The Ultimate Train Challenge — Welcome to the Adventure

will someone chose an Italian route? will someone chose an Italian route?

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.


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I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all. Read more by Michael Hodson and connect on Google Plus.

72 Responses to “The Ultimate Train Challenge — Welcome to the Adventure” Subscribe

  1. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World February 14, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    This sounds like heaps of fun!! Can’t wait to follow along.

    • Michael Hodson February 14, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      should be good, I hope. Great folks to work with.

  2. Phil February 14, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Woohoo! Site looks good so far! Will start spreading the word!

    • Michael Hodson February 14, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      glad you have you onboard, Sir

  3. Akila February 14, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Great competition! I can’t wait to see how it goes.

    • Michael Hodson February 14, 2011 at 11:43 am #

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

  4. Leigh February 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    Sounds like you could all have a case of numb bum. Should be fun though.

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

      luckily, we’ll all be getting off the trains frequently!

  5. JustTravelous February 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    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 🙂

    • Michael Hodson February 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

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

  6. Christine February 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    That sounds awesome! Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  7. Cam February 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    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?

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

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

  8. Katja February 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    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!

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

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

  9. Brooke vs. the World February 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    And I wasn’t invited? lameeeeeeeeee

    I’ll be sure to follow along though 🙂

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      well, if you wish to come up from Australia….

      • Abbey Hesser February 20, 2011 at 1:32 am #

        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.

  10. Dave February 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    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.

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

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

  11. Erica February 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    If Shaun wasn’t so ADD and could sit still for that long I would be all about it.

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

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

  12. Roy February 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    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 🙂

  13. andi February 15, 2011 at 8:56 am #

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

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

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

  14. Cathy Sweeney February 15, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    This will be so much fun. What a great idea. Wish I was really going with you, but look forward to following along!

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      thanks Cathy — I appreciate the support.

  15. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ February 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    PROUD of you!!!! This is so exciting! I can’t wait

    • Michael Hodson February 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

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

  16. Christine February 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

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

  17. Rick Griffin February 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    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!

    • Michael Hodson February 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

      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.

  18. Candice February 15, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I will watch and applaud from afar, you crazy nutbars.

  19. Theodora February 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Fascinating! I love the Reunification Express, so I’ll be intrigued to follow along…

    • Michael Hodson February 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

      what is the Reunification Express?

      • Theodora February 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

        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.

  20. Randy February 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    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.

  21. Adrian B. February 16, 2011 at 5:22 am #

    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!

    • Michael Hodson February 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

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

  22. John February 16, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    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.

    • Gary Arndt February 16, 2011 at 9:07 am #

      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.

      • John February 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

        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.

    • Michael Hodson February 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      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. 😉

      • John February 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

        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?”

        • Michael Hodson February 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

          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.

  23. Gary Arndt February 16, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    This is a very ambitious project. I hope it goes well and I’m curious to see how it turns out.

    • Michael Hodson February 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      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.

      • Roy February 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

        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 😉

  24. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler February 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    What a cool idea! Have all of these bloggers agreed to the challenge? 🙂

    • Michael Hodson February 25, 2011 at 11:06 am #

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

  25. Andrea February 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    Cool idea! I’d expect you to get some good publicity around this…should be very entertaining

    • Michael Hodson February 25, 2011 at 11:06 am #

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

  26. Dalene February 16, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

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

  27. uner February 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    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!

  28. Nicole February 17, 2011 at 9:55 am #

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

    • Michael Hodson February 25, 2011 at 11:07 am #

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

  29. Leslie (Downtown Traveler) February 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    Sounds like an amazing adventure! Wish I could make it… I’ll have to live vicariously through you 🙂

  30. Nancy D. Brown February 21, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    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

    • Michael Hodson February 25, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      deal! Will do for sure.

  31. DTravelsRound February 21, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    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.

  32. Donna Hull February 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Cool idea. Although 30 days on a train will be challenging. I know. In my former life, I was a railroad wife :-).

    • Michael Hodson February 25, 2011 at 11:08 am #

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

  33. Kristy February 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    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!

    • Michael Hodson April 2, 2011 at 5:39 am #

      always up for a good party, I am!

  34. James Clark March 1, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    Great idea Michael, I look forward to following the adventures of all involved.

  35. Fabio May 29, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    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!

  36. Roy June 29, 2011 at 9:06 am #

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

  37. Leif aka The Runaway Guide July 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    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.

  38. Ingrid Mason December 9, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    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.

  39. Deborah Combs February 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

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

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