How to travel by train – tips and ideas for your next holiday

 

 

I’m so jealous at everyone turning 18-year old this year, they get free Interrail tickets this summer! I am trying to go back to my good habits of travelling by train in Europe instead of flying, and I thought I would share some tips with you guys. Summer holidays are coming up and if you are planning a trip anywhere in Europe, why not do it by train? In this post I’ll go through costs, how to plan your route and how much in advance you should book.

Ideally, I would take the train much more. I have high ideals, but I am in no way a “perfect eco citizen”. Because of my flying, my carbon footprint is three times the sustainable level. Many people are true eco-heroes without thinking about it even! They live in a small flat, they buy the food that’s about to go off with the 60% tags and they travel by public transport. Often, the people who spend least money are the one’s we should look up too. Those guys are your real heroes, I’m just a spoiled millennial who want to raise awareness among other spoiled millennials. Enough about that, now to train travel!

Why chose train?

If you want to see many destinations in Europe, train is the obvious choice. If you are going to just one destination, most people I know see flying as the obvious choice but train can offer the benefit of giving you a “bonus destination” on the way. Seeing things on the way and more flexibility are two great aspects about train travelling. Taking the night train is the best. For every night you spend on the train, you gain a day for sightseeing and avoid the cost of a hotel.

The other obvious benefit is that most train companies run on electricity that is largely produced from renewable resources. That means that taking the train can on many routes have zero carbon emissions! A typical flight trip in Europe has at least 500kg of carbon emissions. Just one flight roundtrip is almost 10% of the average EU citizens annual emissions, so taking the train can give you some serious saves. Also, taking the train is a real adventure! You meet people, you explore and you learn to enjoy the little things along the way. Most trains are also very comfortable and if you have the chance to travel by night train, you won’t even notice you spent time travelling.

Where to start planning?

The Interrail.eu website shows the best train connections within Europe. I can put in Helsinki to London and it suggests me the quickest route! I keep using that distance as an example because I have made that journey three times but I have also travelled by rail from London to Milan, from Amsterdam to Madrid and obviously the Eurostar routes from London to Paris and Brussells. Interrail.eu also have an app called the Rail Planner that I recommend downloading when you start planning your app. Click here to get to the planner. Plan your journey well in advance if you want to travel during popular times and you have to be on certain trains, the most popular routes on the fastest trains can sell out. You can be more relaxed about planning if have all the time in the world during your travels and you don’t mind having a journey by local trains with several small stop overs and occasionally wait even a day extra to catch a cheaper train the next day.

I would suggest planning your route and your timetable before purchasing an Interrail pass, as for some journeys single tickets can be cheaper. To save money,  I really recommend booking the high speed rails such as the Eurostar from London or the Thalys trains in France, Germany, Spain and the Benelux countries well in advance. The prices for these trains tend to go up if you leave booking too late. The Eurostar from London is not included in the Interrail pass but the Interrail pass entitles you to a small discount on your Eurostar ticket price.

When you plan your trip I suggest putting in your starting point and final destination first, just to see which stopover places the app suggests. You want to spend more time than the shortest stopover time in some of these places, so do not religiously follow this first suggested timetable. For example on the journey from Milan to London I decided to have a 13 hours stop over to enjoy a day in Paris, instead of just a 1h stopover where I would have to rush. Search for the timetables of the two journeys separately: Milan-Paris and then Paris-London.

About the cost – Interrail pass or individual train tickets?

An Interrail pass is ideal if your goal is to see as many places as possible and you don’t mind moving from one place to another. They sell both International and one-country passes. I have myself not done a proper Interrail trip with many stops over a month or so, but read a bit further and you’ll see the tips from two of my friends who have done it.

If you are under 27 years old, the price of the Interrail pass is about 25% cheaper. The prices for the International youth passes range from 208€ (£192) to 510€ (£470) depending on if you travel for the minimum of 5 days or up to a whole month. On top of this, many trains charge a seat reservation fee to be allowed travel on that train. Comparing rail travel to flying is very difficult because you can see so much more when you travel by train.

Tips for shorter train journeys

When you are travelling less than 5 days during a period of two weeks, which is the smallest international Interrail pass, it might actually become cheaper to book individual train journeys. Sometimes it can be worth paying the little extra with the Interrail pass even if you are travelling a shorter time because it allows for flexibility. The benefit of the Interrail pass is if you miss a train connection, you can just take the next train instead. On some distances, you might also want to take bus or boat instead of train. For example, all my journeys out of Helsinki include a ferry ride. If you travel by the fastest Intercity trains, for example from Paris to Barcelona, you might as well not have an Interrail pass because the mandatory seat reservation fees for these trains can be quite high. I bought most of my individual train tickets from Go Euro because they sell both bus and train tickets from many countries on just one site.

My experience of shorter one-way train journeys in Europe. 1-4 are with individual tickets, nr 5 is with an Interrail pass:

  1. Helsinki to London (via Stockholm, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels): 235 euro (£210)
  2. London to Amsterdam (via Brussels): 58 euro (£51)
  3. Amsterdam to Madrid (via Paris): 205 euro (£180)
  4. Milan to London (via Paris): 195 euro (£175)
  5. Helsinki to London in 2016 (via Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Brussels) 295 euro (£265). This sum includes the following costs: Interrail ticket 180 euro, ferry to Stockholm from Turku 55 euro and Eurostar ticket 60€. 

Tips for longer Interrailing

My friends who have done some longer Inter railing share their experience here.


Emil: No train no gain

Emil train 2Back in 2013 I went on my first inter rail adventure. I took a three week-ticket and decided to travel as much as I could in three weeks. I remember counting that we travelled through at least 18 countries. We had a quite quick pace, because I was eager to see as much as possible. For me the train rides themselves are the main part of the journey. Different landscapes and countries passing by in the window are the beauties you miss when you take that oil-drinking-Dracula, called an airplane.

I good tip for traveling longer distances with train is to take the local trains. Take your time and skip the superfastultrafancygodzillahyperloop-trains that travel approx. 900 km/h. Use the local trains instead. Because that’s where you find the locals. You’ll see the smiling school kids, the praying nuns, the stressed-out office worker and also the weird people inter railing with a shitty guitar on their backs. Note that I might be that guy.


Sofia: Bring a padlock and a copy of your passport!

SoffiatrainSome years ago I went inter railing for 4 weeks in Europe. It was in August, which is the most busy month in Europe with a lot of tourists. Because of this, I would advise anyone planning an inter rail to go in June or July, since it will be less tourists and also cheaper prices. Plan your route beforehand but account for one extra day or some extra hours at every place you want to visit. Strive for a good balance between planning and being spontaneous. For example, we planned to stay three days in Verona, Italy, but after one day we spontaneously decided to go to Venice since we had seen everything Verona had to offer in one day.

Try to book hostels in those cities you want to spend more time in. Also, if you are travelling in August, book ahead! Otherwise you might find yourself in a difficult situation when arriving in your destination. Me and my friends were forced to spend the night on a beach since the all the cheap hostels were booked and we did not feel like paying for a hotel.

Last tip: look after your stuff and be super careful! Take a copy of your passport and bring a padlock with you.

Felicia’s comment: It sounds like Sofia may or may not have somehow lost her passport haha 😉


How much time to allow for a distance?

If the route you are taking requires changing trains, allowing for some extra time is really the key to enjoyable rail travel. The Interrail planner says it will take me 42 hours to get from Helsinki to London. I have made the journey in that time once, and it was quite stressful. I had 6 stop overs which were all less than 3 hours long, and the worst stop over was in Hamburg at 3.30 am. I do not recommend for anyone to change trains at 3.30 am and I will never do it again. Unless there is a proper night train that allows you to sleep your 8 hours, I really recommend staying at a cheap hostel and just adding 10 hours to your journey time. Believe me, you will be much happier about your journey iof you sleep properly!

In the summertime (May to September) there is a night train from Stockholm to Berlin with a shorter stop in Malmö. Check it out at Snälltåget.se. In the wintertime when travelling between Helsinki and London there is no night train, so I have to sleep one night at a hostel in Copenhagen to avoid travelling during the night.

Basic tip: allow at least one more day than what the Interrail Planner says is the shortest possible time to travel. The app says it takes 51 hours to go from Helsinki to Madrid but you definitely do not want to make the journey in that time. You can get to Madrid in just two days but it might be a bit stressful. The journey includes stop overs in Copenhagen, Paris and Barcelona and you definitely want to explore at least one of them on the way. Maybe you want to explore them just for a few hours but still, you don’t want to follow the inconvenient suggestions of stop over times that the Railplanner app gives you. Why on earth would you want to be in Lyon between 23:56 and 07:06 for example? You might as well take the later morning train from Lyon to your next destination and enjoy a cute brunch!

I travelled from Arezzo in Italy via Milan and Paris to London in just 24 hours. That was quite good because it included a 40 minute stop over in Milan (time for buying snacks), a night train to Paris, a whole day of museums in Paris and a 2 hour train back to London late in the evening. If you have convenient connections you can make even longer distances in only 24 hours. Short distances like London to Amsterdam take only 4,5 hours. How much time to allow depends on both the distance and the connections, the fewer connections you have, the quicker your journey will be and the less risk there is of missing a connecting train.

The new normal

Recently more and more people in Europe are starting to choose the train over flying. In fact, there are many discussions on political level that some of the night trains that were shut down year’s ago would be brought back. When on holiday, more people are starting to realise that they can enjoy the journey as much as the destination. As for business trips, quick routes like the Eurostar also helps people choose trains over flying. If you are planning your next journey in Europe but you feel unsure about how to join the train-trend, please comment below and ask any question, I will always reply!

The Great Barrier reef is not dead – why the exaggerations?

 

 

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One reason I really wanted to travel to Australia was to see the Great Barrier reef before it is completely gone. All coral, around the world, will suffer and die if waters get warmer and climate change continues. I wanted to see other things and visit my friends but I did really want to see the corals, after reading about them maybe being gone soon. It turned out that the news stories had been exaggerated, it is very threatened but not even nearly gone! The whole tourism of “seeing things before they disappear” is not great, because flying contributes and speeds up that exact disappearing. I know that it was quite selfish of me to fly out all the way but now that I have already been, there is no point regretting it.

I saw the Barrier Reef twice. We went to the outer barrier reef outside Port Douglas with a company called Wavelenght that was operated by marine biologists. They were really good about protecting the reef, did not put an anchor down, made sure no one walked on corals or touched fish. They also pointed out that tourism is really important for saving the barrier reef. The flying to Australia part is really bad, but the taking a boat out to the reef part is really not bad at all, especially if you go with a company that has an “Advanced Ecotourism” certificate.

I also went to a lecture about the coral reef at ReefTeach in Cairns. I learned so much! Apparently a few types of coral have already started adapting to climate change and morphed into “super coral”. It is more important than ever that we can protect this new super coral because it is still very rare and only exists in very few places! The coral in Australia also protects cities and agriculture on the coast in the case of storms. Coral is the birthplace of much of the worlds fish, so if you like seafood you better like protecting coral reefs.

Three common misunderstandings about the great barrier reef:

  1. Bleached coral is dead coral. This is false. Coral gets it colour from algae that lives on it. The algae is providing the coral with food and nutrition, but when the water gets too warm the algae starts producing toxins. That makes the coral get rid of the algae by expelling it from its surface. That means that suddenly the coral has no source of food anymore! Bleached coral is not dead, but it will starve to death within a few weeks or up to two months if the water does not get colder. If the water gets colder, it can take the algae back and get back to a healthy life.
  2. 90% of the Great Barrier reef is gone. Completely untrue. 90% of areas of the coral reef have been affected by coral bleaching because of warm water as a result of climate change. As point one states, bleaching does not mean dead. During the warm summer months many corals bleach, but as the waters get colder again a month later or so, they get their colour and their nutrition back. The barrier reef is very threatened. About 30% of corals in the area where the mentioned company operate have died in the past two years. 30% is a lot. But it’s not 90%. The entire Barrier reef is the largest coral reef in the world. It is 348,700 km² big! That means that there is still a lot to save!
  3. Tourism destroys the reef. This is partly true, partly untrue. “Tourists want to see a beautiful barrier reef, and the fact that tourists bring in so much money makes politicians more likely to support efforts of protecting the barrier reef”, says one of the marine biologists on the boat. Then it is another issue that some companies are irresponsible and do not interfere enough when stupid people for example walk on the coral. The coral burns like jellyfish, so the joke is on the people walking on it. Other things tourists do to destroy the reef is by using sunscreen containing Oxybenzone, which unfortunately is most normal sunscreen but there are many reef-friendly alternatives. I bought mine from Feel Good Inc.

It’s not only the Great Barrier reef that is threatened and similar coral bleaching have become more common all over the world. Coral reefs are really important for marine life globally. So the joke is really on me, who flew to the reef furthest away from where I live. Oh well, now I have seen it and it was beautiful. I am more motivated than ever to donate to organisations trying to protect the reef.

So why the exaggerations? As I said it is threatened, and some scientists think that an alarmist message will wake up people to try to protect it. They also think they will get more funding if they point out how bad things are. I think that they need to change the message into something more positive and make people realise that we can and should save the reef. Saying it’s dead will make people give up hope. It’s not dead and it needs your help to protect it! Try to minimise your carbon footprint, support the most sustainable tourism companies, donate money to marine conservation efforts and vote for the politicians who appreciate the enormous positive effects that the coral reef has.

I did it again! Moved from Helsinki to London by train

I’m back in London again for at least 6 months to do an internship! Since I had holiday before my work here started, I had the time to take the train from Helsinki to London again. Scroll down for pictures!

I spent some time in Malmö, a full day in Berlin and a day and a night at my friends place in Amsterdam! Everything went so smooth, the changeover from ferry to train in Stockholm was easy taking less than an hour. My afternoon in Malmö was great and I visited some beautiful gardens. I enjoyed the night train between Malmö and Berlin, sharing my cabin with some really nice people. Seeing a bit more of Berlin was great since I have been there only briefly once before. And seeing my friend in Amsterdam was obviously awesome!

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Pros of taking the train versus flying

  • I got to see awesome cities on the way
  • I had the chance to visit my friend in Amsterdam for a day
  • It is more of an adventure, you meet more new people
  • My carbon footprint from travelling was between 30-60 % lower according to my calculations (one estimate is by this calculator).
Cons of train vs flying
  • Hard to fit in time if you are not on holiday
  • Booking via multiple websites instead of just one
  • Can be more expensive, depending on route

 

 

 

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The environmental hypocrites

Hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations – they want to live more ethically – and they will always fall short. But the alternative to hypocrisy isn’t moral purity (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.” – George Monbiot

All environmentalists that I know are hypocrites, myself included. Some more, some less. I’m sure there are people who follow their ethics to 100%, I just don’t know anyone who does that when it comes to environmentalism except one remarkable green politician in Finland called Leo Stranius. At least he says he’s 100% vegan, never flies and cycles everywhere. Goals.  I have just arrived in Dubai, by plane. We environmentalists know we are hypocrites every time we make an ‘non-environmetal’ choice. And if we didn’t know that we’re hypocrites already, there will be hundreds of people in line informing us about what awful hypocrites we are.

Like the guy with a 400 gram steak in front of him, telling me how unethical I am for tasting a tiny bite of my friends dish that contained meat. Or the anonymous commentator who thinks this zero-waste blogger is wrong to promote environmentally friendly sunscreens when in fact, flying is the worst part of her trip. Or all the millions of people who say Leonardo di Caprio isn’t an environmentalist because he flew in a private aircraft twice in a year.

I made an extremely hypocritical choice. I went on holiday to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my family even though I think airplane traveling is not good. Flying by plane is something I should not do. I took the train to London because I’m really am trying to quit flying but it’s extremely tempting to do it. 7 hours direct flights for a very affordable price to see white beaches and another culture. It’s easy to make quite irrelevant justifications for myself like “but at least the flight is shorter than to Thailand, less fuel is required, no stop overs means less fuel for takeoffs too…”.  But the truth is I’m going to a state that’s criticised for using slave labour, that has a very high oil consumption, a very high water consumption and promotes very much commercialism. I wanted to go out of curiosity, to see what it’s like. Dubai is very popular, and seeing many people going here made me want to go too. If I stay more true to my values than I did this time, perhaps I’ll never go again. I’m sorry if I let someone down by making this choice, I’ll try not to do it too often anymore.

The criticism does have grounds, but by calling environmentalists hypocrites you put the focus on the wrong thing. Saying “airplanes are bad for the environment” and taking an airplane OR saying “I never ever think about the environmental impact of planes” and also taking the airplane has the exact same environmental impact.The individual environmental hypocrite is in no way worse for the environment than the ignorant person. By saying “airplanes are bad” the environmentalist is at least more likely to start looking for alternatives. I’m less likely to go to Dubai or Thailand every year. I think companies who put millions of dollars on Greenwashing-marketing are the right subjects of being called hypocrites. They do it on purpose, to make money. I make hypocritical choices because of weak moments of temptation, that partly is a result of that greenwashing marketing. Like Norwegian air, which I’m flying to Dubai, saying they have the newest, least polluting fleet in the world. It´s still at least 3x more polluting than train but they don’t mention that in their marketing.

Dubai is a catastrophe environmentally. I didn’t know how much it is so, until I came here. I’m not going to regret coming here and I’m sure I’ll enjoy my time, but really this isn’t the best travel destination. It is still a massive construction site and the main thing to do is shopping. We’ll drive (yes driving is bad too) to the old town of Al Ain tomorrow because Dubai is so silly. The stupid thing is, after we booked this trip I started hearing from friends they didn’t enjoy Dubai too much either, but they didn’t say that on social media when they posted nice pictures. Please dear reader of this blog, be smarter than me: don’t come here. Don’t book a flight to Dubai, even if they are cheap.

Environmentalist are trying to change society. But sometimes we just want to wholly be part of our society. And our western societies include food wrapped in plastic or occasional very polluting airplane rides. My friends and family go for holidays, it look’s lovely, is it so hard to imagine I might want to go too, even if it’s against my ethical principles? Social media does things worse here. In the long run, we want to get rid of unenvironmental travelling but it’s a change that might take some time. Allow us to fail without judging too hard on our journey towards environmentalism.

So cheer us for the times we do choose vegetarian food, cheer us for choosing the sunscreen that doesn’t harm coral reefs and cheer us when we take the train instead of flying. Shouting “hypocrite!” just creates a negative feeling. If you feel an environmentalist could be even more environmentally friendly, share your tips with them in a friendly way! Tell them in what way life can be nice while doing something even better. Ugly words and blaming those who really try to change isn’t the best way of making society more sustainable.

Trust me, we know better than anyone how polluting airplanes are. We just think that occasionally, it’s nice to travel. Just like a smoker, knowing how unhealthy it is but still enjoying smoking. Some environmentalists have already stopped flying, other’s are still, just like that smoker, thinking that perhaps next year I’ll have more self control… Perhaps next year I won’t be as tempted to fly to a warm location for a quick getaway from the Finnish winter. We are weak sometimes and that is okay. We should love ourselves anyways.

Why don’t you join me and become a hypocritical environmentalist? Allow the changes in your life to take it’s time, maybe some of them never happen. Keep an open mind, accept that you’re a hypocrite and continue learning so that everyday you can become less of a hypocrite. I welcome you in the club of self-declared environmentalists, even if you do the smallest change.

The worlds tallest building is about the only thing I really like in central Dubai. But there are other skyscrapers in the world, go to Taipei, New York or Tokyo instead.

The real reason I took the train all the way to London

Watch the two last videos from my train journey from Helsinki to London! If you haven’t seen the five first videos: you’ll find them by clicking at the “Everyday  Eco choices” category and scrolling down. These are the last videos out of 7 in total and  the final one you’ll get to see why I made the journey in the first place…

 

 

 

 

2200 kilometres later

2200 km, that’s approximately how long I’ve travelled by train and a short bit of boat. I hope my boyfriend got me good Christmas presents. By flight, the distance from London to Helsinki is about 1850, but considering how delayed any landings at Heathrow are, I’d say those extra circles around all of London makes the flying distance about 1900 km.

Now I’ve arrived safely in London, and I’m really happy with my trip! I would absolutely recommend travelling by train, not just for environmental reasons but for the experience. Anyone who’s been on Inter-rail knows what I’m talking about. Those of my friends who have done train-travelling have done quite long Inter-rail trips, of one month or so, but I think it’s important to remember that you don’t need to commit for a full month just to travel by train! I’ve committed about 48 hours for this, and I really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, poor WiFi connections along the way and a broken cable for transfering videos has made it impossible to keep you posted about my journey almost real time. But the film clips are already filmed so obviously I will share them with you!

I will post the video’s over the next few days, so if you’re still interested in knowing what it’s like to travel on your own through Europe by train, check in again! In theory, I could upload videos now but I can’t, I need to sleep. I slept only 6 hours on the boat because I was so hyped over the trip and then only 4 hours sleep on a train without a proper bed. That’s just too little for me!

Next time I travel longer distances by train, I might get a hostel for one night. My first goal, however, will be to get in touch with some rail companies between Sweden and Germany and tell them to get night trains with beds in them! Sleeper trains are the best, but there were none available on the whole journey from Stockholm to London.

Total cost of trip:

Interrail ticket that covered all train journeys except the Eurostar: 180 euro

Ferry between Turku and Stockholm: 50 euro

Eurostar train from Brussels to London: 110 euro

In total: 340 euro

Price compared to flying: 2x more expensive by train, but I did get to see 6 extra cities along the way. Flying Helsinki-Stockholm-Copenhagen-Hamburg-Hannover-Köln-Brussels-London would probably be at least 400 euro.


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Done with train stations for now, time to enjoy London!


Goodnight dear readers and lovely friends who took the time to follow my trip ❤

Most night trains in northern Europe are gone and I had a horrible night

On the whole, I’m super happy with my train journey. In this video I’m the opposite of happy, I’m quite grumpy and negative. The reason I’m so grumpy is that I couldn’t get a full nights sleep without paying for a hostel, which I thought was unnecessary. Travelling while sleeping is the best, you don’t even notice you’re on a train for 8 hours. With a sleeper train, you can just wake up refreshed in a new destination. This isn’t possible nowadays, so look how it goes instead.

This is a video I’ll e-mail to legislators in the EU as well as train companies in Sweden, Denmark and Germany to ask them to put in more night trains. These 15 are the only sleeper trains in all of Europe. Many of them are only within one country such as the Finnish sleeper from Helsinki to Lapland and most of the few international sleeper trains run only in the summer. In the video, I’m taking a “night train” from Copenhagen to Hamburg, that wasn’t a sleeper train. Sitting in a chair from 23:30 to 4:40 really isn’t a full nights sleep.