Taking the slow train in a high-speed world

October 18, 2018

Our lives are speeding up.

It seems that every task, every journey, every commercial interaction is faster than the last. We rush about anxiously like the White Rabbit in Wonderland. And queues? Oh, please! Who has time for queues?
Many of us travel like this, too—rushing through as many countries as we can squeeze into our precious few weeks of annual leave. We position ourselves in front of landmark after landmark, gazing at them through our camera lenses and on screens atop selfie-sticks, before taking the perfect shot, picking them off like snipers on holiday. Then we’re off again, chasing the White Rabbit down another touristic rabbit hole muttering “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”

If the White Rabbit were to actually take a break, he’d very likely hop around on high-speed rail—a mode of transport that has grown massively since Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen ‘bullet train’ first roared along the 515-km route between Tokyo and Osaka just before the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The iconic Shinkansen’s aerodynamic high-speed cousins now streak along rails in more than 20 countries from Turkey to Taiwan and beyond, perhaps reflective of the frantic pace of our lives.

 (Image: Japan’s iconic Shinkansen ‘bullet train’. Credit: Rail Plus)

Clearly, not everyone travels like this. In fact, in recent decades there’s been some push-back. In part, it’s connected to the ‘slow travel’ movement which is an offshoot of the ‘slow food’ movement which began in the 1980s as a protest against the spread of international fast food chains in Italy. Slow travel is not so much a particular way of travelling, as it is a mindset—a mindset that believes the journey is as important as the destination. 

(Image: Waiting for the slow train in San Candido, Italy. Credit: Trevor Jones)

For many, the magic of slow travel—where the emphasis is less on manic sightseeing—is simply taking in your surroundings at a relaxed pace. And there’s just about no better way to immerse yourself comfortably in the ‘journey’, than on a slow train.

Fast or slow, your ATAS-accredited travel agent can help you plan the perfect rail journey. One such expert, Trevor Jones of Melbourne travel agency Hawthorn Travel & Cruise—a rail aficionado—understands that customers see rail travel differently.

(Image: Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf outdoor viewing platform. Credit: Rocky Mountaineer)

“You are either into high performance ‘training’ of super-fast carriages, racing you between city centres in the minimum of time, or into relaxed yoga-style ‘training’ where the journey is part of the pleasure, being both spiritual and captivating.

“The joy of slow trains allows the mind to exercise and meditate. You can take in the scenery as it waltzes past your window, and ponder passengers as they come and go, each with their own story, their own reason for being there”, says Trevor.

 (Image: Rovos Rail explores southern Africa. Credit: Rail Plus)

Trevor’s favourite slow rail journeys? He lists these as some of the finest he’s experienced:

•    Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway in Kent, England.
•    Ffestiniog Railway in Gwynedd, Wales.
•    The Flåm Railway, Norway.
•    Le Petit Train Jaune of the Pyrenees, France.

“Or just head to Switzerland—it has more stunning slow trains than any other country I know. And that’s just a few in Europe. I could go on”, adds Trevor.

 (Image: Switzerland’s legendary Glacier Express. Credit: Glacier Express)

Trevor is right, there are iconic slow train journeys all over the world. Some of the most famous are operated by Rocky Mountaineer—a Canadian rail-tour company offering journeys on four rail routes through British Columbia, Alberta, and the U.S. state of Washington.

“One of the things that makes travelling with Rocky Mountaineer so appealing is the privileged access we have to the Canadian Rockies. Our train weaves through areas of Western Canada that is inaccessible by other means of transportation”, says Amber Wilson, Rocky Mountaineer’s regional director of sales Australia & New Zealand, highlighting another benefit: Access to remote, wild, hard-to-reach places.  

 (Image: Views from Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf outdoor viewing platform. Credit: Rocky Mountaineer)

These journeys are proving to be more popular than ever, compelling operators to develop new experiences and broaden their range of itineraries. Contact your preferred ATAS-accredited travel agent to discuss a world of rail travel experiences.

(Image: Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf Service coach. Credit: Rocky Mountaineer)

Hinting at plans for next year, Amber says, “Rocky Mountaineer is excited to be introducing four new packages in 2019 that will take our guests deeper into the Rockies, further exploring the beauty of Canmore, Kananaskis, Sunshine Village and CMH Cariboos lodge in the British Columbian backcountry.”
Iconic rail journeys aren’t confined to the northern hemisphere, nor are they just a pleasant way of getting from A-to-B.

 (Image: Australia’s Indian Pacific. Credit: Great Southern Rail)

Rail Plus Australia’s Alicia Privitera—who works closely with ATAS-accredited travel agents across Australia—says, “As train travel continues to evolve, guests are wanting more luxurious and iconic journeys that feature off-train experiences to complement their rail itinerary. Great examples of rail journeys with exceptional range of additional activities are the Indian Pacific in Australia and Rovos Rail in southern Africa – both in high demand this year.

“Contact an ATAS-accredited travel agent for expert advice when you plan your next rail journey”, adds Alicia.

 (Image: Rovos Rail luxury, southern Africa. Credit: Rail Plus)

Perhaps the best reason why a relaxing rail journey should be on everyone’s holiday bucket list is this quote from ‘The Art of Travel’ by philosopher and author, Alain de Botton:

“At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestice setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.”

‘Train dreaming’ sounds like something that would do the White Rabbit a world of good.

Looking for more insights from ATAS accredited travel agents? Have you ever tried to book an ethical or sustainable holiday? Have you ever thought about cruising with kids? Or how your ATAS-accredited travel agent’s supply-chain relationships help you as a customer?

Your ATAS travel agent can help ensure you are set prior to departure but here’s a few travel warnings and useful tips to keep in mind.

ATAS travel agents recommend that Australia passport holders register for travel alerts before they travel.

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