Overland journeying is always my preferred method. And of all the ways, train travel is my favorite. It often feels like a dying way of travel. I think it’s important for the future generations to pay more attention to train travel. Traveling by train offers many opportunities that other forms of travel don’t have. If you’ve never traveled by train, or have forgotten about the joys of it all, here is my list of 5 reasons for “why I love travelling by train“…
1. The Views You Get from Travel by Train
When you travel by train the landscape changes at a pace that is graspable. Sometimes a mountain shoots up surprisingly, but often the colours change from green to yellow to brown and you change with them and it feels as if you grow with the rock formation or forest. New nature arrives as you do, looking out of your window. Last year I went on The Dogu Express through Turkey on my way to Georgia. Imperceptibly, lakes turned to hills to farms, to villages with children picking their way through puddles on their way home from school, and finally into the wastes of the Anatolian plain. Gentle surprises.
2. Train Travel is Environmentally Responsible
Travelling by train, instead of by plane or car, on short-haul journeys undoubtedly decreases your carbon footprint.
According to Friends of the Earth, train travel produces ’emissions of CO2 per passenger/Km are, on average, approximately half that of travel by car’. They also state that ‘a rail passenger travelling by high speed train, even at 200Km/hr, typically uses only 0.8 – 1.0 MJ of energy compared to 1.4 – 2.8MJ for a car driver/passenger’.
Eurostar commissioned some research in which they claim their trains emit 10 times less carbon dioxide than an equivalent journey by plane. There is much debate around this issue. Other useful sites to follow are Treehugger.com or Greenpeace, who regularly produce articles exploring the benefits of trains over other forms of transport.
3. Sleeper cars – the ultimate hotel room
I love settling down into my sleeper. Sometimes the train fares are so cheap that a private sleeper cabin can be expensive, but the overall cost is still less than a hotel room. I love the tiny fridge, and the little corner sink. I love the armchairs that turn into a bunk, and the way the other bunk falls down on a strap from the wall. And when it’s time to have a drink in the restaurant car in the early evening, you know that the train guard is going into your room to make the beds with stiff white sheets and scratchy blankets. When you come back you just can’t wait to climb the little ladder and read by the tiny light. Six by three feet of moving tiny hotel room that you become really attached to.
I sleep so well on trains – the rumbling and swaying and rocking. When you wake up the sun is blinking through the gap in the blind. You lift open the bling and just like that, you are in another country, leaning on pillows wrapped in a sheet, looking at new landscapes.
4. Unexpected Encounters
You never know who you will meet on trains. Unlike other forms of transport, you are not all getting on or off at the same place. You overlap with others’ lives briefly, glancingly. On a train in Italy near Naples, a large Italian man and his wife were sitting in our reserved window seats. They knew, but they didn’t care and we were too scared to tell them – he looked frightening. After an hour, I was convinced the man was part of the Camorra – the mafia around Naples. I just had a feeling. I tried to get Scott to get us an invite to a mafia bash with champagne and glamour. When we left the train, he said he had arranged for us to go to a calzone party, which is folded pizza.
On a late train from London I was sitting opposite a man with a face that made my heart skip. I stared at him in the reflection in the window, pretending I was gazing thoughtfully into the night. Then I caught his eye looking at me in the window. We did not take our eyes off each other’s reflection for the whole journey. When the train stopped he took my hand and we got off the train and walked along the platform. We went through the barriers and then finally looked at each other, smiled and parted ways.
On the Bernina Express I watched a teenaged Turkish girl watching the sky and clouds through the panoramic ceiling window as we climbed into the Swizz Alps and humming to herself. I felt like I knew her and all the social constraints were swept away. She got out her new smartphone and spent the rest of the journey playing with it as the glorious soaring mountains passed her by.
5. Ease of Train Travel
Airports = stress and boredom. Cars = continuous concentration and boredom. Buses = uncomfortable and boring. But train travel! The best reason of all to travel by train is it gives pause. You are in a state of in-between. The distance between places on a long journey means you let go of where you were, but do not commit quite yet to where you are going. You are present. You can muse and let your eyes flicker at the myriad passing trees, at the people whose lives you glimpse for a second, at a small mammal living by the tracks. The stations punctuate your rhythm like a beat, the train takes you at its own mystical speed. I take time to read, to think, to write. Indeed, I decided to start my travel blog in the twilight of evening train journey, somewhere in Europe.
My favorite resourceful site for train travel information is ‘the man in Seat 61′. It is a labor of love by Mark Smith and it has well-researched information about any overland trip you might care to make. It fills me with excitement every time I visit – I plan trips I have never heard of, to places I never imagined visiting.
Read more about my journey on the Dogu Express here.