Traveling by train. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 1. Comfortable seats 2. I can get up and walk around. 3. They have alcohol. 4. Restaurant car. 5. Big windows. 6. I don’t have to drive. 7. Observation decks. 8. Plenty of room to stretch out and write in my journal. 9. Slow(ish) travel at its best. Planes are efficient, no doubt about it, and buses are (usually) cheaper, but trains are too fabulous to pass up. There are numerous train trips around the world that could be included in this list, but here are a few to get you started.
Pride of Africa
If you’re in need of a little luxury then this is your trip. Billed as the “most luxurious train in the world,” the Pride of Africa will take you through South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Zambia in style and for a price. Riding this train is definitely not for the vagabond and penny counting traveler, but with the Victorian-style restaurant cars and around-the-clock room service in its deluxe and royal suites (yes, you read that correctly), this is a train trip that will leave you feeling pampered and refreshed. If you’ve got the money, I can’t imagine you’d regret spending it on this trip. Especially not while sipping South African wine and watching the African sunset from the lavish observation car.
Eastern and Oriental Express
The Eastern and Oriental Express service offers luxury train travel through Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur. And they mean luxury. Much like the Pride of Africa trip, this train service ain’t cheap, but it’s pretty freaking spectacular. Between the gourmet dining and the cocktails in the open-air observation car, I’m thinking this is definitely the train trip to splurge on.
Connecting Moscow with the Russian Far East and the Sea of Japan, the Trans-Siberia Railway is the longest railway in the world and with branch lines to China and through Mongolia, there is plenty of opportunity for adventure. There are a number of package tours that take care of everything from train trips to organized activity days like dog sledding and whitewater rafting. A one-way ticket (with no frills) from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia (arguably the most interesting route) should cost you between $800-1100 USD depending on how many are in your party and which class you book.
Alaska is truly one of the most magnificent displays of wildness left in the U.S. Exploring it with the aid of the Alaskan Railway is the best way to combine adventure with the comfort of a hotel on wheels. Don’t get me wrong, camping in Alaska is amazing, but take it from someone who spent three months in a tent in Alaska, go with the train. You can choose complete vacation packages that range from 5 nights to 12 nights and from $1,799 to $5,439 per person. With everything from hiking, rafting, and mining for gold, there’s ample opportunity to get off the train and into the wild. If you’re military or a resident of Alaska, you can get a 20% discount on the retail rail part of the vacation package.
The Qingzang Railway is a railway from Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa in Tibet. More than 80% of the Golmud-Lhasa section is at an altitude of over 4,000 meters and all of the cabins sport oxygen masks in case the breathtaking scenery becomes a little too, well, breathtaking. The line includes the Tanggula Pass which is at 5,072 meters (16,640 feet) above sea level as well as the Tanggula Railway Station, which is currently the world’s highest railway station.