Planning a Journey

Planning a journey on the train has never been easier. With fast and efficient websites and apps, you can compare prices, journey times and standards of travel instantly, then have your tickets booked and in your pocket an instant later.

Older methods are still useful, you can get your tickets in person at all manned (and some unmanned) stations or call ahead and order your tickets by phone.

All good journeys start with a big list of things to do, check and buy. Train journeys can be a stressful experience but shouldn’t be if you are prepared. We’ve assembled here a helpful guide to help you on your way with the rail network.

Where do you want to go and when?

First of all, you’ve got to know your destination and when you want to get there. Once you’ve got this decided, you have a number of options for making that train journey a reality.


Booking at least a week in advance can save you potentially hundreds of pounds on your ticket price. The further in advance, the cheaper it is, generally. The most expensive way of using the rail network is to buy your tickets on the day.

Before you Book

There are a few things to think about before you spend money on a train ticket. Here we’ve assembled a few for you.

  • When are you going and when do you want to come back?
  • Contingency: should things go wrong or there are delays, what can you do about it?
  • How are you going to get to the station? Can you get on and off the train with all your luggage? Is there space for luggage or a bike?
  • Do you plan on travelling at peak times or off-peak? Off peak is usually cheaper and quieter, but less convenient.
  • How many legs are there in the journey? Can you get from platform to platform in the time allocated?
  • Where are you going to stay? Can you get there from the train station? Will you be picked up or be taking a taxi? Is there a taxi available? Can you book it in advance?
  • Will where you’re staying be accessible if you or someone you’re travelling with has complex needs or disabilities? Does the train have the accessibility services you need? Book these at least 24 hours in advance, if possible.
  • Can you get back from where you’re going? The above questions apply in reverse.
  • Standard or First Class?
  • Do you have a railcard of any kind? Is it in date?
  • Who are you travelling with? The needs of children and disabled persons can make planning a trip more complex but there is a lot of assistance available from the rail services, so be sure to look that up.
  • Do you need a rest stop? What about a sleeper train?
  • Very importantly: can you save money by booking early?

That’s quite a checklist, but if you get all that in order you’ll be in a very good place to plan your trip successfully.

Ways of Booking:

Booking on your Smartphone

With over 90% of British adults having a smartphone, booking your train journey by app is an increasingly easy and efficient way to do things.

There are a number of apps available, for example Trainline, which lets you book tickets from any rail service, pay for them immediately, download the ticket and then use your phone as a live ticket for the ticket collectors and turnstiles.

This is a very convenient way of travelling. Until you lose your phone, it runs out of batteries, you don’t have an internet connection, or you forget your password. Then it can be a disaster.

Booking Online

There are a number of rail ticket websites that offer commission free ticket booking, and booking early can save a lot of money.

You’ll have to enter your details (the same for an app) and pay via a credit or debit card, or a service like Paypal, but once this has been done it is very easy to book further tickets.

When you book online, you can download your e-ticket to your phone, print out your ticket at home or order your tickets to be delivered.

Printing your Tickets

For the well organised and the paranoid, printing tickets is still the way to go for many. While it is the less environmentally friendly way of booking, having a physical ticket mailed to you or issued at a station is reassuring to many. Especially for those who are not confident with modern technology.

Tickets can take a few days to arrive, so book them in good time. Keep them in your wallet and make sure you have the receipt

Ordering by Phone

You can call the rail service provider directly or talk to National Rail, who can take your order. You’ll need your card details and billing address and a delivery address to complete the order.

Replacement Tickets

You can order replacement tickets online or by phone.

The Journey

Planning ahead is essential for a successful journey by rail, but you can just turn up and go. It will cost more this way but sometimes can’t be avoided. Station staff can help with planning your itinerary and there are help desks at most major stations.