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Getting on trains with heavy luggage

I am older now and having trouble getting my one large piece of luggage ( a 26 inch, usually about 35-40 lbs) on a train that has either a distance or height differential between the platform and train itself. Last year a younger person ran up to lift it up for me on a train in Belgium. My husband was busy with getting his own piece onboard. Do you know whether Eurostar, London to Paris might be an issue for me? And, we may plan a train in France from Paris to Bayeux so have the same question about that trip on French soil. Thank you for any information you can give me.

Posted by
14879 posts

I struggle with a 23-1/2" bag weighing more like 30-32 lb. The only reliable solution is to pack less and use a smaller bag. Obviously, I'm not great at that, but I have the excuse of needing about 6 lb. of vitamins and other pills.

You could try hopping on the train first and having your husband lift the bags up to you, with a bit of assistance from you. But 26" bags are always going to be awkward.

Posted by
823 posts

You're carrying almost twice as much weight as most of the members of this forum. While each of us is free to carry whatever we choose, you are making it unnecessarily hard on yourself by "loading up" for a European vacation. A 26 inch bag with up to 40 pounds of stuff is HUGE.

Check Rick Steves' advice on this website about traveling lighter and packing lighter. You cannot always count on a younger person being there to schlep your bags or to assist you in lifting things onto trains. Generally, you will be on your own lifting baggage onto and off of European trains. Porters are usually non-existent.

Posted by
766 posts

I'm not trying to be snide, but do you think it's time to pack lighter? My 21" RS Rolling Carry-on weighted 22 lbs and my tote weighted about 9 lbs. Those plus my purse were easy to get on and off of Trenitalia Frecciarossa. I don't know what your definition of "older" is but I'm 68.

Posted by
915 posts

When I know that a train will be involved, I pack lighter. I learned the hard way (my luggage was lost for a week in Morocco) that I really can get by with far less than I'd packed.

I'd consider thinking what's essential and what can be reused multiple times. If you're not a fan of laundry while traveling, pack lots of undies and wash the rest of it with soap leaves at the hotels.

Posted by
3080 posts

I haven't been on the Eurostar, so I can't answer that one. But, if I remember correctly, the Paris to Bayeux has the typical two steps into the train. Several of the trains I rode in France this summer also had additional steps since the train cars were upper & lower seating.

I saw several people in the French Riviera with the huge suitcases you're mentioning, and I felt sorry for them trying to maneuver those beasts around the sidewalks, train stations, down the aisle, etc. Because they were difficult to maneuver and find a place to store them (sometimes at the opposite end of the train car), they were backing up the rest of the people trying to get onto the train. I would highly recommend finding a place where you could do laundry on your trip to reduce the weight & size of your suitcase. It would be such a shame to hurt your shoulder or back when you're on a nice vacation!

Posted by
892 posts

Can you split the contents and weight between a smaller roller bag and something that you carry on your back?

My lifting limit is 20 or 22 lbs. For this most recent trip I bought a nicely structured, but still soft-sided backpack into which I put some electronics and my guidebook sections, lightening the load of my wheeled bag so that I could comfortably lift it (with my backpack on) onto my many trains and into overhead compartments.

Posted by
5447 posts

I remember our first trip to Europe together 40 years ago -- giant bags like yours and no wheelies. and we landed in Venice on May 1 totally unaware that is was the most significant holiday in Europe and the boats were not running. We had to walk over bridges and canals after traveling for 24 hours with our heavy bags to get to our hotel. Since then we have learned to travel with a lot less.

Take a 22 inch bag -- or if you must a 24 -- a 26 is simply too large for European travel especially by train. We have done 3 mos on 22 inches. Capsule wardrobe dressed up with jackets or scarves. And if you forget something you must have there is nothing you can't pick up on the way. My husband is an underpacker and we have bought almost every item of clothing at one time or another -- it is easy to do and beats packing tons of stuff you don't need. I carry a lot of meds, a blood pressure machine etc and still manage with a 30 pound 24 incher at most and my husband carries a 22. If we are planning significant train travel we both take 22s. We add a messenger bag for valuables, meds, computers etc when on planes -- things we don't check. I know someone who has had a heart transplant and has to carry a lot of meds and medical gear. He and his wife each have a day pack and a 22 inch bag for travel for weeks at a time. It truly can be done and makes life so much easier.

For travel spring and fall I use a lightweight trench coat with many hidden pockets from scottevest.com -- this also is very handy for traveling with l limited luggage.

Posted by
2255 posts

CWSocial took the words out of my fingers...

Can you split the contents and weight between a smaller roller bag and something that you carry on your back?

I travel solo sometimes so need to be able to manage on my own. See if you can remove some items from your suitcase, shrink the suitcase and weight, and carry some of the suitcase contents in a personal item sized backpack.

Edit: So I'm not saying pack lighter necessarily, but distribute the weight between two items you can easily lift versus one that you can't lift easily.

Posted by
6237 posts

It's simple. Buy a 21" ultra light weight rolling bag and pack it.
It should we no more than 22 lbs.

There's no reason any traveler cannot get by if they follow Rick Steves' packing list on this forum.
My mother was a world traveler, and I remember my poor, elderly father hauling around her huge suitcases. They might could have traveled 5 years longer if she'd learned how to pack light.

Posted by
4876 posts

As CWSocial wisely suggests, splitting the weight into two smaller pieces of luggage may be the key. I use a 22" roller bag and a personal item with a strap that allows it to sit on the roller bag -- to get on a train my husband lifts up the two roller bags and I get on with both personal items (mine carried cross-body so I have a spare hand for the handrail.) Works for us (73 and 75.)
The one trip I used a 24" bag, the extra weight made me regret it almost as soon as we landed and on every change of location after that.

Posted by
1421 posts

I would echo what others have suggested. We travel for several weeks with a 22" suitcase and a light weight personal carry-on. On a recent trip we were pleased that our suitcase weighed in at 20 lbs. This was especially manageable for train travel.

Posted by
1741 posts

If you can't handle your own bag getting on and off a train, and your husband can't handle his bag and yours, it's time to either give up train travel or travel lighter.

This past September, we took the train from Paris to Bayeux. The elevator at the Bayeux station was broken, so all departing passengers had to carry their bags up the metal stairs, across the walkway over the tracks, and down the metal stairs to get to the station. A lot of people were really struggling.

Posted by
14879 posts

France is a country where I have occasionally gotten onto a train and found no room for my bag on the luggage rack. A bag up to 23" or 23-1/2" may fit between two back-to-back seats (if other passengers haven't already grabbed all those spots), but a 26" bag will not fit there. If you find yourselves in that pickle, your best option will probably be to grab two of the flip-down seats in the vestibule of the car and babysit your bags until you reach your destination. You'll have to stay with them, because you'll need to move them from one side of the car to the other, depending on which door opens at each station. This is not fun.

Posted by
2447 posts

It looks like the pack lighter coalition has chimed in and just about beaten to death the suggestion to pack lighter so I will suggest something else. If managing your luggage is a problem, look into using the luggage service that provides door to door delivery of your luggage offered by Eurostar and SNCF. Just Google "luggage service" and Eurostar or SNCF for more information. I have not used the service but my former business partner and very good friend who does not understand the words “pack light” used the Eurostar service to get luggage to Paris from London and from Paris to Geneva. I am embarrassed to say that I have not noticed steps when boarding the Eurostar from London but I asked my much shorter sister-in-law who was with me the last time I took the train and she recalls two steps but not steep ones but then again we went to London on a day trip from Paris and had no luggage.

Posted by
1443 posts

Unless you carry medical supplies, how do you reach 35 pounds? Shoes I guess? To me this is the first thing to address when reducing luggage weight.

Posted by
10701 posts

My husband and I travel Europe with 24" checked bags but mine (I'm 5' 1") weighs no more than 20 - 25" pounds when we leave the states. For 3 weeks. If I can't manage it anymore by myself, I'll need to go smaller and lighter.

It would be interesting to know what you are packing that causes your bags to weigh as much as they do, and how long your trips usually are?

Posted by
209 posts

Hi. I tend to pack heavier as well. For me it is hard to take everything I feel I need in a smaller bag. Having said that, I agree with the other posters that the lighter you pack, the better. One tip is to try to pack clothes that go well with each other to mix and match. For example, white, black, gray, khaki, etc. go with a lot. Maybe take a scarf, etc. to accessorize with for color. People can tend to get annoyed behind you if you cannot get on the train in a reasonable amount of time.

One thing I noticed is that once I got on the train with my heavier bag that it is hard to find a place to put it. Sometimes you have to lift them to put them up on a luggage rack.

I am happy to hear that there are still young people who help people. Sometimes it is disheartening to see that many of them only appear to care about themselves and their cell phones these days.

Posted by
10701 posts

I am happy to hear that there are still young people who help people.
Sometimes it is disheartening to see that many of them only appear to
care about themselves and their cell phones these days.

The thing is, there are individuals out there who will offer to help and then demand substantial amounts of money for doing so. I'll be the first to agree that not EVERYONE is suspect - the world is fortunately full of kind people! - but, well, there are unsavory characters at stations just looking for a chance to take advantage of (or take the bags of) distracted tourists visibly unable to manage by themselves. They may also be eyeing more than just the heavy bags.

Editing per a comment from JHK below....
A transfer service would be a good option, if one exists and if unwilling to reduce the size/load. IMHO, it would definitely be a safer option than allowing random strangers to get their hands on your bag.

Posted by
14879 posts

I don't think it's reasonable for people without obvious infirmities or unavoidable challenges to expect others to help them. It's different if you're in a cast, carrying a cane, or juggling twin infants. I'd hate to have to carry a backpack in addition to a suitcase, but if it gets to the point that I can't manage my own bag, I'll either downsize and use a supplemental small backpack or take shorter trips so I don't need so many vitamins and supplements--and so much paper tourist information. Why should strangers be responsible for moving my stuff around?

Posted by
2447 posts

"Why should strangers be responsible for moving my stuff around?"
They are not and I don't think anyone, including the OP, in this thread has suggested that is the case. But, if a person has more luggage than he or she can handle, maybe a luggage transfer service that the traveler pays for is an option instead of packing lighter or traveling less.

Posted by
958 posts

If you're not a fan of laundry while traveling, pack lots of undies
and wash the rest of it with soap leaves at the hotels.

Or research for laundries in London and Paris.

Or pay the hotel to do your laundry.

Posted by
1993 posts

I'm impressed that you were able to manage that luggage in the past. As someone who appreciates help placing my carryon in the overhead, I think that the least I can do is make it easy for them to do so by packing light. And there are those times when I have to carry it up steps to the plane( Venice, Florence). And of course there are the airlines that restrict the carryon to 8 kg. I would never consider taking a 26 inch, 40 lb case and expecting someone else to lift it for me.

Posted by
766 posts

This is the OP’s first post. I hope she comes back since we all criticized her choice of luggage, albeit as helpful suggestions. But last time I carried anything that big was when I went trail riding in Ireland 27 years ago and needed tall riding boots, breeches and a helmet plus “people” clothes. It took some convincing that I can travel light but I since learned how easy it is (with lots of planning).

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you all for your replies. We are planning about a month long trip which includes a cruise from Rome to Copenhagen. Cruising is a little easier now that we are 78 and 82 years old. The cruise’s stop in Cherbourg gives us one fast moving day to see Normandy so we thought about getting to Bayeux for a few days before the cruise for more time around Normandy. That was why I was asking about traveling on trains. You are correct that we pack too much, both of us. But I am not sure how much we can cut back as when cruising we need our casual day clothes, slightly better wear for dinner, and a bit of formal evening wear. Yes, it is nuts and we don’t have to do it. So, we will be taking your advice, either smaller suitcase or not taking the trains. We may have to settle for one day - a short day at that - at the Normandy beaches through the cruise line. And, if we get to France another time, go back and see more. I know we do not fit the Steves’ traveler profile, but I knew your responses would be helpful.

Posted by
6252 posts

Your second post clarifies a lot. I would not give up your extra days in Normandy. Why don't you bring a couple of smaller bags or carry on for a few days in Normandy. You can store the larger suitcases in Paris at your hotel or at a storage facility while you go to Normandy. This is what we always do when we have a side trip.

Posted by
13314 posts

This may get me banned from the forum, but I travel with a 25" suitcase that often weighs 35-40 lbs. I have found that many people are willing to help me get it on and off trains and buses. Sometimes they just offer, sometimes I ask.

Posted by
6864 posts

I just took the Eurostar from Paris to London, then from London back to Paris... the steps up are high. I had a 24” bag weighing appx 30lbs and i got on first - keeping my hand on the extended handle - then hoisted the suitcase up and into the train. But i’m strong - which it requires - and can easily do it by myself.
I also took the TGV roundtrip Paris - Avignon, also high steps doing the same.

acraven is right, my 24” suitcase barely fit in the luggage storage space. You could put a 26” suitcase in there on it’s side, but sometimes there’s many other suitcases there and no room even on it’s side. Then what do you do? You cannot have your suitcase by you at your seat.

My mom used to travel solo all over Europe, on her last trip, in her late 70s, someone offered to help her get her suitcase up into the train. He stole her wallet with all her money and credit cards. Be careful.

I’m in the pack less camp. I’ve traveled all over Europe using trains with a 22” Rick Steves bag, plus a smaller tote, for 2 and 3 mo trips and had everything i needed.

Bets’ suggestion to only take a carry-on size suitcase to Normandy is excellent.

Posted by
766 posts

Chani, you will never be banned from the forum. We love you and your traveling experience,
Kathy

Posted by
5447 posts

Last time we spent time in Paris for a couple of months we did a 5 day side trip -- we actually went out and bought a cheap tiny suitcase for the side trip on the train rather than taking our regular suitcases which in this trip were large 24 inchers because we had a very formal family wedding in NYC before flying to Paris. I had to have a couple of dressy outfits for the wedding weekend and extra shoes and my husband needed a suit and appropriate shoes -- all stuff we would never take to Europe but we had no choice but to schlep it over and back with us. Even one of those suitcases was too much for our side trip on the train so we used our messenger bags for the valuables and the tiny new suitcase for clothes and dob kits. We ended up taking the small bag home so our grandchild could use it on our trip this spring to Paris with her. If you have a foldable duffle bag/expansion bag you tuck into your luggage, you could leave your bigger bags in storage in Paris and then do the sidetrip with the smaller bag.

Posted by
6252 posts

You were right to come here. Your luggage problem is solved if you use the luggage transfer service JHK has suggested and a small bag for the side trip as Janet and I have suggested. At 78 and 82, you've earned the right to travel however you want. Hope all these suggestions have helped. Let us know what you decide.

Posted by
2551 posts

I did a Cunard Christmas cruise with the same 2 pair of nicer trousers for many dinners including formal. Nice lace top and different jewelry for the formal nights. Standard dinners often included port visit clothes...again different jewelry and fresh makeup. I find I do less casual, more laundry but always comfortable. My table companions didn't care if they saw the same clothes several times.
Look at a 21 inch with a good size tote(but only as big as you can comfortably carry). One that has a sleeve for over luggage handle but also an adjustable shoulder strap.

Posted by
2255 posts

I absolutely agree with Bets! And I'm inspired.

Posted by
3049 posts

I'm a 73 year old female solo traveler and have accepted help with my carry-on bag sometimes. I think my gray hair, little bag and doing my best to do things on my own makes people more likely to help. But when the time comes that I can't manage my bags on my own, I'll have to adjust my travel style dramatically.

I check my main bag on intra-European flights because I'm forced to. But I can't do that on the international ones (US to Europe and back) or on the US domestic ones because I fly standby and getting on a flight is never guaranteed.

I'm now using an Eagle Creek international roller bag like this. Its dimensions are 20.25 x 14 x 8 in, the capacity is 36L and it weighs 4 lb 9 oz empty. If it weighs more than 20 pounds full, things come out until it hits that magic number. There's a newer version that's about the same size but a little heavier.

It's my main bag. I use a Baggallini cross-body tote type bag and put a small cross-body purse like this inside it for use at my destination. I'm considering a small lightweight backpack instead of the tote for my next trip.

And that's it. Taking a week's basic clothes that coordinate (typically 4-6 tops, 3 bottoms, 1 scarf, 2 pairs of shoes) and doing laundry along the way allows me to travel for several weeks. Wearing the heaviest clothing in transit keeps the main bag light enough that I can manage it on my own, if somewhat slowly.

My advice is that the easiest way to use trains is to travel much, much lighter. In my opinion, any other option is way more complicated than that.

Posted by
1421 posts

I have found even though I carry a 22" bag, there are kind people who offer to help. I recall when we were in Greece a couple years ago, we were exiting the ferry. Lo and behold the down escalator was out of service. Just as I was getting ready to carry my bag down the stairs a gentleman offered to carry it for me! It happened so quickly I didn't even think it was possible that my bag would be gone when I reached the bottom. So, "I rest my case, so to speak." Do what ever makes you comfortable.

Posted by
5447 posts

Years ago two elderly people were having trouble getting their giant 26 inch heavy bags up the steep steps onto the train in Florence and so my husband offered to help; when he hoisted the bag up the stairs the handle broke and they continued to berate him for breaking their luggage for some time. No one should travel by train who can't manage their stuff.

In another travel group someone wrote about a family with lots of luggage and kids. and they piled it all up on the platform and left the father of the family to load it on -- he got about half of it on the train when the train took off leaving the suitcases sitting on the platform. Trains wait for noone.

Posted by
6252 posts

We only had 22’ cases and were in first class, but a famous French actor and his family and dog going to their house in Provence boarded before everyone else. They took up a disproportionate amount of storage space, leaving us with nothing. A nice lady took one case on the empty seat next to her. The remaining 22” suitcase wobbled in the aisle.

Posted by
5447 posts

Bets your experience is funnier than mine. Our most memorable was i Spain when late boarders started pulling small suitcases out of the rack at the end of the train to put in their large cases, insisting the smaller ones should go in the overhead racks. This caused the owners of the smaller cases to get their feathers ruffled and begin strutting and shouting. Pretty soon we had a half dozen banty rooster men posturing and waving arms at each other and tossing suitcases. Even tually the conductor got everyone to go back to their corners and luggage was piled all over the entry vestibule to the train.

Posted by
6252 posts

Oh lordy Janet. Wish I could give you a FB smile.