In defence of train travel


As per usual here, we were running on Thai time. The train was scheduled to leave at 17:05, it was now 18:05. It didn't matter though as we had nowhere to be. Our train was to arrive in the town of Surat Thani in southern Thailand at 4:30am but the first bus to the port didn't leave until 6:00. From there we'd hop on a 90 minute speed boat and then try to catch a taxi to the opposite side of the island and find a place to stay for the night. We'd use almost all modes of transport to get us from Bangkok to Koh Samui with the exception of flight.

The more I travel, the more I enjoy it. The journey itself is something I'm coming to enjoy just as much as any other part of the trip. The goal for most travellers when it comes to the actual /travelling/ part of the trip is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible and probably as cheap as is still comfortable. Sixteen hours of traveling to make it the same distance as a two hour flight (that costs maybe an extra $100) may sound idiotic to most.

One of the biggest reasons I love to travel is being able to experience new and different cultures, something I find infinitely interesting. Experiencing and learning about other cultures has also given me a new appreciation and point of view towards my own culture. But when I hop on an airplane to hit the next major city I'm skipping a huge part of the country that I'm visiting.

While I'll take buses now and then I particularly love train travel for a number of reasons:

1. Comfort - Every train trip I've taken has been somewhat more comfortable than any plane ride. Even more so than the one first class flight I've taken. Everything from the air quality, leg room, lack of ridiculous security procedures, etc.

2. Sight seeing - Trains generally take very rural routes and unlike buses which primarily stay on major highways, trains will drive within meters of where some of the poorest people in the country live. And while it can be quite disheartening to see the way such a huge percentage of the population have to live, at the same time it's quite eye opening and provides a more complete view of the place you're visiting.

3. The people - Almost every long distance train ride I've taken is filled with a huge range of people. Backpackers, families, wealthy, poor, elderly, and in many cases all travellng in the same class. All these people together combine to make up the a fairly comprehensive view of the culture of a place all in one cozy little train car.

One of the limiting factors for many people is time. Why would anyone choose to use up an entire day of their trip to travel when they could make up the same mileage in a fraction of the time? Most north americans have only a mere two weeks of vacation per year, and spending a substantial amount of that time on trains and buses seems a bit foolish when there are quicker alternatives.

But by the time you factor in the time to get to/from the airport (generally bus and train stations are in city centre's versus airports that are somewhat outside, and you need to take this into account on both ends of the flight), the 2h checkin prior to flight departure, waiting for baggage, and the fact that for whatever reason, generally you feel completely drained after a plane ride which doesn't normally happen on a train (I seem to always get off a train feeling refreshed), you're talking about a lot of time that could instead be spent reading a book, listening to tunes, and enjoying the country side go by on a train.

For me the extra time isn't much of an issue, as I can easily work on the train (particularly with a 3G connection) and I try to not be in a hurry to get places. It's as good a place to do a bit of work as anywhere.

In addition to a better experience, train and bus travel can be quite a bit cheaper (not always true in Europe and North America, but getting that way again), and if you're ok to take an overnight train you'll save on a hotel bill. For the more environmentally conscious among us, a train trip can generate up to 90% fewer carbon emissions than the equivalent plane trip (ref). If you travel as much as I do, this will add up to a very substantial amount over time.

So next time you're vacationing in a country consider taking the long way around, the scenic route, skip the plane ride for a change.

Peanut Gallery


Peter W

I visited your site by way of Drupal Planet but glad to see a fellow developer who loves trains as much as I do.

I'm curious if you find trains in other countries that have wireless onboard? Amtrak recently added it to the train from Portland to Seattle (not sure about other routes) and it works fairly well.

Also, for emissions free traveling that are also fun and good ways to meet people, I sometimes go by bike or rideshare / hitchhike (getting a ride with someone else who was going anyway doesn't *add* any emissions).

Anyway, nice post!

Never been on a train with wifi

Scott Hadfield

Hey Peter!

I believe there are some trains in Europe with wifi, but I've never been on one. I tried to take amtrak last year from seattle to chicago, but there was an issue with the line and it wasn't running that week. But next time I'm back in the US I'll definitely be taking some trains :). Especially cool cause the most common train I'd use is the Vancouver -> Portland connection.



Wifi in Europe is pretty standard in inter-city train routes. But you might have to pay for it depending on the route / provider and, of course, the class of ticket.

ps. also found your blog via Drupal Planet and also a fan of train journeys!

cusco to machu picchu

Victor Crum

I found your site by way of Drupal and impressed to see that there are more people who like the same things and adventures like me awesome:)