I love taking trains in the UK. It feels so luxurious and cosmopolitan and who wants to drive on the wrong side of the road when you can sit lazily by the window and watch the English countryside glide by? We always try to snag a table for longer trips so we can spread out, eat a packed snack (which we always have, of course), and maybe do some work as we sail across the country.
It would be nice if there was one train company and one ticket price, but alas, like air travel, there are dozens of train operators and multiple pricing options, including railcards that cost money but offer discounts. Then there’s the platform issue. When you change trains, you most likely have to switch to a different platform, which could be up the stairs and across the bridge or way down on the other side.
It can all be a bit complicated at first.
FIRST, THE BASICS:
Standard vs First Class
This one’s easy. First class is nicer but costs more. We go standard.
Single vs Return vs Day:
Single means one way, return means round trip, day means you’ll go and return the same day.
Trains use 24-hour time. So 8 AM is 08.00 and 8 PM is 20:00. Bus schedules use the same. This confuses me every single time I look at a schedule and, embarrassingly enough, I have to draw a clock like this.
We have never reserved specific seats, meaning we play roulette every time we board, scurrying to find a table seat. (We do try to scurry sedately so as not to cause a scene.) You can tell if a seat is reserved because there will be a ticket sticking up from the top of the seat (on older trains) or a digital display above the seat (on newer trains). The notice will tell you which leg of the journey the seat is reserved, for example London to Reading, and you may sit in the seat on any non-reserved legs (for example, from Reading on). Often the seat holder doesn’t show up so you can also take a chance and snag the seat yourself, being prepared to move if they do show.