5 Reasons Why You Should Consider Traveling by Train on Your Next Trip Abroad

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trainticket

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For those who take them day in and day out, trains are probably as romantic as, oh, lawnmowers. And when they’re not running as well as they should, they’re often a source of consternation (and/or mini-heart attacks) for regular commuters. In fact, I’d probably be hard-pressed to explain to people who have to take trains why I like to take trains.
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So why trains?

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We don’t have trains where I live (Cebu) so that’s probably part of their appeal. It’s why I chose the name Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains for this site. The juxtaposition of those two ideas — a girl from a small barrio in a third world country and a sleek sleeper train enabling one to, say, go to sleep in Paris and wake up in Venice — says so much about the barrier-breaking possibilities of travel.

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Trains are <3

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But the appeal of trains is so much more than that:

1. Trains let you see the countryside.

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There’s the Flåm Railway scenic train, which offers views of Norway’s fjords, mountains and waterfalls. There’s the Glacier Express, with its views of the Swiss Alps. There’s the Black Forest line — “pine forests, rock faces and dark overhead branches.” And then there’s the Deerstalker, with its romantic views of the Scottish highlands. But, really, even, say, the regular Frecciargento from Rome to Venice offers beautiful countryside views.

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The windows could use a washing though.

The Frecciargento’s windows could use a washing though.

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And so could the windows of the Hogwarts Express, er, I mean, the train from Fort William to Mallaig that passes by the Glenfinnan Viaduct made popular in the Harry Potter films

And so could the windows of the Hogwarts Express, er, I mean, the train from Fort William to Mallaig that passes by the Glenfinnan Viaduct made popular in the Harry Potter films

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Somewhere between Edinburgh and Inverness

This very Scotland-y scene was seen somewhere between Edinburgh and Inverness

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And this is also Scotland — 0n the train from Inverness to Kyle of Localsh


2. Trains are OC-traveler-friendly.

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I think the first time I fully appreciated the planning possibilities of trains was when my family and I went on our first trip to Singapore. With a list of places we wanted to visit on one hand, and a map marked with MRT stations on the other, I went to town painstakingly tracing our routes: board here, change trains here, stop here. I’m that girl who thinks planning a trip is half the fun so I, of course, loved it. Spontaneity is all very well, but in my opinion knowing what to do and how best to do it saves you time and lets you focus on the more important things during the actual vacation.

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And don’t those train stations just look Nice? (Heh.)


3. Trains versus airplanes? No contest.

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Look, I like flying well enough — I’m an airline kid, and airports and planes are like a second home. And you won’t find me taking half a dozen train rides when one flight will do. That said, here’s why I tend to prefer trains:

  • You can show up at the train station mere minutes before your ETD (just enough time for you to check which platform your train is departing from, e.g. 9 3/4).
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  • You (and your luggage) don’t have to go through x-ray machines, check-in counters, immigration officers, etc. No rules about water bottles and laptops and coins on pockets.
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  • Train stations tend to be more centrally located than airports. Venezia Sta. Lucia, for example, is right on the Grand Canal; Nice Ville is a leisurely walk to the Promenade des Anglais; Roma Termini is just a few blocks from the Colosseum. Not so their airports.
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  • “You’re traveling by train? But they’re more expensive than flying!” Not if you get tickets as soon as bookings open! (#ItPaysToPlan)
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  • If you factor in check-in times, wait times, and traveling time to and from the station/airport, a train ride can actually be quicker (with less hassle) than a plane ride.
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High-speed TGV from Marseille to Paris

Upper deck of a high-speed TGV from Marseille to Paris


4. Sleeper trains save you time and money.

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You could board a train in the evening, sleep a full 8 hours, and wake up at your next destination. It’s really like teleporting while you’re sleeping (except not). Alright, the bed isn’t exactly queen size, and sleeper trains can be expensive even if you book early. On the other hand, it’s one less night at a hotel, and the time you’ve saved more than makes up for the little extra cost.

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My slept-in berth on the Paris-Venice night train

My slept-in berth on the Paris-Venice night train

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Couchettes (reclining seats) on the old Paris-Nice sleeper -- they're really not that bad!

Couchettes (reclining seats) on the old Paris-Nice sleeper — they’re really not that bad!

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Caledonian Sleeper_04

My best sleeper ride to date: the Caledonian Sleeper that runs between London and the Scottish Highlands. Comfortable, spacious, and comes with a steward who asks you what time you would like to be woken up in the morning. #fancy

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Sunrise over the tracks

Sunrise over the tracks


5. Trains are reliable.

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Okay, I know a lot of people will go “What?!” at this point. Some places (e.g., Singapore) have better train systems than others (e.g., Manila) and those who live in the latter would absolutely be justified in thinking I’m being sarcastic. But I’m not. I sincerely believe trains are reliable — or at least more reliable than cabs and buses and jeepneys. Strikes, snow on tracks, and Manila MRT woes notwithstanding, at least you can rely on trains to have fixed routes and fixed fares. You don’t have to worry about traffic jams and you don’t have to worry about the driver being the spawn of Satan.

(In Bangkok, once, instead of a straightforward drive to the airport, a cab driver took me and a friend on a circuitous route on the Thonburi side, passing by dark, deserted areas before finally crossing the Chao Phraya and depositing us at Suvarnabhumi Airport. I don’t know if the driver just wanted to squeeze as many bahts as he could out of that journey, or if he had more nefarious intentions and changed his mind only when I called another friend living in Bangkok and started describing every street, bridge and landmark I could spot. That was probably the most scared I had ever been in my life. I actually started sending out texts to everyone in my family, thanking them for everything and telling them I loved them, because for a time there I was convinced I would never see them again.)

Trust issues with cabs aside, there’s just a comfort in knowing you will be at a particular place at a particular time. In an uncertain world, in an uncertain life, that’s a huge deal.
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The quaint departures boards at Paris Gare du Nord

The quaint departures board at Paris Gare du Nord

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GK Chesterton’s Gabriel Syme said it best, I think, in The Man Who Was Thursday:

The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories.

A bit over the top, I suppose, and yet…just right on point too.

 

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Originally “For the Love of Trains: 5 reasons why you too should consider traveling by train on your next trip abroad”
LSS | Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains | All rights reserved

 


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42 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why You Should Consider Traveling by Train on Your Next Trip Abroad

  1. Absolutely agree with this. I get so upset every time I travel by plane, especially on a long journey with stopovers. The inconsistency with luggage, security, and the rest of it drives me crazy! Trains on the other hand are so peaceful! It was my favourite way to get around Europe.

  2. I travelling within Italy by train a bit last year, and it’d be my preferred method of travel every time if possible! I know it’s not always efficient if you’re running on a tight schedule, but if you DO have the time, I’d HIGHLY recommend it to everyone – try it at least once!! It just feels so much more REAL than travelling by plane, like it’s old world travel, the way it was meant to be… it’s the best!

    • It does feel much more authentic, doesn’t it? There’s a certain feeling when the train begins to pull out of the station. And sometimes — with sleepers, or with high-speed trains — it turns out to be even more efficient than other methods of travel.

      • Sometimes. It’s definitely a lot more comfortable in Europe. Have you ever taken the night train to Sapa? It was the furthest thing from comfortable. Really cold on the way there. Really hot on the way back. And it was similar to being tossed around in a washing machine I could imagine (with the fear of banging your head on the low ceiling). Always makes for a great story though, so I can’t really complain!

      • Haha! I haven’t tried to Sapa night train, but I think on one of the City Night Line trains recently, the air conditioning was weird, like, it would be cold for an hour and then hot the next. And we were on the top berths, where we couldn’t even sit up as the ceiling was too low, and my companion said, “Tell me again why you CHOSE the top beds?” 😀 Times like those I tell myself it’s at least an authentic experience — it’s how locals would travel if they were taking the night train, and not something put together for tourists. 😀

  3. Hey there! Found your blog via a comment on Project Magellan. Grabe, I’m drooling over your photos and all the places you’ve been to! And I’m happy to find someone who loves trains as much as I do. I’m hoping to try the sleeper from Manila to Naga next month with some friends. It’s not Paris to Venice by any means, but hey, a woman’s got to start somewhere. 🙂

    Will be following your blog now; I hope you don’t mind. Looking forward to reading more stuff from you soon. Cheers! 🙂

    Marnie
    lakadditolakaddoon.wordpress.com

    • Hi Marnie! Right now I’m drooling over YOUR photos! I haven’t been to Batanes yet. The Manila-Naga sleeper sounds interesting too; I think it was featured in Jay Taruc’s Motorcycle Diaries once, but I’ve never had the chance to try it yet. I followed your blog, too; I’m pretty sure you have a lot more to share. Happy travels!

  4. I will gladly cross Germany a number of times on the Deutsche Bahn (and other regional/city) trains. And I have, many times! With additional rides in England, Wales, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark, I’m definitely a big fan of (European) trains! 🙂

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    • Absolutely! Oh, there was a time when air travel was romantic — when people looked forward to the trip and dressed up for it, when passengers were treated with courtesy, and fellow passengers were well-mannered, and meals and check-in baggage were free. And there footrests! Now it’s all an ordeal, a necessity rather than the treat it used to be.

  6. I would love if you could give me some recommendation on booking trains. I’ll be doing a Eurotrip in August and booking hostels and trains has presented itself as quite the struggle!

      • I still haven’t booked anything because getting the UK visa has become quite the struggle haha but what I’ve sort of had a problem is is knowing times, knowing if the journey is long enough to be made at night and that way I can save that night’s hostel expense.

      • Oh, I see. This should be a good starting point for you:
        http://www.seat61.com/Europe-train-travel.htm

        There’s a lot of info there about checking train times, train fares, where to book tickets online, stuff like that. When I am planning anything train-related I go to that website and I rarely need to check anywhere else as most of the information I need is right there. Also, if you’ve checked the whole website and you can’t find the info you need, you can actually email the guy who runs the website and ask him for advice.

    • Hi Maria,
      I trained part-way through Europe on a couple occasions, and found that for me, the most practical way was to just buy a train ticket at the train station without trying to plan in advance. It can be stressful to plan in advance, and as long as you have an idea of where you want to go (making sure that there is a train station in the city you plan to visit) then the freedome to keep an open schedule and spend a few days/less in any given place you feel can be fun. The trains in Europe I found to be very easy, for international travel as well as most innercity subway travel. Maybe not what you were looking for as far as advice, but I hope it helps in a small way!

      • I agree! Not booking a train in advance gives you flexibility — if you discover that you really, really love a particular place, you can stay there longer than you originally intended to.

        I would just recommend booking trains in advance for cost-saving purposes, especially for intercity/inter-country trains — the difference between advance fares and fares on the actual day can be staggering.

  7. Great post. I’ve used trains extensively in Europe and the United States and far prefer them to planes. Comfortable seats, more room generally, you can walk around, watch the scenery. And the food is far far far (did I mention far?) better than the airlines; if I’m in France, I’ll board with a baguette and a half bottle of Mumm in my bag. Plus the romance of train travel. Have you ever heard the Steve Goodman song, City of New Orleans? It’s what I always think of when I travel.

    • You know, I must admit I hadn’t heard the song before, but I Googled it and became a convert after hearing the first few lines. I can imagine a train pulling out of the station into the sun and going past endless fields — that’s what the tune brings to my mind. Thank you!

  8. Hi, I love your posts and your travel!
    Just that if you stay in France for any time longer you won’t be saying train is reliable (at least not in France)… They do strike all the time meaning they can cancel yours at the last minute. And I was once stuck in Pairs on New Year Eve (!!!) instead of going back home because of some really stupid reason. Sorry, I like to complain to anyone about French train.
    I think it happens only in France and I agree that train is still much better than plane.

    • Hi Lapin! I’ve heard about the strikes, and I think it happens in other countries too. I’ve also heard there was an ATC strike in France recently. I’ve just been lucky not to have had my travel plans messed up by strikes yet. 🙂

      • Yes they did another strike like just 2 weeks ago (for weeks this time). There were days where more than 50% of the trains were cancelled. Paris was a mess!
        Fingers crossed for you to never have your plans messed by these sncf guys 🙂

  9. These are great reasons! I’m planning to study abroad in Madrid in the future. I’ve heard that it’s so easy to go from country to country via train, and I can’t wait to visit my friends studying abroad in other European countries!

  10. I couldn’t agree more. In a few days I’m off for a month in Europe, much of which will be riding the rails in Germany. I’m 6ft 2in, so it’s easy to imagine how much I enjoy the tightly-packed seating on planes these days. I’m waiting for the first trans-Atlantic tunnel with train service to the continent. ~James

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