I love train travel in Europe.
As a digital nomad family, we move around and live in different countries. When we’re deciding whether to fly or take a train, from one country in Europe to another, we lean toward train travel.
I think it’s such a cool way to travel. I love walking on the platform, looking for our coach.
Train travel has a more relaxed atmosphere, overall, experienced by both passengers and employees. There’s not much rushing and security doesn’t seem as intense. You never feel cramped. I’ve yet to hear a baby cry on a train, or be forced to sit with my arm brushing up against a sweaty stranger who’s hacking his lungs out.
But, isn’t train travel longer?
Although train travel can seem like it is longer than traveling by plane, that’s not always the case. Some train journeys can actually be shorter when you compare the actual door-to-door time for each. Train stations are located in city centers, easily accessible by taxi or Uber. Airports are usually outside of the city center, adding time and expense to get there. Then, factor in the time needed to get to an airport an hour or more before the flight, go through security, wait in the boarding area, fly, arrive and wait for baggage (if you checked baggage). That all adds up.
For trains, you don’t have to arrive nearly so early before departure! I love this. Some train rides have security (and immigration), but in our experience, the lines have never been as long or unpleasant as when flying. The trains we’ve taken within the same country have no security check, so you literally just show up and walk on. It’s wonderful.
Another time saver is that your luggage stays with you on the train, so there’s no need to check it beforehand or wait for it after you arrive. That’s so much easier. In the back of each coach, there’s a rack where you stow your large luggage. Then, take your carry-on with you to your seat, where you can put it by your feet or stored above in a rack. You can easily keep an eye on your large suitcase if you like, and no items mysteriously disappear from your luggage like they sometimes do when you check bags at an airport.
The prices vary for train travel.
Sometimes train travel is cheaper than an airplane ride… and sometimes it’s more expensive – though not always horribly so.
A hack for this is buying train tickets three months in advance to ensure the best prices. There’s also first class or coach – so far our experience has been all coach train travel. It’s been awesome.
Keep in mind, too, that airport travel always seems more stressful. I’d often rather pay a little extra money to travel by train just to have an overall better travel experience.
Some discount airlines have the illusion of cheap travel, but by the time I’ve added checked luggage, seat selection (important, as we travel with a kid), priority boarding to ensure I can bring my carry-on (with discount airlines) … it all adds up. On trains, you don’t pay extra for luggage. And remember that taxi ride to the airport, which can easily run $50 in some cities. So, in the end, a train doesn’t always cost more.
Plus, I can take more with me.
Oftentimes, I have my backpack carry-on plus my purse plus a big bag of food so we have things to enjoy on the train. No problem. It’s great to not feel so limited with how much carry-on I have.
Favorite Notable Train Benefits
There’s cappuccino and coffee everywhere (for purchase). Most trains have a cabin with a cafe with decent food and quality coffee. It’s much better than anything I’ve ever had on an airplane.
For trains like the Eurostar, which goes under the English Channel from London to Paris, there is security screening. But it’s much easier than airport security. You still put bags through a scanner, but everyone is just more relaxed and the lines seem to go much smoother and faster. They’re looking for big stuff that could take out a freakin’ train. Not your toenail clippers or 3.40001 ounces of shampoo.
Entire cups and bottles of liquids go right through the scanner, so there’s no need to wait until you get through security before you buy water. You can bring your own in a canteen – plus coffee, etc! Look here, no spilling:
Bigger bags and more – with train travel you aren’t as restricted with the luggage or bags you can bring.
Train travel on Sunday seems to have fewer people so it’s easier, roomier, and more relaxed (unless France is striking and canceling trains that day).
Free WiFi! What???
The trains usually have free WiFi! This is important for us digital nomads. We just set up shop and make an office while traveling by train, sitting by windows overlooking the lovely countryside passing by.
There are also power outlets at the seats for charging technology. Phew! That’s a great thing for a digital nomad or people traveling with kids. Can’t let that iPad die mid train ride or no Netflix – can you imagine??? Ha.
Tables and more leg room
The crappy seats and lack of leg room on airplanes has been terrible for years, but lately has become nearly unbearable on some flights, especially long flights. My husband is 6 feet tall and sometimes his knees touch the seat in front of him (lookin’ at YOU, United!), and he winces in pain if the passenger in front shifts around. It’s ridiculous. Of course, we could upgrade for an extra few inches of leg room, but that’s just one more reason to take a train, as far as I’m concerned.
The seats on trains have waaaay more room and you have the option of sitting at four seats surrounding a table. We always opt for this so our family of three can sit together and face each other. Plus, we like the extra workspace. It makes the airline’s modern, teensy fold-down trays laughable in comparison.
On a 4-hour, high-speed train ride from Paris to Toulouse, France, my husband looked up from his laptop and said, “You know, I’d rather ride in a train for four hours than fly for one hour.” I agreed 100%. That train was a double-decker. We were upstairs and had beautiful views of the French countryside for the entire journey. It was really a sightseeing experience unto itself, not merely a conveyance to a place to see the sights. Airplanes? Not so much.
Trains have bathrooms with a little bit more space – always welcome! Both Kamea and I can easily share one. I never relish trying to squeeze myself and my daughter into an airplane bathroom, where you can’t turn around and you feel like sardines in a can.
There’s no problem to get up, whenever you want, and walk around on the train. In fact, you can feel free to walk the length of many coaches. This is great for getting some body movement in while traveling. This can be also be helpful for mothers with babies. There’s no flight attendants telling you to stay seated so walk around whenever you want.
How to buy train tickets!
Here is my favorite app for booking train travel in Europe because it’s easy to do and their customer service is super: Loco2
I wish train travel was like this in the United States but sadly it’s not. We’ve traveled by train when we were on one of our Mini-IVF fertility adventures.
We rode Amtrack across the U.S., from NYC to Flagstaff, AZ. My husband thought it was “fun”… because he felt like a space marine in a gritty sci-fi flick. Translation: It was awful. (And we even had two sleeper cabins!). Kamea was eaten up by bedbugs and I never slept so horribly in my life. It was such a rough and rocky ride that our drinks almost kept tipping over in the dining car.
Train travel in Europe is cleaner, better run, and wonderful. The trains are newer, faster, and smooth as silk. We’re eager to get back to Europe and do it more.