James Hooper is Rail Europe's Australia and New Zealand regional sales manager. Moving up from his time as a backpacker on European night trains, his most recent train journey was from Venice to London on the luxurious Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. See greattrainjourneys.com.au
Always pack as lightly as possible: luggage assistance is unlikely and you won't want your bag to take up most of your cabin space. Clothes that don't require ironing are always a plus, and consider dressing in layers instead of bulky clothes for climate and altitude changes. For high-end or corporate travel, I recommend "how to fold a dress shirt for travel" on YouTube.
Check beforehand if the itinerary includes any formal dinners. Formal elegant wear may be required for evening meal time on trains such as South Africa's Rovos Rail or the Eastern & Oriental Express from Singapore to Bangkok, but generally, smart casual is the go. Rest assured, the dress code is always included in your travel documents for luxury and great train journeys.
I love walking the entire length of the train, but some cabins are a considerable walk from the restaurant, bar and observation cars – the Indian-Pacific and the Ghan can surpass 700 metres apiece, although both have multiple dining cars. Being close to the restaurant and bar cars is certainly convenient. However, these are also high-traffic areas, so if you don't mind walking an extra few cars, you will usually get more peace and quiet. It's always a good idea to book great train journeys via your travel agent as they can make special requests for any mobility issues or dietary requirements.
Most train journeys that feature off-train excursions include the activities in the package and price, so there's no need to book in advance, unless there are tour options to choose from. You will usually be fully briefed on the excursion the night before, with meeting times and duration, and your travel agent can also provide this information at the time of booking. Should you opt out of any excursion, just let the train manager know so the crew is aware you will be on board.
Travel on most European night trains can be confirmed 60 to 180 days in advance – a warning, twin cabins sell out fast, while bunk cabins are the most affordable options for a party of two, and better than a reclining seat. Some trains only offer gender-specific berths for three or more people if you're sharing, and most trains have bathroom facilities at either end of the carriage. These night trains are an experience, but not necessarily the best value for money, so best you weigh up all your options.