Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Benefits of Train Travel

I have recently started my trip to Australia by train, and so far I am loving it! Here are some of the many benefits of train travel, especially compared to flying.



No jet lag!
When traveling to Australia by plane, usually people experience jet lag because the time is shifting so rapidly. There are also other -more serious- health concerns related to traveling by plane (especially long-distance), such as the risk of developing deep-vein thrombosis. Also, if you are traveling to high-altitude regions, there is a smaller risk of getting altitude sickness when you travel by train, because your body gets more time to adjust (depending on the route you take of course: e.g. the train from Beijing to Lhasa can be an exception if you don't make a stopover in Xining).

It brings you closer to main sights
You usually arrive in or near the city/town center, or close to interesting locations that you may want to visit, so you can rely on walking most of the time to get around. Also, if you want to travel further, there are usually plenty of buses around that can take you into all directions. If you fly, you usually arrive in a very uninspiring place and it can take a while to get away from there.


Guilin sunset, as viewed from one of the mountain tops (walking distance from the train station)

You see more along the way
While traveling by train you see scenery you would not have seen otherwise. On my trip so far I have encountered so many different landscapes and it is amazing to watch the landscape change as I travel across different countries, different climates and time-zones, and through urban as well as more remote regions. I have been traveling for nearly three weeks now and it has not been boring yet.


You get time to relax / slow down
Even though train travel is far from slow (see below) it does help you to slow down and do things you never have time for, because you are usually stuck in a space without internet (and sometimes also without electricity) for quite some time. It can be a very meditative experience to just stare out the window, watching the world go by and watching the scenery change continuously.


You meet interesting people
Because you are on a train for quite a while, often in compartments you share with other people, you get a chance to talk with them and hear their interesting stories. You can ask them questions about their home country and they can learn more about yours. I met only friendly people on the way so far and many of them were very interesting.

Raushan is one of those cool people I met along the way. Definitely a highlight!

It is more enjoyable
Because travel is slower and there is so much to see (and do) along the way, you tend to enjoy the journey more: the journey is the destination. It is the same with life, but sometimes we forget because we get too efficient in our way of thinking and planning everything. If everything happens (too) fast, we don’t get time to adjust and enjoy the road. We lose our flexibility and our flow.



Freedom
The flexibility of train travel translates directly into more freedom: especially if you don’t pre-book anything. Even when I need to get visas, I try to book as little as possible in advance, because that gives me freedom to change my plans. Sometimes you may decide to take a different route, or stay somewhere longer (or shorter) than originally planned. For example, I decided to travel through China much faster than I planned originally, because I caught a severe cold and wanted to get to the warm weather as soon as possible. Right now I am in Guilin with 20C.
Every time you need to book a ticket in advance, it is restricting to some degree. Fortunately, when you travel by train it is often quite easy to get last minute tickets (which are usually the same price no matter when you buy them, unlike plane tickets which skyrocket the closer you get to your travel date).


Cost-effective
Traveling by train is not that expensive, and relatively speaking it is much cheaper than flying if you count in all the extra places you can visit (plus considering you also get accommodation on overnight trains).



More environmentally friendly
Train travel is better for the environment than flying and can still be considerably better for the environment than car travel (especially if you travel with electric trains). I am hoping that popularization of train travel will encourage the electrification of trains around the world, which will make global train travel an even more sustainable option because it would cut carbon emissions on long-distance train travel even further.


To summarize:
As with most things in life: 
Less cost + slowing down (in this case slower travel) = more enjoyment, freedom and happiness.
I would like to add that traveling with slightly less comfort (third class tickets, staying overnight in simple locations) is also more interesting, because you experience the trip more fully and get pushed to appreciate the little things more and more. Also this way of traveling helps you to stay connected to where you are and what you are doing, and the challenges that may come with it help you to become a wiser and more balanced person. Life is no fun if you don't challenge yourself!

The details of my trip so far:

* I covered 6461 km in the first week (Helsinki - St Petersburg - Moscow - Astana - Almaty - Urumqi). I spent 356,22 Euros on train tickets for this part of the trip.
* I covered another 3793,1 km in the second week to get from Urumqi to Guilin (via Tianshui, Baoji, Chongqing and Guiyang). Tickets totaled 144,97 Euros for this part of the journey.
* That is a total of 501,19 euro so far, for 10.254,1 km, visiting 10 cities along the way.