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ECO EXCELLENCE! SEAT 61!

Flying has lost its glamour.  You’re not alone in wanting a more rewarding, low-stress alternative to flying, which brings you closer to the world you live in and reduces your contribution to global warming.  It’s time to rediscover real travel by train or ship, where the journey itself is part of the adventure.  This site explains how to travel comfortably & affordably by train or ferry where you might think that air was now the only option.  For help with train travel, ask the Man in Seat 61!

Seat61 was started by Mark Smith, father of two and ex British Railway man (as it was called in those days!).  With his railway experience he set up the website aimed at helping people discover the practicalities and environmental benefits of rail travel not just in the UK but all over the world!  He has info on trains in Europe, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Canary Islands, the list goes on!  The man knows how to travel around the world by train!!!   Here is an explanation in his own words…

The problem is this.  Travelling by train from London to anywhere in Europe is a far more practical option than most people imagine, in fact it can be easier and less stressful than flying.  But in a world dominated by flights, flights and more flights, finding out about train travel has become frustratingly difficult, if not downright impossible.  Although many people would prefer a more civilised, comfortable, interesting, adventurous, romantic, scenic, historic, exciting, less stressful and more environmentally-friendly way to travel, the average travel agent only sells flights, flights, car hire and more flights.  The train operators themselves are little or no help, even Eurostar provides very little useful information on its website for travelling beyond Paris or Brussels.  What was needed was basic ‘how to’ information for train journeys from the UK to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Russia and every other country in Europe.  And how about reaching Morocco, Tunisia, Ibiza, Corsica, Crete or Malta by combining train & ferry?  I thought it was a gap that needed filling, and that I could fill that gap myself…

So one day in 2001 I found myself at London’s Marylebone station looking for something to read on my train home from work.  I wandered into W H Smiths and spotted a ‘teach yourself HTML’ book costing all of £2.95.  I had just bought a computer and my internet provider offered some free webspace.  I read the book, tried a test webpage, and surprised myself when it worked.  One thing led to another, and here I am.  There’s a lot of work involved in keeping the site even remotely up to date, but people seem to find the site useful, and this keeps me going.”

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The economy section in most planes is incredibly cramped, uncomfortable seating and in general an unpleasant experience!I used his site and priced up a journey from Flitwick train station in Bedfordshire to Dublin via London St Pancras as an alternative to flying from Gatwick airport to Dublin!  The trip involves either a few train changes before arriving at the airport for a one hour journey or a couple of train changes before arriving at the ferry terminal in Holyhead!

In comparison, the train journey seems much longer than the flight, however when you factor in the “behind the scenes” journey’s it evens right out!!

Starting with the flight.

The airline is with Ryan Air, the cheapest I could find.  A bad start already.  Ryan Air’s service is appalling, if you want something to eat or drink you have to pay for it and it’s expensive and horrible.  There is no free checked baggage allowance on Ryanair! If you want to check bags into the hold you will need to pay for this when you make your booking (either 15kg-£15-£80 low season or high season £25-£120.  For 20kg its £25 – £90 low season and £30 – £130 in high season.  This is for one bag only!  If you want to book a second bag in, the fee’s are £35 – £120 low season and £45 – £150 high season!), or you can go into the website (“Manage my Booking”) and pay the extra up to four hours before the scheduled flight departure time. You can’t pool or share baggage allowances, or transfer them from one passenger to another. If you exceed your allowance you’ll pay an addition £20/€20 per kilo.

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Too much luggage, or in Ryan Air’s case any luggage, will cost you a small fortune!You can carry one bag per passenger into the aircraft cabin weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Any other items including a handbag, briefcase, laptop and anything you’d bought at the airport shop must be carried in that bag. One way to get around this rule is to wear a jacket or coat with large pockets, which you can use to carry other items. Note that infants don’t have a carry on baggage allowance on Ryanair.

Be warned: if you go over your cabin baggage allowance on Ryanair your bag will be checked into the hold and you’ll be charged an additional fee of £50/€50.

If you make a booking through a call centre or at the airport you’re charged a £20 fee.

Sports equipment (ie. Snowboards etc.), musical instruments and infant equipment (ie. car seat, pram etc.) all incur an extra fee of £50 or £10 for childrens equipment!

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There is an admin fee to cover the cost of the website which is £6 and if you pay by credit card you’re charged 2% of the total amount!

So if you were to add all of this up then you’re looking at rather a lot more than first thought!

Irish Ferries provide the ferry journey of the “Sail Rail” ticket offered by Virgin Trains!Hypothetically if you were travelling at low season (for the sake of finding the cheapest flight)you book through Ryan Air avoiding the £20 fee, take one 15kg bag at the lowest price (some flights are charged at a higher rate, not sure why)you incur the £6 website fee, you don’t take any childrens, sports or musical equipment and you pay by debit card!

Avoiding the majority of extra charges (if you don’t overfill your on board baggage or check in that is!) However you still need to add £15 for the baggage and £6 for the website which brings the total up to £68.  Add on the £57.50 for the train ticket to Gatwick and you’re looking at £125.50.  Don’t forget to pack some food and drink to have before you go or you’ll be restricted to Ryan Air’s overpriced slop!  And don’t drink too much as Ryan Air are planning on charging customers to use the toilet on the plane!

The journey will start at around 4am.  Train leaves at 430am and arrives at Gatwick Airport at 651am.  Then theres the two to three hour check in saga, waiting around etc.  Flight leaves at 940am and arrives at 11am.  So all up it is around a 7-7and a half hour journey.

The train from London to Dublin Port takes about an hour to an hour and a half more than the flight does and then there’s the hour and a bit on the train to get to London.  However there are many more options for train times to suit you so you can avoid the 4am wake up call, the food choice on board is much better quality and priced, you get a much larger comfortable chair that’s not like being packed in like sardines, spend more time relaxing and less time checking in, going through security, waiting around and then racing to get a decentish seat which is pretty much like sitting on someone’s lap!  Everyone gets a view out of the large window (rather than a peep hole plane window!) and you don’t have to worry about someone stepping on your toes to get to the toilet while you’re asleep!  And one of the biggest reasons is baggage!  The baggage restrictions are much more lenient!  Usually two bags each and a smaller “carry on” (even though it’s all carry on!) bag are the norm.  The downside is that once all the space for luggage is taken up then there’s luggage in the aisles, near the doors and under people’s legs!  It does get packed, so get there early to get enough space for all your stuff!

Standard seats on Virgin Trains…The cost?  Well, £81 for the return ticket to Dublin and £36.80 for the return ticket to London Kings Cross from Flitwick!  £117.80 in total makes it £7.70 cheaper than flying!  Remember that it is more likely the airfare will be even more expensive if you’ve got more luggage, children, are paying by credit card or book through a call centre or the airport!  And not just more expensive, MUCH more expensive!  This doesn’t include any discounts you could be eligible for ie. Group discounts, families, special deals etc.  Not the usual for airlines!!

The family and friends railcard for example is amazing value.  For £28 you can buy a yearly railcard which entitles you to 1/3 off adult fares and 60% off child fares.  Up to 4 adults and 4 kids can travel on one card – and they don’t have to be part of the same family. For even greater savings, you can also use your Family & Friends Railcard on Advance fares.  So for £28 you can bring your ticket price down from the £81 to £54!!  If you’re constantly travelling throughout the year by train or now realise that you could do instead of flying, then that’s a massive saving!

Planes contribute a huge amount of carbon emissions, far more than train journeys!The carbon foot print for the plane journey from London (not including the train journey from Flitwick to London) is around .52Tonnes, for the train journey Flitwick to Dublin is .05Tonnes, a HUGE difference!

Planes are convenient, but it shows here that they’re not that much more convenient!  The 2-3 hours you have to be at the airport before your flight, waiting for baggage when you land and the journey to the airport and back all add to the “actual travelling time” rather than the hour or so flight.  This example shows that the train is cheaper, more comfortable, have a more convenient timetable, are less hassle, less hanging around and only an hour and a half to two hours slower than a flight.

My point after all this??  Try the train next time you’re booking a trip, check out www.seat61.com, get yourself a great deal to another amazing destination around the world and be happy that you’ve reduced your travel carbon footprint considerably!

The Trans Siberian map shows how far you can travel without the need of flights!Additional Info and Links…

Seat 61 – http://www.seat61.com/

Virgin Trains – http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/

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