Flying’s no fun any more. Here’s 5 reasons why train travel will put the smile back on the jaded traveler’s face.
I’m finding less and less joy in flying these days. It is usually incredibly uncomfortable, increasingly degrading, often a health risk from the recirculation of stale, germ-laden air and generally far more time consuming than I expect it to be. I’ve wasted hours of my life, which I’ll never get back, hanging around in airport lounges waiting for flights, queuing in mile-long check-in lines at budget airlines, waiting interminably on the tarmac for take-off paths to be cleared or air-bridges to be found and standing, hopefully, at luggage carousels with my fingers crossed that my luggage will eventually emerge – in one piece.
For all of these reasons, and more, I’m opting for train travel more and more these days and here’s why.
Not much beats train travel for comfort. Even economy seats are designed for a normal sized bum, not a stick insect. From third class to first, you will always have more leg room on a train than in a plane and no-one will recline their seat in front of you. You can get up and move around, use your phone, chat with other travellers or wander off to the buffet car for a snack or the dining car for a proper meal. Everyone on a train gets to enjoy the view and there is actually a view to enjoy as you ride through the landscape getting a proper look at the scenery. And because you are on land, the air conditioning is recirculating fresh air, meaning much less chance of catching the cold that sniffling, sneezing guy across the aisle is struggling with.
When you catch a train you simply purchase your ticket and board. You don’t have to be at the station two hours before you travel, there’s no queuing at check-in lines or long boarding lines at the gate. You pick up your bag and get on. There’s no sitting around waiting for clearances either. I’ve traveled a lot in trains all around the world and have only ever had one delayed departure which was because of a rock-fall on the lines – a rare occurence.
Consider the train trip from Milan to Paris. It takes just over seven hours, leaving from the centre of Milan and arriving in Gare de Lyon in central Paris. The plane takes about an hour, but you have to get to the airport which is about an hour from the centre of Milan – extra cost. You will need to be there two hours before your flight, which you will have to queue to check in to and which may well be delayed. You will need to factor in 3/4 – 1 hour on landing for disembarking the plane and waiting for your luggage, then you have to negotiate a large airport and get transport into Paris – another hour and another extra cost. At best you might save an hour or two on the trip, you’ve seen nothing of the scenery between the two countries and, if you are like me, you are totally strung out and a little twitchy from all of the hassle.
It’s generally cheaper to take the train, especially over shorter distances and you won’t have to pay extra for luggage – an increasingly common charge on budget flights. There are no costly, long trips to and from a remote airport. Train tickets prices don’t change on a daily basis and you don’t have to book months in advance to save money. Sometimes, when traveling over long distances, it can be cheaper to take the train overnight, thus saving on the cost of a hotel room.
As I mentioned above, train travel doesn’t cost extra for luggage and you are most unlikely to lose your bags as you have them with you, or place them at the baggage car yourself. Your bags are much less likely to be damaged by rough handling during train travel as they are simply placed in the baggage car and then on the platform for you to retrieve. They are certainly not thrown about from a plane hold to a cart, transported through sometimes dodgy weather across a tarmac then hurled onto a carousel.
This is not to be underestimated. Train journeys become a valuable and pleasant part of your travel experience. Without the hassle and queues of air travel, you can relax into your passage, soothed by the rhythmic rocking of the carriages and the clackety-clack of the rails as the miles roll away beneath you. You won’t have to take your shoes off for security and no-one is going to make you pour out your bottle of drink. Rather than being whisked from one city/country to another, train travel allows you to experience the journey, enjoying the changing landscape and getting glimpses of the small towns and villages that you pass through.
While the expensive days of grand train travel might be more or less over, it’s still affordable to head off to the dining car for a sit-down meal with full service, uniformed staff and proper china. Great Southern Rail here in Australia and most trains in Europe and North America have a bar where you can get to know your fellow travelers over a drink. Even trains in the less developed countries have snack and beverage trolleys which trundle through the carriages offering tea, coffee and soft drinks.
For those who can afford it, the deliciously luxurious rail experience is still accessible with comfortable individual cabins which are magically converted by attentive staff. While you have your meal, your seat is transformed into a bed in a cosy sleeping compartment and you comfortably slumber the dark miles away, rocked to sleep by the gentle motion.
Or you can be jammed into a seat designed to fit a five year old child, with your knees up around your ears. You choose.