When traveling slow, the options for travel are much more plentiful. We have many choices of how quickly or cheaply we would like to arrive in a place but we usually opt for the safest choice.
After South America, we are fairly certain we'd rather spend a day traveling because overnight travel wrecks us. We hate it.
But figuring out bus and train practices, especially when crossing borders is nerve-racking at times because you never know what to expect.
Bus Travel Tips:
When crossing a border on a bus, do not be surprised if they collect your passport. This is very common in Eastern Europe. You do not get off the bus, you do not unload bags, nothing. Stay seated, the driver or assistant collects the passports and takes them to the immigration windows of both countries. A border agent will walk the bus, check the cargo hold and the driver boards with your passports to be on your way.
In South America, we always had to get off the bus and present our passport in person, including unloading bags to be scanned.
Buses rarely leave on time or, unless it's an overnight bus, with assigned seats. You can usually just buy a ticket on board, especially in South America where it is common for people to simply flag down a bus from the side of any random road. If the bus is full, it simply keeps rolling by. We've been on only a few fully packed buses.
Whatever travel time is quoted, add at least 30 minutes. Most buses will stop anywhere to let people off. There also is the obligatory 15 minute stop for a smoke break.
Very rarely will you find an updated schedule online. A stop by the station or Tourist Information will provide accurate information.
You usually pay an additional fee for luggage, 1 Euro per bag under the haul. In South America, you tip a guy to put your bags under the bus. Do not forget to tip or your bag may not make it to your destination. Not. Kidding. Do not walk away as your bags are loaded.
If you spend too much time at a rest stop during a long bus trip, you will be left behind. As soon as the bus driver calls out how many minutes you have, be prepared to run to the bathroom (bring change) and get your butt back on the bus. Some companies count passengers, but if the bus is making many small stops, counting becomes impossible. Don't get off the bus on a short stop.
Train Travel Tips
When crossing a border on a train, you can simply stay in your seat. The train stops at the crossing and an agent from both countries enter. The exit agent stamps you out and a few minutes later the entry agent stamps you in. The country you are entering will send an agent through to scan for anything suspicious.
Most train stations have a regional ticket window and an international window. Just be mindful to not waste your time standing in the wrong line.
Few cities have websites to prepurchase train tickets. If they do, there will be a kiosk in the terminal where you can print them with the credit card you used to purchase. Look around though because often they have only one location to print and it's not in an easy-to-find place.
Luggage racks are usually above the seats. This is where you are expected to store your bags-even giant rolling suitcases. It's a battle royale for space.
Second class is usually general boarding, while first class has seat assignments.
For long trips on both, bring your own food and drinks. The stops are limited and no food is available for purchase. Limit water unless you want to be running for the bathroom at the time-limited stops or squatting over a hole on a moving train.
Do not expect AC on any mode of transportation. If you are lucky enough to have AC, it will be mediocre at best. More a fan than AC.
The good news is, if you miss a train or bus nearly anywhere, there is another one within a few hours time. Never the end of the world, but you will need to buy another ticket.
One last piece of advice: never throw away ticket stubs without double checking they are truly stubs. Not that we've done that...
These are simply the basics of what we've experienced so far and I'm sure Southeast Asia will turn out to be completely different.