Why Trains are Better than Cars, Planes, and Buses
I’m quick to admit that I love a good roadtrip. And a flight that circumvents a lengthy land-based detour is always welcome. Buses are a slightly different story – I’ll avoid them at all costs, unless the cost or lack of alternate options makes them unavoidable. But when I’m exploring Europe, trains are my go-to form of transportation. Here are some reasons why trains are better than other modes of transport.
Why trains are better than…
It’s true that cars offer freedom that few other modes of transports do. You can travel along otherwise unreachable coastal roads, head to remote villages, and not worry about schedules or seats selling out. They’re not without their shortcomings, however. This is why I tend to avoid car rentals in Europe unless absolutely necessary.
1. Misleading costs
I can’t remember the number of times I’ve seen the advertised rental rate and thought, “That’s not too bad,” only to reach the checkout page and see that it’s quadrupled in price. And that’s before I’ve checked the Super Saver Add This Or You’ll Be Financially Ruined For Life insurance option.
Like death and taxes, insurance is pretty much an unavoidable reality, at least with rental cars. Most include budget insurance as standard and then scare you into paying more. You’ve got to be pretty brave to cruise out the lot with the threat of a payable excess in the thousands hanging over you.
Most rentals require you to return your car to the place you started, which limits your options. Some companies allow you to drop the vehicle off at a different location, but use the opportunity to tack on a steep fee at the last minute (see point 1.)
4. Additional Costs
Aside from the rental fee, cars also come with a few unexpected costs that you’ll need to budget for, such fuel, tolls, and parking.
Parking comes at a premium in most European destinations, if it’s even available. Small towns often lack available space. Larger destinations are often so congested that parking is far away and payable by the hour.
Driving in Europe isn’t easy. Narrow roads, chaotic traffic, hair-raising bends, bad weather, and treacherous mountain passes can rattle the nerves of even the most experienced motorists.
7. Always On
Drivers have no downtime to enjoy the scenery or sights. Instead you have to stay focused entirely on the road ahead. Though you can pull over to enjoy the view, while the car is in motion you might miss some of the most dramatic sights of your journey.
A well-timed plane journey can be a great addition to a Eurail trip. On several occasions I’ve hopped aboard a low-cost airline and found myself on the other side of the continent, ready for more rail-based exploring. But when it comes to a lengthy European trip, trains almost always trump planes. Here’s why.
You may think you’re saving loads of time by flying between cities. But don’t forget to factor all the time spent traveling to the airport, getting through security, waiting to board, flying, waiting for luggage, clearing customs, and then traveling from the airport to your new accommodation.
I’ve flown between major cities for a handful of euros. But don’t forget to factor in all the additional expenses – taxis or buses to the airport, checked baggage fees, excess baggage fines, and marked up food and drinks at the airport or on the plane.
Airports are seldom conveniently located or easy to get to. At best, you’ll need to board a bus or train and travel some distance to get to the heart of your destination. You also usually wouldn’t want to stay close to the airport. Compare this to trains, which more often than not deliver you within walking distance to your destination’s top attractions.
It’s necessary, but security at airports robs you of time and dignity (particularly if you rely on that belt to hold your pants up, or forget to wear your good socks). It also limits what you can and can’t take on board. Kiss that €2 bottle of airport water and the €200 Swiss Army knife goodbye if you forget to check it in your baggage.
5. Carbon Footprint
Many people reject air travel based solely on the impact that it has on the environment. Depending on distance, route, and type of aircraft, other modes of transport may have far fewer carbon emissions.
Buses often play an important role in a rail journey. Remarkable as trains are, there are some routes that are simply not suitable for rail infrastructure. Buses usually fill these gaps, and though they’re cheap and convenient, they also come with some limitations. Want to know why trains are better?
Buses are slow. They’re bound by speed limits, roads, and weather conditions, and get caught in traffic. You’re also at the mercy of the driver’s own skills and desires. If chatting to the passenger in the seat behind him is more important than getting to your destination on time, you may be in for a longer ride.
Some newer-model buses have a few modern conveniences such as televisions, Wi-Fi, and toilets. But most don’t. Unless you’re traveling on a popular long-distance route, chances are your bus won’t have a toilet, on-board snacks, or reasonable legroom, and won’t allow you to stretch your legs with a little walk down the aisle. You may also be at the mercy of the bus driver’s own music selection, which could go either way.
3. Ease of Use
Maybe it’s just me, but buses are confusing. They seldom run to schedule, and the only indication that you’re getting on the right vehicle is a small sign at the front with the end destination – usually in the local dialect. Buses leave at the driver’s will, you’re parted from your luggage (often for an extra fee), and unlike train stations, there’s little chance you’ll have a live display board at the station indicating platform numbers and times.
4. Bus Stations
Bus stations are universally terrible. Chances are you’ll have to work hard to find a bathroom, coffee, Wi-Fi, or even a comfortable place to sit.
Of course, everyone has his or her own preference for mode of transport. For many of us it comes down to weighing up the pros and cons of each option. Most of us will use a combination of the above to achieve our travel objectives. If you’re one of these people, hopefully these reasons why trains are better will help you identify the most effective way for you to travel. As long as the decision is in my hands, however, I’ll always be sitting a train with a Eurail Pass, winding through the scenic countryside.