I’m an unashamed advocate of train travel in Europe. I find buses uncomfortable and the speed of air travel often isn’t worth the pain of airports. Cars are great, but in Europe you’re often cut off from the countryside by motorway sound barrier walls. Plus there’s the hassle of finding parking, and petrol and tolls are expensive. No, for me trains are the best way to travel, and one of the best things about travelling by train is the ability to do things while you’re moving. While you’re limited to certain activities when journeying by car, bus, or plane, on a train the possibilities are almost endless.
Many people find while they can’t read in other vehicles, they can when they’re on a train. We’ve found that this is even more true if you have a Kindle or other ebook reader, as they are so easy to read.
And if you still don’t like focussing on words on a page, you can always enjoy audiobooks — put them on your iPod or Kindle before your journey and you’re sorted. In fact, listening to audiobooks is even better than reading print, because you can enjoy the views out the window at the same time.
I’m terrible about finding time to study, but I somehow manage to get some done during train trips. Perhaps it’s because I know the exact amount of time I’ll be on the train, and I figure that devoting an hour or so of this otherwise dead time could be worthwhile. At the moment I’m learning German, and I’ve found train journeys to be a great opportunity to look over the flashcards I prepared a couple of months ago — if I get bored I just stare out the window for a few minutes. Similarly, I’ve been listening to podcasts in German while enjoying amazing views of central Europe.
It’s impossible to get much work done in a bus or car, and you can’t use electronic devices for a fair proportion of plane journeys, but trains are often provide a fantastic work environment. Austrian and German trains are particularly wonderful, as they almost always have power points for charging electronics, and the tables in many of the compartments are ideal for spreading your stuff out on. Plus, if the train has a buffet car or food trolley service, you can even have a coffee while you work — for many people this is an essential work tool.
I once played chess in a plane by passing the magnetic chess set across the aisle to my opponent, but it wasn’t ideal. However, it’s easy to play cards or other games on a train if you have a compartment with a table. Or of course you can play games on your phone or laptop if you have one.
You can also entertain yourself by listening to music or podcasts, which are also great options for other forms of transport.
Sleep and stretch out
If I have to travel overnight, I’d prefer it to be on a train than in any other form of transport. I know that some buses are well-equipped for sleeping, but if I’m not completely horizontal I don’t sleep well. And even on those full-cama buses that have completely reclining seats, the motion and noise of the bus just doesn’t do it for me. A couchette or sleeper bed on a train seems positively luxurious when compared to other options, in my opinion.
Even if you don’t want to sleep, just being able to get up and walk around is a major advantage — you’re often confined to your seat in buses and planes, either because of space constraints or the fasten-seatbelt sign.
I love travelling by train for many reasons, not just because I can do stuff while I’m moving — the views are amazing, you get taken right into the city centre, they’re usually comfortable — but being able to do more than just listen to music really makes a difference to me. I never feel like I’ve lost time after a train trip — whether I’ve worked, studied, or just enjoyed the views, it almost always feels like time well spent.