the canyon!! It's incredible, though not exactly comfortable. Getting back on the train 3 days later was simple - I had my ticket already, and just jumped on. The train stops for 20 minutes at Divisadero - use the time wisely! It's the best view on the whole trip, and the vendors there sell the best gorditas in all of Mexico! You'll want to divide time between the view and the food, and maybe the handicraft stalls too. Be careful not to miss the train - a blast of the horn is your cue to get straight back on. Twenty minutes goes fast!! Technically hot food isn't allowed, but they waved me on with my gordita in hand. At Creel station you get bombarded by touts and it's a bit intense. The station is right in the middle of town just off the plaza, so it's not too hard to get your bearings once you've made it through the crowd. After Creel, the road follows the train line, and arrives into Chihuahua after dark, and unfortunately it's one of those cities where you really don't want to be in the streets once the sun is down - it's amazing how quickly the streets empty!"

Traveller Graham Norman reports:  "We took Amtrak's Sunset Limited from Houston to Tucson and then a bus down to Los Mochis.  Although the Copper Canyon train starts there, we took a taxi to the next stop at El Fuerte and stayed the night.  We joined the Primera Express at El Fuerte at about 9am and travelled to Bahuichivo, where we spent a night at a lodge on the Canyon’s rim. We picked up the train the following day at 1pm and travelled to Creel where we spent two nights (there’s plenty to see).  We took the last stage of the train from Creel, at 4pm, arriving in Chihuahua around 9pm.  Many people use the bus from Creel as it’s quicker and the scenery from the train not so spectacular.  We took a bus back to the US border at El Paso and travelled on the Amtrak train back to Houston.  I used a local agency called 3 Amigos ( to book the train for us (although there are other agencies), but we paid for the tickets on board.  They also booked the Copper Canyon hotels for us and the taxi from Los Mochis to El Fuerte.  I booked the Amtrak (, hotels in the US and Chihuahua on the internet.  The Copper Canyon train was a very memorable experience and the scenery was spectacular.  Although most passengers on the Primera Express train were tourists, it doesn't feel like a tourist train and I assume the other daily train, the Clase Economica, is more for local people.  There were armed guards on the train and in Creel but we never felt threatened at any stage.

Further feedback would be very welcome!

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Train travel in Panama

The Panama Canal Railway provides one daily train between Ciudad Panama and Colon on Mondays-Fridays.  It leaves Ciudad de Panama at 07:15 on Mondays-Fridays only, arriving Colon at 08:15.  It leaves Colon Mondays-Fridays only at 17:15 arriving back in Panama City at 18:15.  It has air-conditioned Executive class coaches with refreshments available.  The new station for Panama City is in the northern suburb of Allbrook, not far from the domestic airport - the old station in Panama City is now a MacDonald's!  The distance is 77 km (48 miles).  See for info.  Service ceased during the pandemic, it's not clear if services have resumed.

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Train travel in Paraguay

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Train travel in Peru

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Train travel in Uruguay

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Recommended guidebooks

To get the most out of your trip to South America, you'll need a decent guidebook.  For the serious independent traveller this means either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both guides have everything you need - plenty of background historical and cultural information, plus practical information.

Buy Rough Guide to South America online at




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Accommodation in South America

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!

Backpacker hostels  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in most cities at rock-bottom prices.

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Flights to South America

Overland travel by train & bus around South America is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But a long-haul flight might be unavoidable to reach SA in the first place.  For flights to South America, start with Skyscanner.

skyscanner generic 728x90

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Travel insurance & VPN


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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