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?
I actually love train rides almost all the time… at least when I am with someone else. Alone, anything longer than an hour can be boring. But with others, it can be fun. Also, I don’t ride trains often enough to be sick of them, so they can actually be a bit of an adventure. The best are straight-through, where you don’t have to switch partially through the trip.
Also, do you “sleep photograph” (like sleep walking, but with cameras)…? ;)
I think you’re probably right that train rides are better when you’re not alone. And transferring and changing trains is probably the most stressful part of train travel! You never know what the connections are like and stations can be really hectic — sometimes more than airports!
And yes – my secret superpower is sleep-photographing ;)
I’ll take a train over a bus any day. 14 hour bus rides with no bathroom and nowhere to go when you’re sick of sitting still? Argh. I also think it’s easier to get on a train than go through airport security, so if it’s a relatively short flight, it might be more efficient to go by train, even though it’s much slower.
Sometimes I actually prefer the bus, but probably not for looooong journeys – max 4 or 5 hours.
I enjoyed traveling by train in europe.. but then again, i never tried it alone. i think you just need a travel companion!
Yes Esther! I think you’re completely right – train travel is much better when you’re not alone :)
i took the train from Xi-an to Tibet.. on the Qinghai–Tibet railway, Qinghai–Xizang railway or Qingzang railway, a high-elevation railway that connects Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet in China.. for about 1 day.. totally mesmerised by the landscape and scenery out there.. was like a fairy land.. so i wasn’t really bored.. the other half, i was sick from the high altitude.. lol
That sounds like an incredible train journey! I think the scenery is a big part of what can make or break train travel
I love train travel, especially for holidays and leisure trips. The chance to sit back and do nothing. If I want I can get up, there’s more room than on the plane, and sometimes the change to have a sleeper!
The EuroStar is excellent, and much quicker. Train travel in China is fast and efficient. Night sleepers through Vietnam and India are a fascinating experience. And I must admit, due to the motion, I tend to sleep better.
But train travel in the UK is not fun, way too many delays – and too too expensive! When cost outweighs the enjoyment.
I do like how easy it is to get up and walk around on a train, Ryan, but I still get worried (and probably over-paranoid) about leaving my belongings behind. At least on a bus or a plane there’s less worry about something going missing. Trains are far from enclosed capsules and who knows who might be on board!
Night trains can be a lot of fun as well. I always thought it was pretty cool to go to sleep in one country/area and wake up in another!
I enjoyed my train rides in UK, probably because I can never get that kind of sceneries back home.I like long train rides too because I tend to get sleepy and start napping as the train moves along…
Trains make me sleepy too!
I think it really depends on the country, the route you’re on and the time of day. I’ve travelled the length of Austria many times in both directions, and if it’s dark outside and the train is busy, it can be a boring and stressful ride. If, on the other hand, it’s daytime (summer or winter), the scenery is quite spectacular for a lot of the main line from Vienna to Bregenz, passing through Linz, Salzburg and Innsbruck, it’s like the Austrian top hits!
I think your’e spot on about the route & time of day, Sam. It can make a big difference on how much fun the trip is…
Really no.. Train travel is a very nice experience of travelling. Train travel is the best part of journey. I always try to make it long as much i can do.
Sleeping at the time of train journey is really waste of time. I always prefer by train all the time.
Thanks for sharing Bhuvan! I do tend to think it can be a nice way to travel – just depends on the route and where you’re headed
I traveled by train in India with my entire family while I was on India tour. So, I can’t ignore that that was such a great journey of my whole life. I enjoyed too.
When I was in India I also traveled almost exclusively by train. Those train journeys were a lot of fun and standout as incredible memories from my 3 months in India.
I always really enjoy train travel as long as I have a book, some music or a project to finish. Or company. company always makes unbearable trips bearable.
This last year I spent 8 hours train hopping from Berlin to Denmark on a ‘nice weekend ticket,’ never managing to find a seat but it was super fun because of the sleep deprivation/best friend combination. Would have been way worse if I was alone, of course… but I wasn’t, so it turned out to be a very memorable trip.
Love the “Schones Wochenende” ticket! You’re right that having a companion or friend with you can make a bad experience so much better. I definitely find “seat hopping” to be stressful here in Germany on the Deutsch Bahn – sometimes it seems impossible if you haven’t reserved a seat!
I love train journeys! It allows me to have some intimacy with my ipod! Obviously I’m not talking about trains in the UK where they can’t even get the basics right! It’s either heating on full during the summer or no heating at all during the winter! Rant over!
Hahah, I’ve heard bad stories about the trains in the UK but I suppose everyone feels that way about the trains in their home country. When you’re somewhere foreign, everything that might be bad just feels so much more exotic and interesting…
you should try train travel in my country, it’s “challenging” ;)
but in some places the scenery is great to see… the bad thing is the train lol
Yeah I would agree that some trains are better than others. But almost always the scenery outside can be pretty majestic
if you are lucky to have a good company next to you, the time will probably pass very fast. I took once a 28h train ride in South Africa- time passed very fast; mostly reading.
Reading is definitely a good way to pass time on a long train journey.
Oh, trains with no wifi – hello, England! You only get wifi in first class, which I find ridiculous as economy class tickets are usually anything but economical!
I do enjoy train travel. I love watching the scenery roll by, which is something you don’t always get on a bus. I love the convenience. In South Korea, the fast trains now have a cinema on board, and the slow trains have always had a car with arcade games and private karaoke rooms! If I could, I’d go everywhere by train, but it’s not always an option due to fares – planes in Europe often work out a lot cheaper. Seriously, it’s cheaper for me to get return airfare to Amsterdam than it is for me to get a return train ticket to London :S
That’s strange that wifi is only available in first class. Seems like if they’ve got the capability might as well make it available for everyone. Imagine an airplane which only allows first class to use the wifi?!
Also: so so so cool that trains in Korea have arcade games and karaoke rooms!! I’d never heard that before but it sounds amazing.
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