Many of you have questioned why I chose to use the train over the plane, both domestically, and in foreign countries. The first and obvious answer is that it generally costs less. And second, it produces a smaller carbon footprint. And third, it generally starts and ends in the center of a city or town. And in my opinion, more fun!
Fodor’s discusses the train option in greater detail. My friend Katy who travels the world 365 days a year, always opts for the train or ship, and rarely flies. Kudos to her!
New and updated rail networks are popping up all over the world. Of course, there have been some rather horrendous rail accidents in the past few months, mostly with freight trains, but a few passenger trains as well.
The train is more predictable than the plane. There are fewer encounters and rules, no TSA, no metal detectors, and I am free to bring bottled water, even champagne onto the train. No security line!!
Train luggage allowance is more liberal than the plane, and costs less as well. For short trips, your carry on will suffice. For longer trips, check a larger bag focused on your destination, and use the carryon enroute for showers, sleep, and casual dressing. Slippers are always a treat for me on longer train rides.
The seats are much more comfortable, and generally only two-wide. And most recline to a comfortable angle. Some have an adjustable footrest, some allow windows to open for fresh air, and most always, a very effective shade can be pulled down for privacy and comfort. And workaholics can opt for a seat with a table for your laptop and other work material.
Superior service is a given, along with a lighter, more laidback mood on the train. There are no limitations to refreshment time, potty time, or snack and mealtime. And you can always bring your own.
First and Business class are more affordable than on a plane. On long rides, a private roomette or cabin is most enjoyable.
No hidden fees, for things like baggage, or boarding time. First class often includes meals, snacks, water, and even wine tasting.
The view from the ground allows a glimpse into everyday life. The view from a plane tends toward cloudy skies, or large expanses of farmland and desert. I particularly enjoy the views in far off places, like Siberia, Patagonia, Canada, and Peru.
Ahhhh, the sleeper car! This is perhaps the best part of train travel. And the bed is much more comfortable than anything on an airplane, short of a Singapore Airlines suite.
Less pre-travel time, just show up, as the train may arrive early, but cannot leave until its scheduled departure! No TSA, no long baggage lines, no cattle call when boarding. Train stations tend to be located in the center of most cities.
Less post-travel time, since the main train stations are in the center of the city. And related travel infrastructure, like buses and subway/trams are more likely options, post flight.
The schedule is much more reliable than air travel. In Japan, the bullet trains arrive and depart at the specified time.
Train bathrooms are much roomier. Your forehead will appreciate it!
Moving freely is great, from the observation car to the dining car, to the movie car, to your own space. Being able to walk the train from front to back is a lifesaver.
Generally, the train is a smoother ride, with no air turbulence! And the comforting sound of clickety clack lends to the adventure and romance of train travel.
Train stations in many countries are showpieces of the city and the era. Some are so magnificent, they become museums (Musee d’Orsay). Even in the US, Denver, Washington DC, Grand Central are amazing sights.
Taking the train is a better option to experience what everyday life is for the locals. I have much some amazing people on the train.
Tickets tend to be more flexible, can be upgraded or changed at the last minute. I missed the Trans-Siberian Railway in Ekaterinburg, and was re-ticketed to a later train.
Most train operators have wi-fi now, except for Amtrak here in the U.S.
Ride in style, the romantic era of trains are making a big comeback, from the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada to the Rovos Rail in South Africa.
Here is my bottom line for you. Try it once, and I think you will like it. Even a relatively short haul, like the Coast Starlight here on the west coast will provide a nice introduction for you. You will not regret it.