To me, the singular most fascinating aspect of train travel is watching the world pass you by.
Unlike flying, when I travel by train I can see the individual villages, the farmers working in their fields, and people going about their daily lives from ground level. In the few seconds that I have to watch their world pass me by, I can develop an understanding of where they come from. Maybe it’s the school children you see leaving school on their bicycles, the joy on their faces as they’re free for another afternoon, or the farmer, working his rice paddy on a cliff high above a gorge, the small stream next to him cascading over the ledge and crashing into the river hundreds of feet below.
Each of the villages that I see are people’s homes. They all have their owns thoughts and concerns, their own joys and tribulations. If they were to leave these towns, they would miss them with the same fervor that I miss my own home.
It’s a truly amazing way to capture the spirit of a people and a country.
As my regular readers know, I’m now about 2/3 of the way finished with a 6-month trip that will take me from Singapore to Istanbul, Turkey, traveling only by land. I’ve taken trains, buses, and even a few boats, but trains remain my favorite. Unlike highways or rivers, trains often crisscross through villages, allowing you to see the real heart of a country.
In fact, I would argue that you can more easily learn about a culture by taking a one-day train trip across the country than spending weeks in its largest city.
However, it’s not just to external views that allow me to see the true lives of locals. When on a train, I am typically surrounded by locals traveling between cities in the daily course of their lives. Even if I don’t interact with my fellow passengers, I see them at their rawest, the good and the bad. I might get offered food by one fellow traveler, or I might watch a child relieve themselves all over a bunk bed because their mom thought a paper bag would hold urine. No matter what though, train travel is never boring.
So, on your next trip, don’t just take a plane or car, relish the trip as much as the destination and take a train. Whether you’re speeding across Japan on a high-speed train, putzing through Siberia, or crossing through Europe, you’ll never regret getting on a train.
Jim Cheney is the creator of Tripologist.com. Having traveled extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, Jim enjoys sharing his love of travel and some of his favorite places to visit around the world. He lives in Pennsylvania, USA, with his wife and two kids.