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Train travel in Europe: great adventure or too much effort?

Getting 40 staff members back from the Alps on a train… how hard could it be?! It turns out that European train travel is equal parts fun, challenging, exciting and a beautiful adventure. Here’s what we learnt.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. 200 of our staff members, encompassing Explore and our sister brands, were invited to a three-day business event in the Alps. The excitement in the office was palpable when we first heard the news; the idea being to connect us after two long years of disconnect, and a return to doing what we do best – organising travel! 

After the initial buzz wore off, the conversations began about the conference’s footprint, and how we could go about minimising it. Let’s just clarify a couple of things: our sister companies are predominantly skiing brands, with chalet space going spare and charter flights available. We’ve been using a carbon consultant to measure our footprint, and identifying ways to make reductions. Where we can’t reduce, we offset.

Nonetheless, we fiercely believe that we should be advocating for people to take longer holidays, fewer flights and giving public transport options where possible. Our brand new rail tours, launched last year, start operating in May. Our sister company, Inntravel, is already an expert in offering rail connections to join their Europe trips. So, because we like to stand by our values and experience our own tours, we decided to give everyone in the company the option to return from the Alps by train. 

25% of the staff members who returned to the UK opted to cross the Alps, parcour Paris and steam into London St. Pancras in the space of approximately 12 hours. An amazing figure given that we’re predominantly based in Surrey/Hampshire, or even further afield in Yorkshire. 

And what did we learn?
1.    Entertainment comes in many forms! Whether you persuade everyone to get into a three-hour game of Yahtzee, or you spend your time chatting over a few pain au chocolats, it’s easy to while away the hours on a train ride in a way that isn’t possible on a flight. Take cards, dice, brainteasers or a good book if you need some solo time.

2. It’s true that overall travel time might be longer than a flight. But factor in your schlep to the airport; the parking; the stress of customs; waiting for baggage at the other end, and your onward travel to accommodation. A couple of additional pleasurable hours on a train is a small price to pay for avoiding the long process of air travel
3. Tables are your friends. Where possible, try and pre-book a table. It’s a much more convivial way to share snacks, play games and talk to your travel partners

4. The top deck is the best! Why British trains don’t have a top deck I’ll never understand. You get all the views, even if it’s just fields upon fields of gorgeous yellow rapeseed
5. It’s much easier to walk around on a train than it is on a flight. People are constantly up and down, not tethered to a seat as you would be if you were trying to dodge flight attendants and their trolleys. If you’re one of those people who likes extra legroom, go for a train instead – you can stretch out further and get up more regularly

6. Communicate. With large groups you won’t all be in the same carriage, so make sure everyone knows what they’re doing for any connections

7. Be prepared for the unexpected! A delay to our Geneva-Paris train caused a mad dash across the Paris Metro, and the inevitable loss of our Eurostar train. The Eurostar team were excellent – a company that all UK train operators should aspire to – and they got all 40 of us immediately onto the next train. As a Tour Operator we would love to see the same kind of quick resolution when things go wrong at the airport…

So would we do it again? In a heartbeat. But instead of getting 25% of staff members on board, we’re aiming for a full contingent of 100%. Eurostar, watch out! 

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