Slow Travel

I’ve long been a fan of train travel. Partly because I’m quite scared of flying and partly because I’m drawn to the history and romance of rail (even though the commuting reality can be somewhat different!) it’s been my favourite way to get about for a long time, bikes and horses notwithstanding. Whenever we go on holiday in the UK, I always hunt down the local steam railway too. It’s an unashamedly rose-tinted view of history, I know, but I adore steam engines and have a lot of admiration for the people who volunteer to keep them going.

North York Moors Steam Railway

Spurred on by thoughts of slow travel, I’ve been reading Dan Keiran’s ‘The Idle Traveller‘ and it’s made me go back to thinking about long distance rail travel with the kids. On our annual Parisian pilgrimage we always go by train. We just prefer it to flying. And I’m not even talking about environmental benefits, well-known as they are. I just find airports really intimidating, so they make me anxious and I spend most of my time watching the departures board and holding my breath. Then I have to get on the plane and get the plane into the air by the sheer force of my brainpower alone, judging from the white-knuckled way I grip the seat. I’m not so bad once we’re in the air, but landing makes me close my eyes and clutch at the seat again, praying to whoever might be listening that we make it to the ground safely. And I know that I’m more likely to be killed in a car than on a plane, but tell that to my heaving stomach! As you can imagine, I make a far better travelling companion on a train than on a plane…

Compare that with the sheer beauty of London St Pancras station and rail travel is already looking like a winner. The train connection (apart from having to run from King’s Cross, as the Leeds to London connection is always a little bit late) is a lot more straightforward and less scary. Leaving London and arriving at Gare du Nord in central Paris is so much better for my stress levels than getting to CDG airport and having to manage the connection from there.  But, no matter how many times I go to Paris on the train, whenever I’ve gone further into Europe (and leaving aside my university coach tour of Hungary and the Czech Republic) I’ve always gone by plane. Even though I’ve had my copy of The Man in Seat 61 and Flight-Free Europe for ages, I’ve I’ve never got past reading and dreaming. And that’s before I’ve even thought about my Bucket List rail journey; The Trans-Siberian Express, via Mongolia where I will disembark to see Pzrewalski’s Horses in the National Park…

Ooh, drifted off for a moment there. Where was I?

Oh, yes. I think that I’ve always been put off longer distance rail travel with the kids because I’ve been worried that they will get bored and that it will be really stressful. But, what if I re-think this? What if the journey itself is the point, rather than something to be borne with gritted teeth until we get to the destination? Keiran makes the point that during his rail journeys he has met many interesting people and seen things that would have been completely missed by anyone flying from A to B, which makes me think back to my own rose-tinted view of rail travel. Besides, I’m about to read a chapter called ‘Embrace Disaster’ which I’m sure will cover my fears of the kids getting bored! Mark Smith, the wonderful Man in Seat 61 also invokes that feeling in me that long-distance rail travel with kids is entirely possible, because of the way he recounts his own journeys on his brilliant and massively inspiring site. I’m also in love with the idea of sleeper trains, they feel terribly romantic, as though you might be a character in an Agatha Christie novel, but without the murderous intent.

The train is perhaps more expensive than flying but there are a few things to think about. On many train lines, children have a reduced or free seat price for longer than on a plane. There are fewer, if any, surcharges for baggage, priority boarding, calling the customer service line or using your card to pay for things, like there are if you travel with some budget airlines. And if the sleeper train provides a decent night of sleep, perhaps it reduces the amount of nights you might need in a hotel. Also, the idea of train travel is filling me with glee, unlike the plane which fills me with dread.

So, perhaps next year we’ll go to Europe on the train. Take a sleeper train from Paris to Italy. Or Spain. Or, more likely, just to Disneyland Paris to start with! But if we see the journey as part of the adventure, who knows where we might end up going?…

Have you done any long distance rail travel, alone or with your kids? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

3 Responses to Slow Travel

  1. Olga says:

    “But if we see the journey as part of the adventure, who knows where we might end up going?…”

    Wonderful sentiment Liz 😀

  2. Karen says:

    I traveled by train in the UK when I was there for 2 weeks and LOVED it. We went from London to Portmeirion – then from Portmeirion to Aberdeen. I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed seeing the landscape while being able to relax and read my magazines, or poke around on my laptop. I became a fan of train travel during that trip and look forward to trying it again. Train travel in the US is not as easy – there are not as many stops, and if you’re not on the east coast or west coast, you’ll be lucky to have a train roll through once a week or so.

    • That sounds like a wonderful trip! I’d love to travel across the US by train, but like you say, it’s not very easy. Such a huge place compared to the UK 🙂

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