• travel india train

Tips For Traveling India by Train Solo

Traveling India by train can be fun and safe. First, you have to know how to book your ticket.

Booking a train ticket in India

You can now as a foreigner, book a train on the Indian railway’s website. You used to need an Indian credit card. I prefer to book using Cleartrip.com to make things easy. You have to connect your international card which isn’t too difficult. 

You may prefer a travel agent. You’ll pay about 100 rs to an agent to book for you and at least that way you know it’s done right.

You must have your passport and in some instances a copy of your passport. You always need photos and paperwork handy in India. If the station is close you should go straight to them to book, but there’s nothing wrong with using an agent. I had a hell of a time getting almost scammed on a train out of Delhi, and you don’t want to end up with a fake ticket.

You want to look on the Indian Rail website and jot down the information to take into the booking office. You’ll have an idea of when you can head out and how much it’ll cost. Make sure you have a form filled out completely before you get to the front of the line. If you aren’t in a tourist line, beware of line jumpers! Don’t get in an argument, but simply say, “this is my place. You are behind me.” Usually they are annoyed but a little embarrassed to be told off by a foreigner. You have to learn to be a little more assertive in India or you’ll never get anything done.

I HIGHLY recommend that you stay online in India. You can get a SIM card and put it in an international unlocked phone. If you don’t have a phone like this, try Trabug. Trabug is a travel phone that you can have shipped to your hotel in India. This phone has the internet and all kinds of India travel apps on it. It’s more expensive than a SIM, but SIM cards are sometimes a huge hassle for foreigners in India. You don’t want to be in India without access to the internet. 

trains india transportyes, I’m all sweaty because it was over 100 degrees, but at night you’ll be happy 2A/C has a blanket!

Which Train Class to Book

You not only book by class, but by tier, meaning how many berths there are in the compartment. Second class 2 tier will be more expensive than 3 tier.

I hear whisperings first class is nice, but I wouldn’t know….

I took second class, three tier A/C once (referred to as 3A) from Bombay into Udaipur, 17 hours, for 1755 rupees. This was a lovely train ride. A/C was a little too cold but blankets were provided and food was offered at an extra fee.

I advise you to request upper tier at time of purchase. When it’s time to wake up in the morning, the bottom and second tier are put up so that people can sit on the benches and eat breakfast (yum samosas!). If you are on the top tier you can lie down and sleep the whole trip. Make sure you wake up for a little bit to get some chai; they sort of don’t let you sleep through their offerings, “Chaiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!”. You’ll hear it all morning! Some say don’t eat and drink unless it’s packaged, but that’s not really living, now is it?

I preferred to go the cheaper route after seeing how nice the trains were and went sleeper class or second from there on out. The busiest sleeper trains I took were in areas like Delhi, Allahabad, and Varanasi. Even so, I still have no qualms with sleeper class. You can expect an assigned bench to yourself, although others may crowd in. Nothing will be provided; doors will be open therefore very windy and cold at night.

There is also second class (not to be confused with second class A/C). This is not a sleeper. These are just free-for-all benches that you can fight over and cram in. People will be sleeping in the isles, some even sleeping while standing up! I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s shocking and smells faintly of urine, but exhilarating and a must do at some point during your India trip. I only took this class twice but LOVED it.

As a foreigner, people are curious about you and that makes this a perfect time to chat with the local people. Although “chatting” means an Indian man asks you so many questions you can hardly keep up answering. “Where are you from? Where are you going? What do you study? Are you married? What’s your father do? Do you need tour of my hometown?”

Curious fellas.  I have been videotaped and photographed while pretending to sleep or while looking at them with an expression of “ok, that’s enough now”. To pretend I didn’t deal with frustrations would be a lie, but looking back it wasn’t that bad.

travel india train

Foreign Tourist Quota

India really wants you here! So much in fact, that they have a certain amount of tickets that haven’t been sold just for you. You need to go into the station and wait in line at the “foreign tourist” line. These are “emergency” tickets therefore you can only do this the day before or day of travel. This is how I got out of Bombay to Udaipur on a “booked” train. This is not for Indians or anyone on anything other than a tourist visa.

Unfortunately only big stations have these foreign tourist lines. These are Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Secunderbad, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Varanasi, New Delhi, Agra, Aurangabad, Mumbai, Rameshwaram, Vadodara, and Vasco da Gama.

Waitlisting and RAC

If you are waitlisted, it means you buy the ticket but are given no seat and you may not get to go on the train. If you are waitlisted in the first 20 then you can probably go as they save 20 seats for government fellas. In the top 50 you’ll probably get to go as well. If you don’t then you can get a refund for your ticket.

With RAC on your ticket, it means you are sharing a seat with someone unless they cancel. Better than nothing right?

Tatkal

There’s a good chance I’ve overloaded you with information, but perk up, this is important! I was struggling to get to Delhi from Varanasi for a flight and Tatkal saved me. These are emergency tickets for anyone. You will pay up to 200 rupees to use this service and it is not offered at all stations.

Here is how it works: Tatkal starts at 10 A.M. for one hour only. Whatever the booker can get booked while tatkal is on will count as a ticket. He will pull out applications from the pile in the order in which they were received. You need to show up when the office opens, no later than 7 A.M. to be in the front of that pile. Wait until 10 A.M. when things get manic and he starts inputting data and printing tickets. I arrived at 7 but the line was already long in Varanasi. By 8:30 he had my paperwork and I barely made the cutoff during tatkal. Luckily, I got a seat! This ticket cannot be refunded or canceled.

Non-used tatkal tickets are then released to those waitlisted. This is better than being on a wait list. Sound crazy? Don’t forget there are almost 1.3 BILLION people in India. There’s a little more to it that’s a bit too hard to explain (and understand) like when agents can access tatkal- some can. Because of misuse, this information and timings are changed regularly.

Getting Off Your Train

You really don’t want to sleep through your destination. Unlike Europe, there is no one announcing the stops. You need to set an alarm and be aware of where you are. If you are a small stop, you may have only a few minutes to disembark. Be prepared.

If at your destination you cannot check into your hotel for hours, you can leave your belongings in the cloakroom for about 20 rupees. If you arrive by train at 4 or so in the morning, keep in mind most buses don’t start running until 7, even local ones, so you might have to hang out to catch a connection.

Safety

I have an entire post dedicated to safety on Indian trains and buses. I think sleeper buses are safer as a solo traveler that lowest class train because you have a little door you can slide shut so no one even needs to know who’s inside. Many sleeper trains I took were mostly men and although trusting of the universe, I did sometimes get a little jumpy. The real worry is that the train will de-rail. Trains crashes happen everywhere, but I sure seem to read about a lot of Indian ones.

 

Did you enjoy this post? Let me know in the comments or by sharing it with the social media links! I’d love to keep giving you travel tricks & tips so feel free to subscribe by e-mail in the big purple box below. Don’t forget you can follow me on facebook, twitter, instagram & bloglovin‘.

2017-05-05T10:52:09+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing to live on the beaches of Goa, India almost four years ago where she is now a travel writer. Her website gives advice on the 35+ countries she's been to but has become the go-to site for India travel, focusing on offbeat places & “glamorous travel”. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE magazine, Tripadvisor, and Thomas Cook. Her blog is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world based on traffic. She also enjoys writing for BravoTV.

49 Comments

  1. anuj April 15, 2014 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    Ur blog is wonderful,as far as safety is concerned indian trains are very safe,the accidents can happen anywhre in the world ,it happens in europe too.indian railways
    are the third largest in world and 4th biggest employer also.whereas safety of women is conerned the long route train are much safer

    • Rachel Jones April 16, 2014 at 1:05 am - Reply

      wow 4th biggest employer! I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info!

  2. Alex, Denglish Speaker April 16, 2014 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Wow! This all sounds so overwhelming and complicated, not even to mention those crowds at the platform. It makes me very thankful the the Deutsch Bahn ticket machines. And a 17 hour train ride?!! So hardcore! I think my longest was 14, an overnighter from Prague to Amsterdam.

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 7:24 am - Reply

      It is overwhelming lol and really even though it’s all typed out nice and neat- it never happens quite so neatly in India. I usually pay that little extra for an Indian agent to book for me! 17 hours in India is nothing lol! My friends do 40 from Delhi to Goa ALL the time just to come party! haha

      • Pamela May 20, 2016 at 4:21 am - Reply

        Hi!
        I am looking for a travel agent that can book trains for me so that everything is ready before I leave from Italy. Do you have any suggestions?

        Thank you!

        • Rachel Jones May 20, 2016 at 12:02 pm - Reply

          Hi Pamela, no I’m sorry I don’t know of any agents.

          • Pamela May 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm

            ok. thanks for replying.

  3. The Guy April 17, 2014 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Some great tips Rachel. I didn’t realise it was such a procedure to get on a train, completely different to the UK where you don’t have to give personal details. I do suspect it is a bit of a money raising scam and Westerners are charged a lot more than the locals?

    You paint a picture of very crowded trains in the lower cabins as I suspected. I often have the image of Indian trains with lots of people hanging on outside.

    • Rachel Jones April 17, 2014 at 10:56 am - Reply

      If you book at the station you won’t pay more than the locals, but at a travel agent you will. Although, at an agent even an Indian will pay more. On local buses there are times when they make me pay more than the locals because it is less regulated. Even the buses have people hanging off the outside!

  4. Steve | Live Smart Not Hard April 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Really helpful Rachel. When I head out to India I’ve heard a ton of stories and tips for the famous trains. Good to have another perspective.

  5. Jenia from HTL April 28, 2014 at 12:16 am - Reply

    This is an excellent guide! I can add that we booked our train tickets online via cleartrip and US credit cards worked for us via this site. Cleartrip charges a small convenience fee but I think its worth it. There is no need to print tickets, the system gives you the same reservation number as if you purchased the ticket from Indian Railways online system.

    When we first made it to India, we were a bit unsure about taking sleeper class, so we purchased second class A/C from Udaipur to Bombay. We bought our ticket about 2 weeks in advance and were 9 & 10 on the wait list. Indians reassured us that we would get upgraded to actual berths no problem. Well travel day came, passenger list was published, and we were still wait listed! Again, locals advised us to go the train station and talk with a ticket checker who would put us on a train. Even train station personnel reassured us we would have no problems — just talk to the ticket checker. So we waited, and waited…about 5 minutes before train departure the ticket checker showed up and said there was no way we were getting on the train, unless we wanted to go general class (aka second class with benches). There was no way we were going to be able to buy train tickets for at least a week, and the prospect of 20 hours on the bus wasn’t appealing. So general class it was. And you know what? I think we caught a very lucky break — it was not crowded at all, I was able to stretch out on my own berth. There were empty seats all the way to Bombay! And it was FREE! Our wait listed tickets were refunded automatically, and ticket checker did not want any money for the general class, even though we offered.

    • Rachel Jones April 28, 2014 at 12:45 am - Reply

      wow that worked out really lucky for you guys! I wasn’t so lucky with general class but it’s worth another try :) About Cleartrip, I’ve tried with a US card and UK- we use it occasionally when it has better deals than make my trip, but both cards were denied! YOu aren’t the first person that’s said you got cleartrip to work though, so I’m so confused why it won’t work for me!

      • Jenia from HTL April 28, 2014 at 3:26 am - Reply

        We’ve had some glitches with cleartrip — it absolutely refused to process one of the tickets that we wanted to purchase. but all other tickets went through no problem. i have contacted their customer service before and they were pretty good. Maybe trying calling them? they are actually helpful…

  6. Art September 7, 2014 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Thanks Rachel. Your blog is really useful. I read through many topics as I plan to go to Delhi, Agra and Varanasi this December. Hope I have as much fun as you :)

    Cheers

    • Rachel Jones September 11, 2014 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      I’m glad it’s helped you plan. I’m sure you’ll have a blast!

  7. Marlon December 11, 2014 at 11:31 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    I plan to go to India in a week using the free roundtrip ticket via Airasia from Kuala Lumpur. The only point of entry allowed is Kulkata or Bangalore. I choose Kulkata as my point of entry. I have not booked my hotels yet not even my train ride. I will be traveling solo by train from Kulkata to Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and New Delhi and will just show up in the train stations to buy tickets. Do you think its too late? Am i putting myself in trouble? :(

    • Rachel Jones December 11, 2014 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      there is a free round trip ticket!? how’d you get that!?

      It’s ok you haven’t booked your hotel, but as for train I would look on clear trip and try to book. It’s busy season now. Worst case you can go by bus which is a decent way to travel here.

  8. Marlon December 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    Thanks Rachel! I super appreciate your response. I got the free ticket from a friend who works with AirAsia. I am really really having a hard time booking train rides through clear trip. I might need to try again.

    Your blog inspires many readers not only to travel but actually be immersed with different cultures and appreciate all facets of life – not only around India but other parts of the world. Your stories, learnings and practical advices are exactly the kind of help everybody needs and thank you for that! (FYI: I may throw in more questions as I am in the process of planning my 8-day itinerary in India, so bear with me please).

  9. Christina Mortensen December 28, 2014 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    Just stumhed over your excellent posting on trains here as I am searching for information on travelling with my three children as a solo female. We have seven long rides waiting and though I want us to be safest possible, I see bills add up in no time if we go for 2AC.. Do you think sleeper class will be ok for the children (aged 10-14)? They are pretty tough kids, but I’m worried about thefts. Perhaps a bus will be better? I want us to try different types of transportation anyways and think we will be going 1st class Bangalore-Varanasi!

    I’m under the impression that hotels, hostels etc will go out of their way to help us on bookings, I gave up on online booking myself after hours and hours of frustration!:D

    Thank you so much again for your blog, maybe we’ll meet you in Goa in February:-)

    Warm regards,
    Christina, Denmark

    • Rachel Jones December 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      I would go 3AC instead of 2AC .. I think sleeper will be rough for children… but then if you can’t afford 3 AC I would go sleeper bus or Volvo bus. I don’t online book them myself either b/c of credit card difficulties.

  10. Kathleen March 10, 2015 at 4:51 am - Reply

    What is the best way to get in contact with a travel agent?

    • Avi March 10, 2015 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      Hi Kathleen,
      Assuming you are in one of the cities in India. Take a walk outside the railway station or ask anyone at the shops, they might help you in locating a travel agent. Trust me it’s not that difficult. Just ask, people will help you.

      Warm Regards,
      Avi

    • Rachel Jones March 10, 2015 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      I also only go in person, you can’t trust them all online! the only company i’ve used online is gomowgli. then for booking i use makemytrip and cleartrip.

  11. Ryan March 18, 2015 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    Indian railways are only option that Indian got for traveling long distances because it’s cheaper and safer. I usually travel through express trains for business purpose, so i recommend everyone to travel in AC compartment whether it’s AC 3 tier or 2 tier. Never ever try to travel with sleeper class, it was so crowed like general. By the way thanks for showing the highlights of Indian railway.

  12. Robbie Welsh August 23, 2015 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Hello, thank you for all your info.
    I am flying into Mumbai in October to travel around India by trains for 2 months.
    I really want to be flexible with my travel. Do you think it would be ok to find a travel agent while iI am there in the cities and simply have them book my tickets for me so that I am not restricted to a time frame?
    I do not mind paying the extra fee .
    Thank you.
    Robbie

    • Rachel Jones August 24, 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Robbie, yes someone will be able to book for you easily :)

      • Robbie Welsh August 24, 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

        Dear Rachel,
        Thank you very much for your reply regarding a travel agent to help book my train tickets.
        Do you happen to know of a travel agent in Mumbai?
        Do they have to be a certified agent?
        Thanks .
        Robbie

        • Rachel Jones August 25, 2015 at 2:53 pm - Reply

          Hi, they do need to be – but I’ve always picked a random shop & never had a problem. There will be hundreds. For trains, if you’re worried, just book at the station.

  13. Britt December 14, 2015 at 3:56 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    Your blog is awesome! I am in my last year of my undergrad and I leave January 3rd for a 4-month semester abroad in India. These months will be spent with a professor and 20 other students, which I’m stoked for (having never traveled before). Here’s the scary part though… I have one month between the end of my semester and my return flight home.

    I was thinking of doing Thailand/etc. in this time, but I would love to see more of India–Goa in particular. Although my stomach is turning at the thought of doing the rest of India alone, your blog is giving me confidence… and it’s a pleasure to read.

    So I just wanted to say thank you. (: Also, if you have any travel tips for Goa (places to stay/see, etc.), I’m all ears!

    • Rachel Jones December 14, 2015 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      Hi Britt,

      I’m so glad the blog is giving you some confidence. It seems like you’d have your free month around April, which is actually not the best time to come to Goa. it’s very hot and most places are starting to close for season. Unless I’ve misunderstood your timings! But somewhere like Karnataka would be great then – Mysore, Dandeli, Coorg !

  14. Jess January 8, 2016 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Hey Rachel!
    I am obsessed with your blog; every single post about India excites me so much!
    Thank you for all the inspiration!
    Myself and 2 girlfriends arrive in Delhi in exactly 4 weeks time.
    We will be cruising up north for 2 weeks, before heading to Goa for our 5 week YTT. (YAY!)
    We are pulling our hair out trying to book trains online.
    We are concerned if we leave it until we arrive in India; and talk to a travel agent or a train station, all tickets will be sold. As we don’t have time to waste in between hitting our hot spots, do you recommend we just continue to try to book through cleartrip/makemytrip?
    Thank you SO much in advance xxx

    • Rachel Jones January 8, 2016 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad the blog is inspiring you! Cleartrip is what I book through but some people find it impossible to work out. I recommend booking everything the moment you arrive (if you know for sure you can travel those days). As this time of year trains do fill up! Worst case you can go by bus there are always openings there.

  15. Luke November 3, 2016 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    Hi

    Glad to come across this blog as a lot of people have told me not to do sleeper class and one of my journeys is sleeper class. I have booked the train for my whole trip online and doing, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi, Mumbai, Goa and Kochi. Sleeper class will be between Agra and Varanasi.

    • Rachel Jones November 3, 2016 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      That’s awesome! I did sleeper class Delhi – Varanasi and it was great.

  16. Sharka March 25, 2017 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Namaste Rachel!
    Thank you for your blog. I´m going to India next week and your tips are very helpful. Me and my friend plan to see North India and Andamans Islands and you have answered almost all our questions :)
    Greetings from Czech Republic! (Europe :))
    Sharka

    • Rachel Jones March 27, 2017 at 10:14 am - Reply

      Happy to hear that! I still haven’t been to the Andamans. Enjoy!

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