Traditionally – as many of you already know – I’ve been a bus-person when it comes to travel transit. I’ve stood up for it as a worthy mode of transport numerous times, and moreover put up with its disadvantages (the grim length of trips, the lack of space, anytime I’ve found myself at Paris Bercy bus station at 5 am on a Sunday) purely due to its affordability.
But I finally got to the point where I felt I needed a break: from contorting my body into absurd positions to encourage sleep, shuffling through border control like a zombie in the early hours of dark mornings, enduring the smell of some baby’s dirty nappy until we got to the next stop at a service station. It’s not that I plan on swearing off the bus life forever; I just think it’s time I added a new instrument to the orchestra.
So when a trip to the UK came up at the start of this month, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to spread my wings and try the train. I had high expectations, and imagined my train-self in sleek movie scenes: classic carriage thrillers, showdowns in James Bond films, extravagant servings of hot chocolate à la The Polar Express. And to be honest, my experience was not far off. I had a BritRail pass – which meant unlimited train travel throughout the UK – and am now here to show you what you can expect if you choose to secure the same (highlights include but are not limited to: rolling hills, comfy seats, amazing accents, cute complimentary food, unbeatable flexibility.)
Why did no-one ever tell me the views were so amazing on trains?! As in, why did I never listen to people when they told me how amazing the views were on trains?! They’re stunning, first of all, and also really proved to me that – in contrast to my overnight bus habit – transport doesn’t just have to be a mundane means of getting from A to B. It can be a real part of the travel experience itself, as worthy of writing home about as a castle or hotel or activity.
I coasted past rolling hills one day and city streets the next; snow one minute and sunny green pastures an hour later. Lakes and mountains and towns and fields. I saw it all! Read novels in early morning sunlight and listened to music as the sky darkened in the evening.
But none of that really even matters. Just look at this picture I took outside my window on the train as it moved through Scotland. Look at it.
Also this one. Stare at it.
I had an 8-day BritRail pass, and over my 8 days, I took the train from London to Oxford; then back; London to Glasgow, Glasgow to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Inverness, and Inverness back to London. And, while I’m sure that having English as my mother tongue didn’t hurt in making things run smoothly, booking, boarding and taking all of those trips was so. damn. easy. To get through the gates each time, I simply flashed my pass at the guards like a VIP, promptly and enthusiastically ushered straight through the wide pram gates to my carriage that awaited (literally .) Seat reservations are not required, though occasionally I did opt for one, so you can literally just hop on whatever train floats your boat, find a comfy spot and sit back and relax as you zoom onto your next destination.
No stress of tight pre-planning, no worries in any instance of delays or cancellation, no fear of extra or hidden charges. It’s all covered before you even arrive in the country. I was always sceptical of inclusive passes such as BritRail, sure that they must have been rip-offs, convenient solutions for lazy travellers. But I have been converted, people! I saw the queues for the ticket windows, the prices that flashed up on the self-serve machines. The confused passengers unsure if they’d paid the right fare, had gotten in the correct car— the correct train, even. I never had to worry about any of that, because my ticket allowed me to go literally anywhere in Britain, on any train, at any time. Honestly, my train lyf was more flexible than Simone Biles and the entire cast of Cirque Du Soleil put together.
I was also lucky enough to experience BritRail’s stunning routes in First Class – not for every journey I made, but for a couple. And let me tell you: yes, do it. I had an early departure one morning and didn’t have time for a sufficient breakfast, an issue that was soon amended once I took my seat in first class and saw a lovely attendant wheeling a trolley down the aisle to hand me my complimentary breakfast box. Was it a Michelin-star meal? No. But did I scoff down that cherry muffin, fruit salad, yoghurt and muesli bar like a sponsor had just sent it down to me in a tiny parachute in The Hunger Games? You betcha.
And don’t go thinking that first class travel is completely unattainable – this isn’t an aeroplane. You can opt for a first class BritRail pass, or snag single tickets— sometimes for under 50 pounds. On one train I was on, they even offered first-class upgrades for a tenner! So for the food and drinks, the comfort, silence, and the leg room for days, it’s a #treatyourself moment that’s not totally outrageous.
The verdict is pretty simple. I’m train travel’s newest number 1 fan. I’ve fallen hard for the beautiful union between cost and convenience that is the BritRail pass, and it’s going to be hard for my girlfriends to disapprove of this heaven-made match. If you’d like to follow in my train tracks (hehe), I had the 8-day Flexi Pass and used it to go to London, Oxford, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness; through the Scottish Highlands and back, all within a week. You can head to BritRail to grab your own and/or consider your other options, and start fantasising about all the mountains and sheep and sunsets you’re going to see!
Stay tuned for more articles on what I got up to throughout the UK. Until then, choo-choo and ciao (I’m eyeing a train journey through Italy next ) xx