The travel clinic: Train travel edition

The travel clinic: Train travel edition

Welcome to the fourth edition of my travel clinic, where I share the top tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help make my travel life easier. And this edition is all about travelling by train. Rail travel is probably my favourite way to travel, and I’ve already shared some of my budgeting tips and route ideas for seeing Europe by train. So this time I’m going to go a bit further afield, and featuring some of the best rail destinations around the world, whatever your budget.

I’ve Interrailed around Europe, where else can I go?

If you want to do a rail trip, then Europe is the obvious place to start. There are so many possible train routes that you could easily spend years exploring different parts of the continent. But if you fancy a change, there are a few other countries that are easy to get around by train too. Japan has a great rail network, connecting all the major cities with fast, punctual trains (and signage in English). Individual fares can be quite pricey so even if you’re only planning on taking a couple of train journeys it’s worth getting a Japan Rail Pass. They start from £196 for a seven-day pass and you can also get passes for 14 or 21 days.

The opposite end of the spectrum from ultra-organised Japan is India! Indian trains are a must-do; your train probably won’t be on time, but you’re guaranteed to meet people and get an insight into Indian life. The network is huge so you can reach most parts of the country. And tickets are cheap – £7 for Delhi to Agra in a seat, £30 for Delhi to Mumbai in a first-class sleeper – or you can get an IndRail pass covering the whole country. Other places with good rail networks include Thailand, Vietnam, China, Morocco and Canada.

Indian train journey

Across India by train – from Goa to Delhi

I know about the Trans-Siberian, but what other great long-distance trains are there?

A seven-day journey across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, the Trans-Siberian is probably the world’s most famous long-distance train. But it’s not the only epic rail trip out there. There are a few other options if you want to cover some serious mileage by train. Australia has a couple of long-distance routes, but the most famous is the Indian Pacific, running from one side of the continent to another. It takes three days to travel 2700 miles from Sydney to Perth, through the Blue Mountains and Adelaide, across the desolate Nullarbor (aka ‘no-tree’) Plain to gold-mining town Kalgoorlie then on to Perth. Prices start from £1025 for a single or £1150 for a twin cabin with private bathroom, including meals and drinks onboard.

Or there’s The Canadian, which crosses Canada from Toronto to Vancouver over four days. It’s one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, passing through the Rocky Mountains and Jasper National Park. Economy tickets start from £260 in a reclining seat, but you still get a lounge, coffee shop and observation car with a glass roof to make the most of the views. Or if you want to splash out, cabins start from £640. For long-distance on a bit more of a budget, the Reunification Express travels the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. It takes 36 hours to do the trip in one go or you can stop off at places like Hué, Nha Trang and Hoi An. Tickets cost £30 in a seat with air con up to £45 in a soft sleeper.

Indian Pacific Train, Australia

On the edge of the Nullarbor at Cook on the Indian Pacific

Can you travel the USA by train?

The USA isn’t the most obvious destination for a rail trip. Cheap flights and even cheaper Greyhound buses across the country mean the Amtrak train services tend to get overlooked. But it is possible to travel the USA by train, and there are some great landscapes along the way. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, you can get from coast to coast in three days from as little as £145 if you book in advance (and don’t mind sleeping in your seat). It’s a completely different prospect to travelling by train in Europe though, where frequent trains connect almost all major cities. The USA’s rail map looks a lot more sparse and there are big patches of the country without any train coverage at all.

There are several long-distance train routes which cross the country, usually double-decker trains running once a day which have a mixture of reclining seats and sleeper cars. One of the most scenic routes from coast to coast is via the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago, then the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, passing through the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are also regional trains connecting some major cities, so you can combine a trip to New York with Boston (3 hours) or Washington (3.5 hours). Or there’s the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle via San Francisco and Portland. If you’re planning on doing a lot of train travel, Amtrak have 15, 30 or 45-day USA railpasses.

Grand Central Station

The beautiful Grand Central Station in New York

The Orient Express is a bit out of my budget, is there a cheaper way to get a taste of luxury on the rails?

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the ultimate luxury train, carrying passengers in five-star luxury in restored 1920s and 30s carriages. Think cocktails in the piano bar and black-tie dinners before retiring to your Art Deco wood-panelled cabin. But it’ll cost you a tidy £2210 for the 24-hour journey from London to Venice. You can get a taste of Orient-Express luxury for less though with a day trip on its sister train, the British Pullman. There are a range of trips from London, with brunch, dinner and afternoon tea outings as well as murder mystery lunches and day trips to places like Cambridge or Canterbury. Prices range from £225 to £510 per person. Or if you’re outside of London, Orient-Express owners Belmond also run day trips on the similarly luxurious Northern Belle from Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester (from £195).

British Pullman luxury train

Inside the British Pullman – photo credit mjtmail on Flickr

Do you have any other rail travel questions or tips and tricks to share? The next travel clinic will be about wine travel, so if you have any questions get in touch.

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Tips and tricks for travelling by train – including the best countries to visit, the top long-distance trains and luxury on a budget.

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  • Reply
    June 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Train travel is my favorite mode of travel. 🙂

    • Reply
      June 27, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Mine too, it’s so much more civilised than flying, and I love watching the countryside go by!

  • Reply
    June 26, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Good info for my next trip

  • Reply
    June 26, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I love trains and am always a bit sad that they’re not a viable transportation option in the US. I’ve taken Amtrak once, but it’s so slow and has so many delays that flying or driving is nearly always a better choice.

    • Reply
      June 27, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Yes it’s shame there aren’t better trains in the US, I’d really like to do the Californian route though (with lots of stop-offs and when I have plenty of spare time!).

  • Reply
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    June 27, 2015 at 8:18 am

    We took the train around Italy a lot this month and previously used it to travel around parts of Switzerland, Austria and Germany and those trips really made me realise how easy and comfortable train travel can be so I’d love to use it a bit further afield, especially in Japan! The British Pullman and Orient Express trains look so luxurious, maybe one day for a very special occasion perhaps ☺

    • Reply
      June 27, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      Europe by train really is easy, it’s definitely my favourite way to travel. Japan is way up the wish-list though – and I’ve been eying up those luxury day trains for ages, might have to drop some birthday hints!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    June 27, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I love train travel and recently took the train from Lisbon to Porto – it was wonderful to watch the countryside go by. Indian train travel is definitely an experience like no other isn’t it!

    • Reply
      June 27, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      I’ve not done a train trip in Portugal yet but sounds great. Indian trains are so crazy, completely unique but something you really have to experience!

  • Reply
    Where's Zoe Now?
    June 27, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    I love a good train trip 🙂 I think my personal highlight was in the US, going from Denver to San Francisco. Yes, the train was running late, and there’s only the one train per day, but if you’re on holidays and aren’t in a rush to arrive at a particular time, it’s an amazing way to see the Rocky Mountains in Colorado give way to crazy rock formations in Utah and then wake up the next morning to dead flat plains in Nevada which turn into forested valleys in California.

    • Reply
      June 27, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Sounds fantastic, I am definitely going to try out some of the US’ train routes soon, there are such diverse landscapes out there, and I don’t mind it being a bit slow!

  • Reply
    June 27, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    New Zealand also has excellent train service. I’ve only traveled on the South Island, but there is service on both islands, and it’s punctual, smooth, very pleasant and covers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. You can go coast-to-coast (and back!) in a day, from Christchurch to Greymouth. You can also stop in Arthurs Pass in the NZ Alps. We stopped overnight, did some hiking, then proceeded to Greymouth, taking a bus from there to Nelson, which was our base. The route from Picton (where the inter-island ferry lands) to Christchurch goes through the wine districts and follows the East coast part of the way, also beautiful views.

    • Reply
      June 27, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      I really wanted to do some of the train journeys when I was in NZ but it never quite worked out – the landscapes are so spectacular there though that I imagine the train routes are stunning. One for next time if I make it back for sure!

  • Reply
    The Vagabond Baker
    June 28, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Great post Lucy! Ah, I’m sitting in my truck camper reading this and I’m totally split: road-tripping or train-tripping? I can’t pick between them!
    I could take the ferry back to Aberdeen, step on a train and be in Vietnam in a few weeks/months! Oh to do that trip again!

    • Reply
      June 30, 2015 at 10:24 am

      It’s a difficult choice! The good thing about road trips is that you can get out into the remote areas but it is nice to just sit back and relax on the train too.

      • Reply
        The Vagabond Baker
        June 30, 2015 at 2:05 pm

        Yes, I know that feeling! When I railed through Denmark I decided it would be a great place for a road trip in the future. Hopefully early next summer!

  • Reply
    June 29, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Really enjoyed your post – done a few long distance trips in China and Vietnam but really interested in continuing to explore the world by train. Thanks for the tip about the IndRail pass as we are off to India next.

    • Reply
      June 30, 2015 at 10:25 am

      Thanks, and have a fantastic trip to India!

  • Reply
    July 6, 2015 at 3:31 am

    It’s amazing how many places you can travel to by train. So amazing! I have not personally experienced long train rides. I am yet to see how wonderful it is.

    • Reply
      July 8, 2015 at 9:28 am

      It’s definitely my favourite way to travel! I’ve done long trips in Australia, Thailand and Vietnam but would love to do the Canadian one next.

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