All aboard the rail renaissance: 7 reasons to travel by train

written by Cliona Elliott June 13, 2024
A smiley ticket inspector standing on a train station platform

‘It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’. It might be awfully cliché, but I often return to this quote when life’s a bit stressful and I need a little pick me up. Ironically, though, I rarely think about it when I travel.

The ‘getting from A to B’ part is a necessity, a way of getting to where I want to go. I mean, who actually enjoys sitting on a stuffy coach with a numb bum for hours? Or getting flustered because you’re holding up the airport security queue while trying to repack your bag?

It wasn’t until I took my first overnight train from Varanasi to Kolkata that I realised the journey can be just as, if not more, memorable as exploring a destination. I may have ambled around the Taj Mahal in awe and danced with hundreds of people covered in pink powder for Holi, but befriending local families in the station during a five-hour delay and being offered homemade snacks by a fellow passenger are some of my fondest memories of the trip.

Rail travel is also on the rise as more people consider the environmental impact of their adventures.

Here are a few reasons to climb aboard and travel by train.

1. Savour a slower pace

It can be tempting to try to ‘see everything’ by cramming in as many cities and sites as possible, but you may miss out on the essence of a place in doing so. The slower pace of trains allows you to unshackle yourself from the pressure of being go-go-go. Heck, you may even relax – and isn’t that what holidays are all about? See it as a chance to indulge in some self-reflection or turn to the window and be fully present in your surroundings.

Two travellers gazing out of the window on a train journey through Sri Lanka

2. See more

Slow travel doesn’t mean you’ll see less. In fact, trains quite literally open a window of opportunity to appreciate the landscape rather than seeing it in a blur from thousands of metres in the sky. Picture rolling through a tapestry of tea plantations in Sri Lanka or weaving beneath the snow-studded Swiss Alps (no hiking boots required).

Many rail routes traverse areas where cars can’t go, and even if you could drive through them, there’d be other cars to share the views with and you may encounter winding roads and potholes (cue the carsickness). Plus, if you’re anything like me and the motion of driving magically puts you to sleep within moments of belting up, you’ll probably miss most of the scenery anyway.

Related: Tips and hacks for train travel in Europe

3. Interact with the locals

Trains are the main mode of transport in many countries and riding with the locals provides an insight into the culture. Whether it’s playing a game of mahjong with your neighbours on a sleeper train from Beijing to Xi’an or rubbing shoulders with morning commuters in Japan, there are many opportunities to strike up a conversation or watch everyday life unfold.

A crowd of passengers waiting to board a train in Sri Lanka

4. Get comfy

Trains are usually less cramped than flights and coaches, not to mention comfier seats and more legroom. Need to stretch your legs? No worries. You can walk up and down the aisles to your heart’s content as there’s no seatbelt sign to watch out for.

Local train stations are less hectic than airports, with fewer announcements and departure gates to navigate. You’re also free to leave the station and get some fresh air if the train’s delayed instead of waiting around.

Related: 12 epic rail journeys from Intrepid’s rail theme

5. Enjoy more convenience

Many airports are outside of the city centre, while train stations are centrally located so you’ll arrive in the heart of the action. There’s also no need to check in hours before you depart, separate your liquids or stress about your bag being too big for the overhead cabin.

Taking the train is sometimes faster, especially in Europe, as you’ll dodge major highways and traffic. You can also maximise your time and save on accommodation costs with overnight sleeper trains when travelling greater distances in countries like China and India.

Related: 5 things I loved about my car-free journey through Switzerland

Two travellers relaxing in their compartment on a sleeper train in China

6. Leave a lighter carbon footprint

Trains generally produce less carbon emissions than flying and driving, and can decarbonise your adventures while adding another dimension of discovery.

Intrepid recently conducted external research, surveying 2800 travellers in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. The data shows that 87% of travellers would consider an alternative form of transportation during their trip if it decreased their carbon footprint – 31% of which would do so even if it meant taking a longer route.

7. Embrace your inner romantic

Rail travel is undeniably romantic. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of a bygone era, or because of the countless movie scenes of lovers embracing as they say goodbye on a platform. There’s also an intrigue about the people you’ll meet and share the journey with – where have they come from, and where are they going?

Personally, trains remind me of my childhood. I remember being amazed at how the English countryside could whizz by in a flurry of green while I remained perfectly still.

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to pensively gaze out of a window while pondering life or listening to songs about love and heartbreak, train travel could be just the ticket.

Ready to hop aboard?

If train travel has piqued your interest, why not start with some of the world’s most scenic routes? The Trans-Mongolian Railway or the Gotthard Panorama Express on Intrepid’s Paris to Rome trip are excellent choices. Romantics and history buffs may veer towards the Express to the Orient: Paris to Istanbul trip which traces the route of the original Orient Express. 

So, next time you plan a trip, consider taking the train. You might just find that the journey becomes the highlight. 

Explore Intrepid’s rail trips

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