To Train or Not to Train?

Depending on your destination, you may have no choice but to travel by rail. Some countries, like the U.S., have less convenient railways and are better suited for road-trips or air travel. But when planning a multi-destination journey around Europe, we often find ourselves debating on the preferred method of travel between countries. Do we take the scenic route (train) or the route most conducive to saving our precious, precious vacation time (plane)? Typically, the cheaper option prevails.

No matter what continent you are traveling through, here are a few points to consider when deciding on what mode of transportation to use:

Pro: Relaxation / Con: Lost Time

When we travel, we make the most out of every second. We often arrive home exhausted (a sign of a good trip!) from trying to squeeze the most out of our experience. If we aren’t exploring museums or purposely getting lost in a new city, we can be found testing our limits with a physical activity (cliff rappelling in Interlaken, anyone?) or experiencing the nightlife and making new friends. Vacation for us is not a time to rest, but a time to explore! Traveling by rail offers a bit of a breather, a vacation away from your vacation if you will. Use this time to reflect on your adventure and take in the experience – we’ve found it’s a great time to catch up on our journaling. The downside to this is that train schedules may not always fit with your itinerary and might deduct an entire day from your trip. If your journey involves overnight trips (see below) and train transfers, you may want to think about a flight.

Pro: Overnight Trips Save on Accommodations / Con: Sleeper Bunks

Glamorous is not quite the word to describe an overnight train. But for the adventurous shoestring traveler, spending the night on the train is a great way to get to where you’re going while saving money and trouble on a hotel. If you have to travel a long way to get to the next spot, why waste those slumbering hours when all you’re doing is dreaming anyway? Imagine this: you pick up a bottle of red, some cheese and a baguette in Paris, go to sleep after your late-night snack and wake up in Barcelona well before the commuters hit the streets. The downside is the time you end up sharing a sleeper car with, say, a loud breather (ahem, Laurel), or perhaps a teenager with green hair who you just aren’t sure about – and that’s what the wine is for. Sharing a tiny room consisting of four to six bunk beds with perfect strangers is enough to dissuade some. But hey, if you can upgrade to a private sleeper, go for it! While our overnight train experiences haven’t been the most excitement we’ve ever had, we’ve been successful at getting a decent night’s sleep so that we are raring to go with that first step out the train door in a completely new land.

Pro: Neighbors / Con: Neighbors

Half the fun of travel is the people you meet along the way. In our shared and solo adventures, we’ve gleaned some great tips from fellow travelers. Train trips can be great places to strike up a conversation, practice a new language and learn something new. But then there are the trips that feel like the longest hours of your life. Like when you’re stuck next to a creep who keeps “accidentally” touching your leg. Or when you’re in front of the baby that won’t stop crying. You never know what you’re going to get every time that train leaves the station – but we have found that bringing both an open mind and an iPod comes in handy.

We’ve had some great train rides in our adventures (like the gorgeous views through southern France), and we’ve had some that left us thinking the next time we’d just fly (from southern Spain to Switzerland… bad idea). But fabulous companions, an old- fashioned game of MASH and a bottle (or box) of vino have always made the long hours fly by.

Have any tips for long train rides? We’d love to hear them! What are the most scenic views you’ve come across?

Bucabook (Kate, Katy and Laurel): In May 2006, three high school friends from Pennsylvania embarked on a summer-long backpacking adventure through Europe. Five years later and 21 countries between them, they remain great friends who faithfully document their adventures through a shared travel journal. When not traveling, you can find Kate in Philadelphia taking a dance class and always on top of the newest restaurants; Katy, also in Philadelphia, playing soccer, buying a book, and trying any food at least once; and Laurel in Chicago running a race, exploring her city or making a mean guacamole. They never rest for too long, there is always an experience to be had, a church steeple to be climbed and a body of water to swim in (clothing optional!) Look out for their passages of wisdom and top ten lists, or read more about their travels at

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    1. An excellent time to catch up on language skills, share stories, and regroup! Thanks for sharing.

    2. LOVE this post. Great advice and I definitely laughed out loud a couple of times reading too 🙂

    3. Still worlds better than the bus…and more expensive!

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