If you’re considering a visit to Europe and you’re unsure or on the fence about whether you should travel Europe by train or not, then you should read this article where I share 10 of the top reasons we chose train travel over the usual plane travel.
Ten reasons why travelling across Europe by train is a must at least once in your life.
Sure there are faster, maybe even cheaper or less chaotic ways to travel across Europe, especially as a family of five, but let’s face it, there is a certain “je ne sais quoi” about train travel.
Putting aside my romantic ideas and subjective point of view that train travel is magical, there are more practical reasons why we chose to spend our 3-week family summer vacation gallivanting across Europe by train v.s. by plane or by car.
We weighed all the pros and cons, and we took into consideration the varied tastes and interests of our three children, who ranged in age from 8 to 19. We also had a budget.
In the end, we somehow figured it all out. Here are the ten things that were important enough for us.
1- NO REGRETS: I didn’t want to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity to slow travel across Europe as a family
Given that train travel was something I always wanted to do and the fact that everyone in the family, including our 8-year daughter and our moody 19-year-old son, were all keen on the idea of train travel, I knew we had to seize this opportunity.
As the kids get older, it’s harder to plan a family trip with all five members due to our hectic schedules.
But it wasn’t just the fact that we all wanted to do a vacation across Europe by train; it was the thought of one day leaving France having never slow travelled across Europe. Why would this leave me full of regret? Once we go back to North America, it becomes more difficult and expensive to fly to Europe and coordinate a family vacation with work and school schedules. I felt, no- I knew if I let this opportunity slip by, there might not be another one like it for a very long time or maybe not ever again.
Lastly, given how easy it is to travel from country to country and city to city by train in Europe, how could I not take advantage of train travel which brings me to the second reason we chose train travel.
2 LOW HANGING FRUIT: It’s easy to visit multiple countries in a single day by train in Europe
The proximity of neighbouring countries, the relatively small size of Europe, and the fact that trains across Europe are all inter-connected means travelling from country to country is easy and relatively fast.
To give you some perspective, France is about the same size as Texas, and all of Europe can fit into the US about 2,5 times. Travelling from country to country is a bit like travelling from one state to the next state only easier because the trains take you anywhere and everywhere worthwhile in Europe.
If Cannes in the South of France (which is 1 hour from our residence ) is your starting point, here are some sample itineraries you could take.
- Cannes to Zürich Switzerland roughly 800km ( 497 miles) and 10 hours by train.
- Cannes to Milan, Italy is about 5 hours from our house.
- Cannes to Barcelona Spain is about 6 hours,
- And Cannes to Berlin, Germany, is about 15 hours.
Why wouldn’t you take a multi-city trip via Rail Europe?
3- Train travel means you get to skip the hellish airport routine
Think about the process you have to go through when you travel by airplane. Do you look forward to it? Do you love it?
You not only have to drive to the airport, which is most likely an hour or more, you have to also wait in multiple lines, go through customs and check your bags. You usually have to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight departs.
Train travel eliminates a lot of this wasted time. You can even arrive at the train station minutes before the train is about to pull away from the station.
With train travel, you don’t have to worry about bringing water or liquids on the train. Hell, if you wanted to bring a Swiss army knife on the train, that’s ok too. (Blake, my husband, likes to travel with his).
4- Trains stop where all the action is and not some faraway airport
There is nothing worse than booking your cheap(ish) or maybe expensive airfare online, only to discover once you arrive at your vacation destination that you have an hour’s taxi ride to get into the city. Not only does this put a dent in your holiday funds, but it’s a huge time suck.
This brings me to another thing I love about train travel- most train stations in Europe are located smack dab in the middle of a city or town, not 67 miles away like the Munich Airport or 68 miles from Barcelona Girona airport.
This proximity makes it much easier to hit the ground running once you arrive at your holiday destination.
- When we arrived at the Central station in Amsterdam, we were on a tram 5 minutes later, heading towards our first destination.
- Same deal in Prague, we arrived at the central train station and jumped on the tram and were at our flat that we rented from Airbnb.
- In Bremen, Germany, we got off the train and found restaurants to eat within minutes, then jumped on a tram directly to the flat we rented, again from Airbnb.
If we wanted, we could have stopped in a city like Amsterdam to have lunch, then catch a train to Antwerp, Belgium and arrive before dinner time. We thought about it but decided against it because everyone loved Amsterdam.
This stuff isn’t possible with travel by Air.
5- More bang for your buck
Thanks to the internet and the growing number of companies willing to hire remote workers, virtual assistants and freelancers, my husband and I have been able to cobble together a modest living that allows us to work from home. The advantage is more time to work on personal endeavours and be home for the kids, but the downside is less money which is why I like to… no, I have to make sure we get the most bang for our buck when we travel.
Our Euro rail pass let us get on and off trains throughout Europe for a fixed price during a specified period, much like a monthly bus pass. This meant that we could visit multiple cities starting in the South of France up north to Holland and beyond if we wanted.
Some of the countries we visited on our train pass were Austria, Germany, Holland, The Czech Republic and a quick Jaunt back over Germany’s border into France to see Strasburg. All within a three-week period. The same multi-trip itinerary by plane would have cost us a lot more and probably would have taken us much longer if you count all the time needed to get back and forth to the airports.
I like to think we got our money’s worth.
6- Train travel is unique and becomes part of the enjoyment of your trip
If you’re like us, the bulk of your travel has most likely been by plane (or by car), so taking another vacation by plane is nothing new. In fact, after a few trips, the whole process of boarding the plane, finding your seat, checking your bags and waiting in the security line can get rather irritating and uneventful.
With train travel, the journey and what you do on the train sets train travel apart and makes the voyage so unique.
You’re not sitting crammed in your seat with your tray table up, waiting to get to your destination. It’s hard to explain, but to me, it almost felt as if I was sitting in my living room relaxing and socializing only; the living room was moving really fast, and in a few hours, I could leave and be in a new country surrounded by people speaking a different language.
But there’s more to it than that; I’m just not able to put it into words. Perhaps it’s just the idea of train travel but being able to move about the train, look out the window and see the world go by makes all the difference in the world and separates train travel from airplane travel.
7- Train travel (with a Euro Rail pass) gives you more flexibility to make and change plans on the fly
When we set out to travel across Europe by train, we knew we wanted to visit certain cities like Prague and Amsterdam, but we also knew we might like to stop in unexpected cities if we had the choice.
Luckily there’s a train pass that lets you take unexpected detours to other cities along the way, extend your stay in certain cities and cut other cities short.
It’s called the Interrail family pass. It’s only for residents of the EU. Tourists who are not part of the EU have to buy the Eurail pass. However, there’s no official family pass if you travel together as a group or a family. Each adult and youth gets 15% off the ticket price, and children up to 11 travel free.
8- The view on trains is way better than on planes
Travelling by train brings new meaning to the saying “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” When your flying 10,000 feet in the air, you get an amazing aerial view of the clouds going by, but when you’re travelling by train, you see the world, people and how they live go by.
We saw Amsterdam’s countryside, we saw into people’s backyards in Italy, and we saw families jumping in a lake in Germany as we crossed over a bridge. You can’t see any of that on a plane, and it made the trip unforgettable.
Pictured above, Blake and I are in the food cart staring out the window as we pass through Germany.
9- No one cares if your seat is back or the tray table is up on a train
One of the things I hate about car and plane travel is that you’re pretty much restricted to your seat. On a plane, you have to put your seat upright for take-off and landing. You have to put your tray table up and turn off your electronics too.
You don’t have to do any of this on a train, and you can actually get up and walk around or hang out in the area that connects two train cars together.
The seats are configured so that you can face each other and others where you share a small cabin. There usually is a dining car where you can grab a bite to eat and drink, which is nice.
10- You get to bond as a couple and as a family
Like most people, I wanted our family to take a vacation, bond, and get away from the stresses and rituals of daily routine and see one another in a different light. One where I’m not stressing out over homework, dishes and life in general. One where the kids didn’t have us, parents, nagging them to clean their rooms and take care of chores. One where my husband Blake and I could just be ourselves and enjoy each other’s company and talk about frivolous things like books and life.
According to a survey conducted by Kelton Global, which asked 1,000 parents with kids age 5-17, 97 percent of parents say that their children have gotten to know new things about them while taking family trips. Families tend to be more excited, silly and affectionate while on vacation.
Unlike plane travel, travelling by train is almost made for bonding in my opinion.
On a train, you’re not condemned to remain crammed in your seat like a sardine for hours. You can move around if you like. Seating is usually pretty comfortable and roomy or configured to make socializing and chatting easy.
Thanks to the seating configuration on trains, we could find some semblance of privacy on most of the trains we travelled on.
On several trains, we found cars with empty seats. On other trains, we found four seats that faced each other and still other trains; we had small cabins big enough for six people with a door that closed like the photo pictured above.
The seating was comfortable, and we had plenty of time to relax and bond. It was the push we needed because if given a choice, many of us are just so busy with our daily lives that we never take the time to bond and be present for those closest to us.
We read, talked, argued, played games, slept, got on each other’s nerves and just worried about the minutia of boarding our next train and what to see next. I can’t tell you how nice it was to get away from our everyday life and have those moments on the train.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that spending three weeks travelling together in close quarters was a dream full of rainbows and unicorns because it wasn’t. There were still times when we got on each other’s nerves; the kids annoyed us, or vice versa. But I knew- just as women can endure painful childbirth and go on to remember childbirth as an endearing memory- I knew our train travel would leave us with meaningful, beautiful and unforgettable memories spent together across Europe.
And I was right.
Do I recommend train travel, and would I do it again?
Now that I’ve travelled on a train across Europe for three weeks with three kids and a husband, I can honestly say, “yes, I recommend train travel, and I would do it again.”