So, when it came time for my family’s holidays, I along with my husband and our two children (ages 9 and 13), decided to travel by train to visit my mother in Northern Italy. There was no other choice. I had not been able to visit my elderly mother for a long time and having her travel to the Netherlands was not realistic or safe. More importantly, her vegetable garden had delivered too many courgettes this year and we had to help to eat them. We just had to go!
The cheapest way to book this train journey was buy purchasing Interrail tickets, giving us four days of train travel anytime within one month. With these tickets in our backpacks, we left Delft early one morning in August to start our long day on the train. This included changing trains four times, ultimately arriving at our final destination, Milano Centrale Station, late in the evening.
As an aside, any parent will tell you, to survive such a journey with children, in this digital age it is necessary to carry a few kilos of charged iPads, phones, chargers, spare chargers, plugs and headphones. I am the first to admit that without these attributes, your sustainable journey could become hell.
Long day with beautiful views
The journey was definitely a long one, and the mandatory face masks didn’t make it easy, but travelling by train really gives the feeling that you have gone far from home. The changes in the landscape from the lowlands of Netherlands to rolling hills along the Rhine in Germany and the towering alps in Switzerland give the sense you are in a whole new world. Along the way you see lakes, mountains, green pastures, dense forests, bustling cities, historic castles, and so much more.
If that somehow bores you, the trains are often equipped with wi-fi and a power socket, making binge watching an enjoyable alternative. For me, I find it more fun to drink coffee and have lunch at a speed of 180 km per hour. Of course, you also have the option to move around the train, and the toilets are much more comfortable than those in planes. Not to mention, you feel safer in a spacious train compartment than in a cramped airplane seat.
No, I am not crazy
Of course, it can seem a bit crazy to sit on a train for 14 hours (without any delays) when you could be door to door by plane in 5 to 6 hours. Additionally, a not insignificant fact is that flying is much cheaper and you arrive less tired. However, the CO2 savings are many times greater when travelling by train, making up for a lot of the “benefits” of flying. It is so nice to have a holiday option that doesn’t have to include flight shame. An added bonus: being able to say with pride that we have managed to travel differently.
With the remaining two days of our Interrail tickets not used getting to and from Milan, we also made other journeys, including a lovely day in Venice, complete with fewer tourists this year…Lovely!
Comparing train travel to flying (Our journey door to door: 14.5 hours) Source: greenseat.nl
Although the trip was fantastic, I would have preferred to take the night train that used to run direct from Amsterdam to Milan, and being able to book all surcharges and reservations online in one go without having to queue up at a service desk. What’s more, sustainable travel is still more expensive that the more polluting option, and that’s needs to be addressed so more people can make “greener” choices. We are fortunate to have these options in Europe, but there is still plenty of work to do on the railways and the surrounding area. At the end of the day, though, for me, it still not enough reason not to go by train.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, the whole family did their best, and all my mom’s courgettes are gone. Mission accomplished!
*To travel by plane or not to Bali, on a business trip or to family abroad? For some tourists and frequent flyers this is a dilemma. Vliegschaamte, or ‘flight shame’, is a term that originated in Sweden, and, in the Netherlands, was nominated in 2019 as Van Dale word of the year. The dictionary defines the term as ‘shame someone experiences when using an airplane when less environmentally damaging alternatives to travelling exist’.