The Ultimate Train Challenge — Welcome to the Adventure

The Ultimate Train Challenge was a concept that I developed in my head a few months ago, while traveling in South America.  I have been a huge train fan, being an overland traveler for quite some time and was looking for a new sort of travel challenge after I got back from my round-the-world (RTW), overland trip in 2009-10.  My mind wandered to the question: “What is the world record for longest continuous train journey?”

ultimate train challenge badge

And so, the Ultimate Train Challenge was born.

Here is how it is going to work.  I have invited a number of great travel bloggers to join me in Lisbon, Portugal for a one-month train journey that starts on September 1st and ends thirty days later in Saigon, Vietnam.

Everyone is free to take whatever route they want to get to the finish line.  The variations of train routes in Europe are likely to be dramatic between all of us. The person or team that ends up in Saigon with the most miles traveled by rail will be deemed “the winner,” as long as they follow the rules.

The rules are likewise quite simple.

To make it a ‘continuous train journey,’ you can’t stop and sleep anywhere except on a train — no taking a sleeping break in hostels or hotels.  To make sure that people don’t just pile up easy mileage, you can’t go back into a country once you leave it and you can’t repeat a length of rail (e.g. you can’t take the Paris to Lyon bullet train back and forth to pile up miles).  Obviously, you also have to complete the entire journey by train.

The spirit of the trip is that it is an actual a train journey — that you are trying to get from Lisbon to Saigon — and in the meantime, you are traveling on the longest existing, continuous stretch of train tracks currently on the planet.

duomo milan
will someone chose an Italian route?

But just sitting on trains, trying to set a world record would be boring, so we are going to add a lot of entertaining side competitions and to-do’s for the traveling bloggers, which hopefully will bring enjoyment to those of you following along.  Given that I bring a slightly oddball sense of fun and humor to how I travel, I hope that everyone that is participating will dive in fully to those activities, because I think those experiences will be the ones that we will all be talking about at the wrap-up party in Saigon.

So here are the travel bloggers that I’ve invited to join me in this effort.  Ayngelina Brogan of Bacon is Magic, Derek Earl Baron of Wandering Earl, Anil Polat of Fox Nomad, Phil Paoletta of Phil in the Blank, Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View, Jenny Leonard of Where is Jenny? And our fearless technology master, Chris Richardson of The Aussie Nomad.

As of today, Chris and I have got the Ultimate Train Challenge website up and running.

It is a bit of a skeleton right now, but we’ll be adding more content and explanation soon.  There are forums there, where we’d like people to participate in the planning stages, by given us ideas of routes and some fun challenges we can do on the way.  Go on over and check it out — subscribe to the RSS feed, and become a part of the challenge.


ADDED: An we are now excited to announce that is our primary sponsor!

72 thoughts on “The Ultimate Train Challenge — Welcome to the Adventure

    1. thanks Akila, I am excited about the whole thing coming together

  1. I like I like I like! If you come to Berlin…LET ME KNOW! can help you with the german beer mug and wine..:) and I could borrow you my DIRNDL for a funny pic 🙂

    1. go to the website and post it up on the forums! Exactly the kind of input we are looking for over there.

  2. Haha… why does this not surprise me?!
    Interesting concept, will definitely tune in to see how it plays out. Good luck amigo!

    PS – what about showers?

    1. ahhhh, showers. There will be some posts written on the road on how we all managed that, for sure.

  3. Ooh, I love this idea. I’m a bit jealous. Having done a couple of mammoth London-southern Italy train trips I’m a total convert to train travel. I’ll be following this with interest!

    1. ahhhhh, any reason to get to Southern Italy is good in my book. By train, even better.

      1. I am equally offended that I was not invited. Brooke, maybe we can come up with a contest of our own. Or we could set up roadblocks like in Amazing Race to throw everyone off. i’ll stalk alongside and heckle.

  4. Should be quite an adventure!

    I watched “Transsiberian” a few days ago on my flight from Japan, and it is to train travel what “Hostel” was to staying in hostels. All the same, be careful not to inadvertently run heroin as a drug mule through Russia.

    1. I shall avoid that movie at all costs. No train nightmares for me. Damn it.

    1. I bet that is a problem for all of us. I got a little stir crazy on the Trans-Mongolian last time.

  5. WOW. Michael, just to clarify, is this open to all or just people you’ve invited?

    I would seriously try to get time off ships to do this 🙂

  6. Well, since I wasn’t formally invited, I’m not going to say have a nice time. Haha j/k, sounds awesome!!! 😉

    1. Like you’d be in for some journey where you’d be sleeping in a chair and wouldn’t be able to shower regularly 😉

    1. thanks, you. Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures and travels this year also.

  7. Excited to follow along! I’ll be cheering you on from España while I enjoy my sleep in my bed and regular showers 🙂

  8. Thanks Michael! This sounds incredibly AWESOME!! I’m doing the Mongol Rally this year and won’t be able to make the trip, but this is definitely something for my 2012 Bucket List!

    1. Rick, the Mongol Rally was actually the reason I started to think about this. Was considering doing that, but rolled over to this idea in my head.

      1. It’s the train line that runs from Saigon to Hanoi, called the Reunification Express for the obvious political reasons. You’ll find it quite comical to ride, probably, as each trip begins with a solemn American voiceover actor intoning a tribute to the revolutionary vigour of the railway workers of the great Republic…

        Also a very social way to travel. It transformed my experience of Vietnam, making friends with ordinary Vietnamese in the carriage, despite the language barrier.

  9. This is so great! I can’t wait to follow along with you guys. I’ll definitely help get the word out on this, starting now. Every time I fly, including today, I always think how I’d much rather be traveling by train. I look forward to being an armchair passenger in this challenge.

  10. Wow, that is just AWESOME! I wish you all good luck and I’m sure it will be a lot of fun.
    Oh, I too have an idea for the scavenger hunt 🙂 – I’ll post it up on the forums!

    1. thanks for putting your ideas up over there — we need lots of good feedback and thoughts

  11. Wow, great project! I’m not sure of the reasons for racking up the most train miles. Sounds too much like collecting countries / continents visited to me. Travel should be about the experience.

    1. Travel can be for whatever reason you want. Sleeping in trains for a month is an experience. There is nothing wrong with doing fun things like this every once in a while.

      1. Gary, absolutely, travel can and is undertaken for any reason you want. Sleeping in trains for 30 days is original. Something about creating a route that is not logical, to get between Lisbon and Saigon, just doesn’t sit right with me.
        I guess the challenge will be finding a train to sleep in, if a scheduled train is cancelled or breaks down.

    2. John, at least for me, I like challenge travel. One of the reasons I enjoyed my RTW trip was that I set two challenges like this for that trip: no planes and no reservations. In my book, it made for a more interesting trip, because I had to work within some confines that were outside the more “normal” travel. I don’t have anything against normal — just did 3 months kicking around in Colombia and Grenada and Tobago on a more typical normal trip. But on the other hand, I like to sometimes do things that are a bit out of the ordinary.

      I am pretty positive that we’ll all have some pretty amazing experiences on this particular journey. I had some amazing experiences on my RTW trip, solely because I never left the ground, that I never would have had if I’d flown from spot A to spot B (not to say that I wouldn’t have had different, but good experiences that way also). In this case, I think this trip will spawn off a number of great experiences and stories — it had better… that’s why people are going to be following the tale. 😉

      1. Michael, well you have got a great challenge in the same manner as your previous one. I’m sure the whole experience will be amazing. I wish you success but above all lots of fun!
        I hope you didn’t get the impression that I was saying why don’t you just fly? That would be worse than saying, “Why not set a challenge to take the rail route that creates the largest carbon footprint?”

        1. LOL, no worries, John. Wasn’t taking your comments as anything horrible or negative at all. I kinda figure that most people that look at most of my strange travel habits find most of it odd and something they wouldn’t do — hell, I think that is why most of the people that read my stuff, read in the first place! “This dude is a bit off.” 😉

          Was just explaining a bit behind the thought process on this one. I like both doing oddball stuff like this and also settling down in a place for weeks or months at a time and explore more in depth. For me sometimes, the journey itself actually IS the main character in the story. Many times, I just like to be on the move…. which certainly is not par for the course for most travel bloggers I know — who almost universally say stuff like, “but you aren’t really experiencing a place that way.”

          Probably true, but sometimes I just like the experience of movement itself.

          Thanks for commenting and following! And since you are over there doing a lot of train travel in the best train part of the world — if you want to guest post something on the Ultimate Train Challenge website about a memorable train ride or anything to do with trains, we’d love to have you chip in.

    1. thanks Gary. I’m pretty damn curious to see how it is going to work out also… especially the showering aspect, which I need to put more thought into. Hope we all will be randomly lucky enough to have you nearby somewhere along the way, or at the end, so you can join in the celebration.

      1. I found that baby wipes go a long way if you need to skip a day or two’s showers. But I wouldn’t go 30 days 😉

    1. well, let’s hope they still want to do it… the more they learn about me 😉

    1. Hopefully we get a lot of people to spread the word. Would be great.

  12. Color me super jealous! What an adventure that will be – can’t wait to follow along! Great idea.

  13. seriously having a group of traveler to start a travel challenge is awesome! how i wish i could join as one. keep us posted with the updates!

  14. It sounds like the next hot reality tv show! Love your idea, looking forward to following along. 🙂

    1. ahhhhh, reality TV. In the midst of learning about that now. Viper pit.

  15. Sounds exciting.

    Please eat a warm Pasteis de Belem tart from Lisbon, Portgual for me.

    Wish I had 30 days of travel to string together.

    What a trip

  16. Oh my goodness. This is a year late. I would have LOVED to participate in this. Great group of bloggers you’ve got participating. Can’t wait to read all about it. What a great idea and what an amazing experience this is sure to be!! Congratulations.

    1. I need you to write about that as a guest post for the Train Challenge website!

  17. While I can’t join you on the journey…if you have a big ole bash in Saigon when you get there….I could be convinced to come join you for a party~ the kids need an excuse to go to Vietnam!

  18. Great initiative. I am a big foXnoMad fun and whe I read about this I was very intrigued. Incredible wonders await you guys! Good luck!

  19. Cool idea! Is this still going to take place/already took place?

  20. Hey Michael,
    this sounds awesome! Maybe next year I can take part and give yall a run for your money. Seriously though, great idea and I look forward to following you guys. My money is on Wandering Earl. I feel like Earl has endurance skills.

  21. luckily, we’ll all be getting off the trains frequently! Michael, well you have got a great challenge in the same manner as your previous one. This is a year late.

  22. Cool idea. There is nothing wrong with doing fun things like this every once in a while.

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