The Genius of Traveling by Train
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We’ve been of the belief that flying is the best way to travel. The ads have told us so since well before we were born. Our parents lived in the golden years of flying and we live in the inexpensive, easily accessible age of flying. So we ask ourselves, why would we drive 6 hours when we could fly for one hour? Why would we drive a car, pay for gas, put the wear and tear on the car and pay for a meal on the road, when we could spend $50-200 on a flight and be done with it? This logic makes perfect sense… in the United States.
However, in Europe, we were slapped in the face with a new reality. Trains.
Trains Are the Answer to Travel
While teleportation would clearly be the best option, until that becomes a reality, there are three main methods of getting from point A to point B: car, plane, or train.
When it comes to travel by car, there are a few things we dislike about road trips...
- How long it takes
- The traffic
- Cost of gas
- Cost of maintenance/Cost of rental
- Stopping for bathroom breaks
- You can’t work/play/sleep and drive at the same time
And what do we dislike about plane travel? (post 9/11)
- 3 oz containers
- Taking out our laptops
- Arriving 2 hours early
- Checking our bags and them getting lost
- Stuffing our bags into tiny overhead compartments
10 Reasons To Take the Train Instead
- Relatively no security to go through
- You can arrive on time, not hours in advance
- There is plenty of leg space and table space
- You can sleep, work, and/or play
- WiFi is included on many trains
- There is plenty of space to store luggage
- There are restrooms on board
- Relatively inexpensive
- No traffic, so faster than cars
- Scenic views
Sadly, the United States doesn’t have an extensive network of rail lines and severely lacks the competition that fosters growth and innovation in the industry and lowers ticket prices. Lucky for us though, we’re in Europe where you can’t go far without seeing a train.
Green Eggs and Ham on a Train? Could You, Would You?
Before beginning our traveling adventure, we discussed modes of transportation. We knew we’d rent cars infrequently, opting to get around town by foot and public transportation. We thought we’d travel from place to place by low cost airline carriers. Ryanair, FlyBe, Easy Jet, Virgin, etc., all offer tickets within Europe at very low competitive prices. Prices that if in the US would make travelers drool. Don’t get us wrong, we also knew that trains are quite prevalent in Europe and we figured we’d travel occasionally by train as well. But with our experiences in the United States and learning to love the simplicity of flying, we thought that would be our go-to option.
Oh How Things Change
Now that we’re here, we’ll choose a train over a plane the majority of the time. We don’t have to worry about fitting our bag in a tiny overhead compartment. We don’t have to worry about security lines, or if security will take our bag apart one item at a time. We don’t have to arrive two hours early. We avoid it all by purchasing a cheaper ticket on a train. Plus, we can reserve a table seat in a quiet compartment and sit back and work or relax.
Not only is the travel itself easier for our relocating to a new place/destination, trains open up doors to further out places for day trips. As we’re often house sitting, we don’t often have the luxury of staying out overnight somewhere, so we’re limited to where we can get in a day. A bus can only take you so far, but a train can get a pretty decent distance because of its speed and it has limited traffic and traffic lights to obey. So, instead of a 50-mile radius we now have a 150-mile radius we can travel.
Let’s Take a Day Trip to Germany!
And that’s what we did! While on a housesit in Amsterdam we reached out to a friend from the Netherlands. He heard we were in the area and offered to meet us in Amsterdam, or better yet, take us to Dusseldorf for the famous German Christmas market. Our Choice?! We choose Dusseldorf! We looked up the train schedules. Well, really we just used an online ‘journey planner’ and the work was done for us. We figured out the train we’d take and planned the trip. We met our friend half-way there and he drove us into Germany for an afternoon of lunch and walking through Dusseldorf. In over a month of travel, he was the first person we’d seen that we knew before our trip. The familiar face was a welcome sight!
The train was easy to catch and only had a handful of stops before reaching our exiting point. It was quick and simple. We both relaxed back in our seats on a double-decker train, put in our headphones, and admired the Netherlands country side as it passed by.
We Didn’t Know What We Were Missing
Living our life in the US, we had no idea what we were missing. We left home 2-3 hours early (well, only an hour early for the quiet Boise airport!), we showed our ID and boarding pass, took our shoes off and took out our laptops. We accepted security pat downs and grudgingly accepted the smaller and smaller cabin spaces, and we felt thrilled to get a small beverage and peanut-free snack on board. We were sold the dream of flying and thought it was the way to see the world.
Now we know that there’s a better way, at least in Europe. Each country and train company is slightly different and takes a bit to navigate at first. We have an app for every major train company on our phone, many allowing us to travel with a digital ticket and providing updates on train locations. The train stations can be small, or so big and vast that they’re almost as complicated as navigating airport terminals. But what you get in positives by traveling by train, is well worth the downsides.
Yesterday we were planning our travel accommodations to get from London to Chester, England at the end of January. Clocking in at 200 miles, we had three options. Rent a car, go by train, or get on a plane. We didn’t even consider a car rental and plane tickets had about a 30 second discussion. Train was the primary option and we spent our time finding the best route, while taking into account travel duration, transfers, and cost.
When we’re not familiar with the train companies servicing the route we need to take, we have three tools we rely on that get the job done.
Use Google Transit and enter in your starting and ending points. If you want, add additional filters for method of transportation preferred and route preferences. Click on 'Get Directions' and then select the route that you want more details on. This presents you with the company and website information so that you can purchase your tickets.
Or, use Google search engine by typing the place of origin to the destination in the following format: Place of Origin 'to' Destination. This search then brings up directions in the Google search results. The directions default to driving directions, so change it by clicking on the small buss icon located above the map. This gives you all of the public transportation options. We click on the details link for the train option. This reveals the train companies and routes. From there we go directly to the companies site to find cost and purchase tickets.
We never just settle with one result. We've had great success with Rome2Rio. It's a site dedicated to giving all the options available to get from place A to place B. The user interface is easy to use, just follow the steps by entering your place of origin and the place of destination. A list, similar to Google's list, will be presented. What we like about Rome2Rio is that not only is it a second opinion to Google, but it gives an estimated price range for each option of travel. After clicking on the method we want to investigate further, Rome2Rio gives us the travel details and the site to visit to purchase tickets.
Lastly, Seat61, can't go without a mention. It's the best website that we've found with general and detailed train advice. If you want to know anything about traveling by train, this should be your first stop. You can find everything from recommended routes, video or pictures of the train, accommodations provided, cost, and general tips for the trip.
Often we can purchase our tickets ahead of time, but occasionally we can’t reserve tickets in advance. In this case, we show up at the train station and buy our tickets from an automated ticket machine or from an attendant. Our trip from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf was planned out ahead of time online, but we purchased the tickets on the morning of travel. Planning it ahead of time helped the purchase of the tickets, the finding of the platform, and the boarding of the train go without a hitch.
Our One Wish
Oh how we wish the US would get on board with travel by train. We already know that when we go back to the States, we’ll miss the ease of travel by train. So please, oh please, let there be more trains in the US!