When I was thinking of my travel plans for Europe for the spring of 2017, I looked at the map and wondered where I would go. My eyes were drawn to Turkey, one of my favorite countries to travel to and I remembered my idea to take the train to Turkey. I immediately got excited and decided to go for it: I would travel to Turkey overland and travel by train across Europe to travel to Istanbul.
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But why did I want to take the train to Istanbul?
Yea, that is a good question. Why would I sit on a train for days on end and spend more money than just buying a plane ticket and fly to Istanbul in 3 hours?
When it comes to travel, I often act before I think things through completely, and so was the case with my train journey to Istanbul. I just knew I wanted to do it. But why? And why do I think you should take the train across Europe too? I give you my most persuasive arguments to rail across Europe.
The journey is more important than the destination
I hate travel quotes. I basically hate almost all quotes. They are cliché, and corny and make me want to gag. There. I said it #sorrynotsorry.
However, sometimes… really rarely; they make sense. Like in this case, when the journey is more important than the destination.
Don’t get me wrong, after almost a week of train travel, I wanted to arrive in Istanbul already, but this travel quote is true. On my train journey across Europe, I met amazing people, I saw wonderful landscapes and I made a lifetime of memories. Something I wouldn’t be able to do on a 3-hour plane ride to Istanbul.
Sometimes, the process of travel is just as interesting as the final destination and with any rail trip in Europe, this is true! Check out these 12 train trips where the journey is what matters most.
Stop at different places in Europe
If I had flown from Amsterdam to Istanbul, I would have seen 2 things: the airport of Amsterdam and the city of Istanbul.
With my train journey across Europe, I managed to stop and stay overnight and explore the cities of Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Brasov and Bucharest before arriving in Istanbul as my final destination.
This gave me the opportunity to spend some time in cities that would otherwise not be on my route or could be included.
If you plan your train journey across Europe, you can include any number of cities. You might find a place that you never even heard of which becomes your new favorite city, like San Sebastian in Spain!
Looking for inspiration? Check out these 19 inspirational European train itineraries.
Arrive in the heart of a city by train
What I like about train travel in Europe as opposed to flying, is the fact that you arrive in the heart of a European city without any problems.
No expensive airport shuttles or long commutes to arrive in the city, just a hop and a skip and you’re right in the center.
Imagine how much time and money you save by arriving in the heart of London by train as opposed to those expensive airport shuttles from one of London’s many airports?
Save money traveling by train in Europe
Although my overall expenses for the train tickets for my rail journey across Europe were higher than a direct flight, I think I saved money in the end. How? Let me calculate it for you:
In total, I spend €235 ($281) on train tickets (the Netherlands to Munich, Munich to Vienna, Vienna to Budapest, Budapest to Brasov, Brasov to Bucharest and Bucharest to Istanbul).
My flight from Istanbul back home was €75 ($88).
But, if I would have flown to Munich, take an airport shuttle to the center and back to the airport and flown from Munich to Vienna and so on, I would have spent so much more money on flights and taxi or airport shuttle fairs. I don’t have the numbers for that, but I am sure it adds up quickly. And let’s not forget about the baggage fees.
Travel carry-on only on the train in Europe
When you fly in Europe, odds are you need to pay extra for any checked-in luggage. This is one of the biggest underestimations when budgeting for your Europe Trip. When you fly 3 times and each time you have to pay €25 for your checked-in bag, it starts to add up.
When you take the train across Europe, you always travel carry-on only. You can bring as much luggage as you can carry and no additional fees apply.
Although the train takes longer, you save time
That sounds a bit contradictive but it is true. At many airports in Europe, you need to be at the airport up to 3 hours prior to your departure time. Endless queues of showing your boarding cards, passports, luggage checks, and luggage re-checks.
Lines to start the boarding, lines to actually board, waiting in the plane for the plane to leave, waiting to get out of the plane. Ugh!
Can you tell I am not a fan of airplanes?
On the train in Europe, none of this matters. Just show up half an hour before the international train departs to take train selfies and settle in your compartment.
When your ticket or passport needs to be checked, the people will come to you. Just sit in your seat, enjoy the view, and when the train conductor comes to your chair, pull out your ticket and passport.
Easy, hassle-free and stress-free!
Experience new cities when you travel by train across Europe
Did I ever imagine visiting Bucharest? It wasn’t exactly high on my wish list of places to travel to in 2017 but it was on my route so I checked things out for 2 days.
With my train trip to Turkey, I managed to visit, explore (and fall in love) with Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Brasov and Bucharest. And finally of course Istanbul.
When you sit on a plane, you can see the earth from above on non-cloudy day but that is about it.
There are no food tours on the plane, no Polaroid photoshoots, or meeting with old friends. However, I was able to do all that on my train journey across Europe!
Disconnect while you travel across the continent
As I wrote previously, I think a long train journey is a great way to relax and disconnect. Yes, you sit on the train for days on end but there is nothing wrong with JUST BE. Sit, relax, look outside the window, enjoy the scenery and let your mind flow freely.
When I travel by plane, I either fall asleep in a warm restless coma or I annoy myself to the core with too many people around me in such a small space with nowhere to move.
On the train, I can sleep or just be awake. I stare out of the window a lot which frees up brain space for great ideas, song texts to long-forgotten 90’s songs and new energy sources.
See Europe from a different perspective
I have to admit; it is fantastic to fly over Europe on a clear day. I was able to see Paris and recognize the Arc the Triumph and it was amazing to fly over greater London, following the Thames on my way to Liverpool.
But, the chance of a clear sky is not guaranteed, even in summer and most of the times you’re literally stuck with your head in the clouds. That is when you actually have a window seat (see the picture below).
When you travel by train across Europe, there is always something to see! The landscape is ever changing and you can watch the fall colors change. The area around the railway tracks is usually a little bit dodgy, but when you leave the train station and explore the new city, a treasure of hidden gems unfolds itself to you.
Even if you get bored with looking out of the window, you can always make new friends on the train. Stretch your legs, see what first class is like (sorry, just passing through), check out the menu at the restaurant carriage and strike up a conversation with the guy in the hallway.
When you travel Europe by train, you’ll see rivers, bridges, mountains, border crossings and towns you’d otherwise have missed.
Train travel in Europe is just FUN!
Have the previous 9 reasons not convinced you yet to take the train across Europe? Then there is a 10th reason for you: train travel in Europe is FUN! It is an adventure, an experience and a way to travel. If you haven’t traveled by train in Europe, you haven’t experienced all Europe has to offer you!
Are you convinced now? Why not try out train travel in Europe with an Interrail (EU) or Eurail Pass (Global). You can travel freely by train around Europe without having to buy single tickets every time. Check out what Railpass suits your wishes best and maybe I see you on the train in Europe!
Do you like train travel? Have you traveled by train across Europe? Where did you get off to explore? Let me know in the comment section below!