When was the last time that you really enjoyed taking a flight? Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, the idea of standing in line, dealing with grumpy passengers and eating airplane food probably isn’t too appealing.

Fortunately, in many parts of the world, train travel is a viable alternative. This is certainly true in Europe, where the train system is excellent. Even in the United States, Amtrak is more affordable and comfortable than it is given credit for.

To get a better understanding of exactly why train travel is such a compelling travel option, I turned to train expert, Mark Smith, founder of Seat61. In our short interview, he explains which countries have the best train networks and when train travel really is a better option than flying.

 

Here are a few of the many reasons that train travel is so compelling, according to Mark.

Trains Put You Right in the Heart of the City

Ironically, one of the most frustrating things about flying is simply getting to the airport. There is nothing worse than sitting in traffic as the minutes before your flight tick down. Then, when you arrive in your new destination, you often have an hour taxi or bus ride ahead of you, just to get to the hotel. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy!

Trains are completely different. Since trains leave from the center of most major cities, they are typically easier to get to. They also take you right to the heart of your destination, which means that, in many cases, you can walk straight to your hotel.

On Trains, the Journey Really is as Important as the Destination

During our interview, Mark and I talk about how fun train travel can be. Unlike on flights, the passengers on trains are relaxed. As a result, conversations flow and friendships have time to develop.

This doesn’t mean that train trips are always uneventful. Mark explains that part of the fun of train travel is experiencing the unexpected. For example, Mark had quite an adventure on a trip from Kiev to Warsaw. At the Polish border, the customs agent found an illicit stash of vodka in one of the sleeping cars near to Mark’s. What is the craziest train experience that you have ever had?

Major adventures aside, when it comes to train travel, the journey really is as important as the destination. Every small town that you pass is a window into another world. Ever conversation that you have is a door to someone else’s life. All you need to do is sit back with a glass of wine and let the journey unfold.

Each Train Journey is Unique

Unless you are traveling first class, when you’ve seen one plane, you’ve seen them all. Trains are as unique as the countries that they travel through. Each train has its own unique style, cuisine and even language, reflecting the culture of the local population.

Mark talks about his recent trip on the Trans-Siberian Express. Over the course of 6 nights, he travelled 3000 miles, from Moscow to Beijing. Along the way, he was the scenery change from birch trees and wooden houses to camels and yurts! He says it was a non-stop party and the cuisine was unique. All this for a $450 ticket.

Trans-Siberian Express

Many of Mark’s favorite trips are in exotic locations. That said, he reminds us that train travel in the U.S. can also be fun. For example, you can travel on the California Zephyr, all the way from Chicago to San Francisco. In 51 glorious hours, you will see the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Moffat Tunnel, Winter Park, Truckee River, Donner Lake and much more!

Over the last few years, I have absolutely fallen in love with train travel. Now, I choose to travel by train whenever I can. I’d love to hear your thoughts on train travel. Let’s share our train stories in the comments below.

Do you prefer to travel by plane or by train? Is there a certain distance over which you would take a plane instead of a train? Why?

Let's Have a Conversation!