Why My First Holiday Post-pandemic Will Be by Train

Train travel is having a 21st Century renaissance
Train travel is having a 21st Century renaissance | Birmingham Museums Trust
Alex Allen

Commissioning Editor

After an involuntary four-year hiatus from holidaying abroad, here’s why I’m rewinding the clock to get my travel mojo back on track.

The last proper holiday I took was in 2019 (and by ‘proper’ of course, I mean abroad – that’s no slight on holidaying in the UK, I’ve done plenty of it. But nothing compares to the excitement of setting foot in a foreign land). I travelled to Sardinia – it was a blissful 10 days of doing little more than shuttling back and forth between sun-baked sand and deliciously chilled, glassy blue sea. But that was then, before the world went into lockdown, before the misery-go-round of entry restrictions and the airport chaos that inevitably followed their easing.

Spiaggia Rena Majori – just one of Sardinia’s many outstanding beaches

It was the last holiday we took before the world of travel – and, well, the world itself – was irrevocably changed. And now? The idea of a fly-and-flop break isn’t going to cut it. After an almost four-year hiatus (admittedly, there were other factors in addition to those presented by Covid that made travel impractical for us during that period), the next trip I take has some serious making up to do.

It will need to be a proper adventure, from beginning to end. I want unexpected and inspiring encounters with strangers, a different view to wake up to every day and maybe even a different city to explore every two or three. I want to feel like I’m really travelling again, embracing the unfamiliar, using my brain to navigate the nuances of foreign climes, instead of taking the backseat. For all those reasons, I fully intend for my next trip to be a country- (or even continent-) crossing train trip.

As a millennial who grew up before the arrival of budget airlines, travelling abroad overland – by car, and later, when the Channel Tunnel opened, by train – was a regular part of my childhood. Perhaps there’s an element of nostalgia – especially since becoming a dad myself – in the appeal of long-distance train travel. I have only good memories of sitting around one of those A4 paper-sized tables on the Eurostar playing Donkey Kong Land all the way to Paris. Or to Avignon. Or to Amsterdam via Brussels. Watching the world blur by out the window, the landscape changing imperceptibly until it was altogether unfamiliar – the scrubbiness of Provence; the vast, Delft-blue skies of the Netherlands.

The sun-baked landscape of Provence

It’s probably a tenet of parenthood that we want to share our positive childhood experiences with our own children, even if they are outdated (sorry dad, but Subbutteo was never going to compete with a GameBoy) – but that’s the thing with trains. They’re arguably trendier – and more important – now than they have been for decades. It’s not just the nostalgic slow-travel factor that’s appealing. It’s the convenience, the efficiency and – crucially, for the sake of future generations – the sustainability that makes them such a crucial part of the global travel infrastructure. And it’s why there are more routes and connections now than ever before – in fact, in 2023, there are at least 10 significant new routes opening internationally.

So, where will I be buying a ticket to? As yet, I’m undecided – perhaps I’ll pick up where I left off, in Italy, travelling north from Rome to Milan via the high-speed Italo line. Or, I might go for a tour of central Europe, travelling east from Berlin to Budapest via Prague, Vienna and Bratislava. Or maybe I’ll go one bigger – and board a continent-crossing route from Madrid to Marrakech, taking in the idiosyncratic cities of Cordoba, Casablanca and Fes along the way. It almost doesn’t matter as, for me, the pleasure of an adventure by train is as much in the journey as it is the destination.

Bologna is just one of a number of major stops on the Classic Northern Italy by Train itinerary

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