A few days ago I took a 6.5 hour train ride from Berlin to Stuttgart. It was an InterCity-Express train (affectionately abbreviated I-C-E) but due to the fact that Germany is BIG, and that there are only specific routes…what would be a six hour car ride is almost seven hours by train. So fact number one: train travel in Germany is faster than some modes of transportation (bus, hitchhiking, walking) but not always the fastest (planes, fast cars, teleportation). Fact number two: traveling by train usually means you’re not driving the engine car, so you’ve got time to accomplish things.
For me, train travel is a rather complicated affair. I’ve loved the convenience (from city-center to city-center!) and the opportunity to do things, but sometimes I just find the ride boring. Are trains an inherently boring way to travel? Or are they actually interesting?
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This past week I’ve been on a LOT of trains. Invited by the Deutsche Bahn to explore the Baden-Württemberg region of southwestern Germany, I’ve visited at least 7 cities in 7 days…almost exclusively by train. Train travel seems to illicit some pretty passionate responses from its fans. And while I’m all for it in theory, in practice it’s another story.
Now, I’m not implying that I dislike train travel. In fact, I actually enjoy it. Even right now, I’m writing this while sitting on a train. (This one’s going from Baden-Baden to Freiburg). I frequently take the trains to get around Germany because, though more expensive than other transportation options, they’re so incredibly convenient. Train stations are almost always located within the city centers. From the train to a hotel might be as little as 20 minutes, while flights often take up more time (and certainly more stress). Time that could be used for sightseeing, sleeping or exploring…
TRAVEL TIP: Baden-Württemberg’s many small towns and cities are easily accessible by train. From big cities such as Stuttgart with amazing museums to the small villages in the Black Forest, the region has some of the best things found in Germany: Black Forest cake, fast cars (the Mercedes-Benz headquarters for one!), chocolate factories, thermal spas, art museums and the world’s 2nd largest beer festival! — More information about Baden-Württemberg
The positives I see from train travel are the following:
- Convenience (city-center to city-center)
- Potential to do things and get work done
- Scenic routes through the countryside
- Last-minute bookings (and even occasional special deals!)
But for every positive, there’s also a negative. While there’s the opportunity to get work done on a train, if you don’t have a seat reservation and it’s a crowded train route, the stress of finding a seat can be rather prohibitive. I’ve found that train rides of varying lengths are of varying boring-ness. A train ride more than 30 minutes but less than an hour usually means I’ll be productive with various leisure or business activities: photo-editing, writing (hey there!), reading a newspaper or (if there’s wifi) responding to emails. Any journey slightly longer than that amount of time and I can’t find the motivation to pull out my laptop. Too short of a train journey and I’ll probably just sit there twiddling my thumbs. Boring.
And sure: scenic train routes can absolutely be incredible. There are some truly beautiful routes through Germany (especially in the Black Forest), but that also means you need to be able to snag a window seat!
TRAVEL TIP: On the Deutsche Bahn trains (and I suspect others, too), make sure you get a window seat with an actual window! Sometimes the train design actually means that some “window” seats are next to a section without windows. — More information about Deutsche Bahn on the official website
For me, I only find train travel boring when: there isn’t wifi (which is surprisingly often in Europe), when I don’t have a seat by a window, and when, for reasons completely in my control, I lack the focus to actually be interested by the things I could be doing (reading, writing, talking). Are trains a boring way of transport? Sometimes. But it is what you make it. How do you keep yourself entertained on train journeys?