Train Hopping

by Free Traveler on May 16, 2011

Train hopping is an art that can only be perfected through real life experience. Although  train hopping is technically illegal and morally questionable, it is one possible means to travel the world for free. If you want to give it a try and don’t want to get caught on your first try, check out the guide below.

Pre-departure Planning

The first thing you need to do is a little research. You can begin by going to the train station ticket office or information booth. There, inform the agent where you would like to go. Have them print out a timetable for you so you know when and where to catch your train. When the agent asks if you would like to buy a ticket, politely decline.

Research The Train

The next step is to study the layout of the train. Most European trains do not check tickets at the doors and so you will be able to board without one. On board, walk the length of the train. Try and locate the ticket agent’s booth. They are usually at either end of the train but can sometimes be positioned in the middle. Either way, try and pick a seat that is a good distance from the booth. Sit down and relax for a minute.

Avoid The Ticket Agent

The ticket agent generally begins the first round of ticket checks approximately 10 minutes after departure. They make additional checks after major stops, so remain vigilant. It is your job to avoid the agent at all costs. The method to do this is to simply hide in the bathroom. When the agent is one train car away, stealthily slip into the bathroom. In order to avoid the agents suspicion, leave the door partially ajar. In this way, he will believe no one is hiding and won’t bother to check. A second method is to swiftly pass by the agent as he is making his rounds and hope he doesn’t stop you. If he does, tell him you left your ticket at your seat. A final strategy is to fall asleep next to a group of backpackers like yourself. This only works if the agent has already checked the backpackers on a previous round. This way, he will believe you are part of the group and won’t bother to check you.

What’s The Worst That Could Happen

If you are discovered, the consequences are rarely harsh. The agent will usually ask you to pay for the ticket. If you cannot, he will ask you to depart the train at the next stop. Try to gain his sympathy and be polite and you shouldn’t receive a punishment worse than this.

While the consequences aren’t too bad, train hopping is illegal and not good for your karma. If your budget can afford it, we recommend you save yourself the anxiety of constantly trying to avoid the ticket agent and buy a ticket. Good luck and travel safely.

For a more detailed guide on train jumping in Europe check out this guide by a train jumping master, How To Jump Trains.