When it comes to traveling around, Europeans have been very lucky. I mean I don’t know if they realize how lucky they are, or maybe they do. But they are. A journey that could take hours on end is usually cut down tremendously.? Take for example the
non-existent American train system, Amtrak. The distance from Boston to New York City, a trip I have made countless times on the train, is 190 miles or roughly 306 kilometers. From South Station, Amtrak will take about 4 hours to reach Penn Station, and that’s if you are lucky and the train leaves on time! Now take London – Paris route. The distance from London to Paris is approximately 214 miles or 344 kilometers, a little more than the Boston – New York route. The London to Paris train on Eurostar will take you from St. Pancras station to Gare de Nord in about 2 hours!! That’s half the time for a longer distance for as little as 60. The Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam takes a little over 3 hours. Ridunkulous!!
But why am I saying all this? To say that Americans need to upgrade their train system. European trains, and I suspect Asian trains also, make the Amtrak feel like a horse and buggy. So there is absolutely no reason whatsoever you should spend money and time flying during your European vacation. Nada. Trains are super easy, popular, fast, cheap so they are perfect for that ‘backpacking Europe’ trip you have been holding out on. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love easyJet and Vueling. I’m all for cheap flights, and they are my go-to European budget airlines when I
feel like traveling with the peasants have limited time on long journeys. But when I do have the time, which is most of the time, it’s trains all the way. And here’s why. Get our list of best apps for your next vacation to help you schedule and book your train tickets.
1. Their train stations are hella swanky.
Have you ever had to wait for the 11pm overnight train from Boston to Washington DC, only to find the only place to buy food is the “Chinese” restaurant next to McDonalds? Depressing I know. If you have been to the Amtrak train station in New York, you will know why. Unless they have completely revamped the train station in Boston, South Station is a total disgrace for such a big city. Yes some people might find St. Pancras in London to be a little lacking but to be honest, I would take it any day over most train stations in the US. I mean have you been to the Le Train Bleu restaurant inside Gare de Lyon in Paris? Apparently Brigitte Bardot and Coco Chanel have dined here darrrling. How about that for posh!
2. The trains are fast.
Like really fast, sometimes even faster than flying.? For example, a flight from Paris to London takes a little less than an hour. Eurostar takes 2. But if you factor in the time it takes to go to the airport, security checks, deplane and wait for luggage, you end up spending way more time than if you had taken the train. Plus, the train stations are usually located in city centers, drastically reducing your travel times.
3. The seats are comfortable.
This is one of the reasons I always advocate for train travel instead of flying; the seats. If you are traveling as a family of 4, or 8 like us in August, you can get seats of 4 with a table in the middle. There are even single seats for introverts in the first class. But even in 2nd, the seats are super comfy with plenty of space and legroom, especially for us tallies. But the ones on the German ICE trains, TOPS!! For folk with back problems or even cannot/will not sit still for more than 2 hours, there is usually a restaurant/bar car where you can have a meal and a drink or just stand while watching the scenery whizz past you. If you book a first class seat, you can even have a meal/drink delivered to your table. Sometimes the cost of the first class ticket is not that much different from 2nd class, so you can go ahead and upgrade yourself and leave us peasants in 2nd. Order that martini and watch the French countryside roll by. Aahh the good life.
4. The tickets are cheaper.
Well for this you have to be a savvy traveler and expert bargain hunter. ?Unlike airline tickets, there are no extra taxes, you don’t pay for baggage fees (again, it depends. I believe for low-cost trains like OUIGO there is a baggage limit), no airport fees, and kids up to a certain age can travel for free or at a discounted price. I am always getting an email on discount Eurostar tickets. To get the cheapest ticket, you buy well in advance, especially for popular routes. Usually tickets will open about 3 months or more in advance so it pays to get on that email list to receive last minute train deals. And another trick, if you are located in the US or happen to be there while buying your train ticket, your browser will immediate direct you to RailEurope. Don’t do it! You will end up paying way more PLUS you cannot pick a seat. So this is what I do; because each European country has its own train operation with a ticket system, I go to them. I’m pretty sure someone in France is getting calls from oui.sncf because I used their number. Also if anyone from oui.sncf is reading this, everything I said above is just a joke. I never pretend to be based in France.
5. They keep time.
Well, it can vary here especially with regional trains but I have found in general, European trains are almost ALWAYS on time. If your ticket says departure time of 7am, that means by 6:59 and 55 seconds the train conductor will be pulling out of the train station. You arrive a minute late for a German train? Forgettaboutit! There is efficiency that’s just wonderful.? Neither rain nor storms can stop their trains. The only thing that can stand in the way? A strike. I swear Europeans and strikes go hand in hand, so it’s always better to be prepared for any disruptions.
6. The scenery.
Europe has some amazing countrysides and traveling by train gives you that opportunity to admire the views. If you are traveling on a train that’s duplex, choose a seat on the upper deck for the best views . The scenery on the Paris to Nice train, right after you pass by Marseille, is absolutely gorgeous. Unless of course you are allergic to good views, and in that case, the bottom deck is all yours.
And food. The fact that no one makes you throw away your food and drink at the station makes train travel a WINNER for me. How many times have you been made to drink your very expensive juice or throw away food/lotion/spray/anything that looks like it may or may not be a liquid? Too many times! Now you mean I can bring my own bottle of wine and drink it DURING my travels?🚆 + 🍷 = happy me.
8. There is no turbulence.
I know for some long time trekkers this might not be a serious issue, but there are people in this world who are terribly afraid of turbulence. Yes they tell you about the odds of dying in a plane vs. car vs. stepping outside of your house, but who’s thinking of all that when the wing of your plane is shaking harder than a saltshaker? Not I said the cat. So think about your mental health. There is nothing that makes me find religion faster than turbulence (well moderate in my case). Wait, I lied. Paying my bills with a credit card I just used to ball out during my last vacation does that too!
9. Trains are less polluting.
Apparently planes are responsible for something like 29 times more CO2 emissions than trains. That explains that fee on your airline ticket! That’s abysmal, so even if you don’t like trains, at least do it for the environment. The planet will thank you. Again, your health or future health is on the line. Keep pollution down.
10. The simplicity of it all.
I know it might be daunting for a first-timer, but I promise you it’s really not that bad. Again, train stations are located in the middle of the city, so there is usually tons of transportation options to and from the station. For most, there is little to no check-in and long security lines (unless crossing borders of course), no obnoxious person looking at your luggage so they can hit you with that over-the-limit fee. Lost luggage is literally unheard of . You just arrive at the train station with your ticket 15 minutes before boarding time, find your train and hop on, and be on your merry way. So don’t waste your time moving from airports during your Euro holiday, just do what the Europeans do. TAKE THE TRAIN.
p.s. If you need detailed information on train travel, head over to the man in seat61. He’s got ALL the low-down on trains around the world.