Last August Tony and I tried to book train tickets for our trip to Berlin in October 2012, for my old mate Giles’ 50th birthday bash in a circus tent on the banks of the river Spree. I tried at least five different travel websites, all of which made it astonishingly difficult, complicated and baffling.
We were looking forward to zooming through Europe on spotless, super-fast trains, checking out the French and German countryside on the way and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. I’ve worked on the internet since it was born and Tony’s an SEO consultant, but even so we were defeated.
I tried our local travel agent as a last resort but the only tickets she could find cost more than £400 each, even though we were booking three months ahead and should have been able to get cheaper tickets. I’d seen tickets advertised for a lot less but the poor woman couldn’t find them. She wasn’t exactly confident negotiating the usual train travel channels so I didn’t really trust her judgement. It wasn’t her fault, it was the pee-poor online resources she had to work with.
Flying must be the planet’s least enjoyable way to travel and even though it’s stupidly cheap, it’s about as far from ‘green’ as it gets. We were hoping to avoid it. As it was, we gave up our train dreams and booked EasyJet flights instead. Very disappointing.
Then, last week, I discovered The Man In Seat 61, an absolutely brilliant site created by a proper train travel expert and ex-British Rail employee Mark Smith, whose site makes it refreshingly easy to book journeys and track down the best prices. Mark set up the site as a labour of love because, in his words, “finding out about train travel has become frustratingly difficult, if not downright impossible.” Which made me feel better – at least it wasn’t just us being thick.
Mark’s site has won a string of prestigious awards including last year’s Favourite Travel Website in the Telegraph Travel Awards 2012. Having had a good look around The Man in Seat 61, I have to agree with the 17,000 people who voted it best-in-breed. It’s clear, easy to use, written in plain English and best of all, packed with genuinely useful advice and relevant information about booking rail travel on a vast collection of routes.
Shame on the rest. You’re doing an abysmal job. And long live The Man in Seat 61, which is where we’ll be going next time we want to avoid airport and aeroplane hell.