Why trains beat planes, according to me

It’s true that trains aren’t always the cheapest option for getting around Europe. With so many budget carriers, air travel can be dirt cheap – not to mention quicker – and then there’s always the option of taking a cheap bus. But they sure are convenient, and great if flexibility is important to you. (We lucked out in Italy, too, as Trenitalia ran a special 2 for 1 ticket deal on Saturdays all summer long.)

Here’s why I love travelling by train:

Train stations are central

They’re usually bang smack in the middle of town. If they’re on the fringe, then there are usually tons of shops and accommodation options that have sprung up around them, and connections to the metro.

Airports, on the other hand, are always a bit of a distance from the city. Sometimes getting into town is fairly straightforward, but most times, it requires fussing over multiple subway/train transfers, shuttles, special buses or taxis. It’s a hassle, and it’s usually expensive. Do you have ANY idea how much time I’ve pissed away trying to figure out the optimum route (economical and not too complicated) from an airport to the city? Or to figure out accommodation that’s close to said route? No, me neither, and I’d rather not try.

I can’t help but feel sorry for our previous Couchsurfers who’ve come to us straight from the airport – after having experienced real public transport networks in real cities around the world, I wouldn’t wish navigating between Auckland airport and the suburbs upon anyone.

Minimal waiting time

Not only are train stations quicker and more convenient to get to, you don’t have to be there three hours ahead of time. Half an hour earlier than departure seems to more than suffice. The shopping options are also pretty good at the bigger interchanges – on par with airports, minus any duty-free savings. Time saved waiting = more time to spend actually seeing/doing stuff. (Sure, some airports have wifi, but not all do – and the connection is often mediocre.)

Trains are (often) more comfortable

Budget airline seats are THE WORST. Bearable for an hour or two, maybe, and not much beyond that. By contrast, most of the trains we’ve been on have had decent legroom and reasonably comfortable seats. We’ve even been on a couple that were virtually empty!

Where it can go horribly wrong, though, is overcrowding and ventilation. We’ve had the misfortune of being on some trains with minimal air-conditioning – or in the worst case scenario, non-existent air conditioning. We’ve also squashed onto fully packed trains like cattle, wedged into stairwells and corridors.

So, no hard and fast rule here. In a nutshell: when they’re good, they’re good. But when they’re bad, they’re teeth-clenchingly terrible. Worse than Ryanair, even.

No luggage worries

There’s no need to worry about whether you’re over your luggage allowance. As far as I can tell, anything goes. If you’re a latecomer, your baggage might have to go in the corner of the carriage, otherwise the overhead shelves are a free for all.

You’ll never see someone charged 50 euros at a train station for having a single corner wheel of his suitcase protrude above the metal frame that serves to demonstrate the maximum allowable carry-on dimensions. (Shame on you, Easyjet.)

5 thoughts on “Why trains beat planes, according to me

  • Reply Linda September 8, 2013 at 01:45

    The trains in all the European countries I’ve visited have been fabulous! The only exception to your rule about station location that I’ve encountered is in Seville, Spain. I think there was an option to take a bus or two to the station, but it was convoluted and complicated. I ended up taking a taxi instead.

    In Spain, it was often more convenient and comparable in price to take the bus between large cities. The Alsa bus could be very nice, too. The one I took between Madrid and Granada had a cabin attendant who served us drinks and snacks. Unfortunately, the advertised wifi and power ports were not up to snuff, though. The Alsa bus also got me between Granada and Seville, and the bus station was a short walk from the center of town.

  • Reply Budget and the Beach September 8, 2013 at 02:00

    I like the trains in Europe but they suck here in the states. It goes so slow and you make a million stops. I can run faster to my destination. But I do love the comfortableness and the motion of trains.

  • Reply krantcents September 8, 2013 at 05:48

    You’re right, however it is often based on circumstances. I do not have the time to travel across the U.S. on a train. I am waiting for the bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It may be more convenient if I can pick it up locally and get to SF in an hour.

  • Reply Jennifer September 9, 2013 at 09:18

    I definitely prefer trains! I like sitting next to the window and watching the scenery go past, I like being able to get up and go to the toilet whenever I like, and I like that they are central and do not have the ability to dump you on the outskirts of town like certain bus companies do *ahemm in North Vietnam*

  • Reply Michelle's Finance Journal September 10, 2013 at 02:11

    I think this is true if you’re traveling within Europe, but mostly likely not elsewhere. Helpful tip for those who have never been to Europe and trying to decided between planes or trains.

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