Train Journey

The Ultimate Train Challenge: Portugal to Vietnam By Rail

Derek Everything Else, Transportation 53 Comments

Train Journey

Towards the end of this coming August, I shall board a flight bound for Lisbon. This will not be my first visit to Portugal’s capital city, but it will be the first time I travel there not as a crew member on board cruise ships.

However, that’s not to say that a different mode of transportation won’t be playing a major role in this upcoming trip. In fact, the entire reason I’m heading to Portugal involves transportation.

I’m not talking about airplanes or taxis or even buses.

I’m talking about trains.

And plenty of them. In fact, thousands of kilometers worth of train travel.

The plan, after spending a few days in Lisbon, is to wake up on September 1st ready to embark on a journey unlike any other. This day shall mark the start of…

Ultimate Train Challenge


Dreamed up, and turned into reality, by Michael Hodson of, the Ultimate Train Challenge is a ‘race’ of sorts, one that involves six participants traveling by train from Lisbon, Portugal to Saigon, Vietnam.

The goal is simple – to set the world record for the longest continuous train journey.

However, there is much more to this challenge than having six people sitting around on trains making faces at each other for thirty straight days. In fact, all of the participants won’t even be traveling together. Each of us has the freedom to create our own route as we each attempt to rack up the most amount of train miles as possible while traveling across Europe and much of Asia.

We will have to follow a handful of important rules in order to ensure our train journeys are continuous, rules that include not being able to sleep anywhere but on a train, not being able to backtrack along the same stretch of track and also, once we exit a particular country, we will not be allowed to return to that country again.

Then, whoever arrives in Saigon having traveled the longest continuous distance shall be deemed the winner (and probably also deemed the person most in need of a long shower).


In addition to Michael (@mobilelawyer), the event’s organizer, my four other fellow train travelers will be:

Ayngelina Brogan of (@Ayngelina)
Anil Polat of (@FoxNomad)
Jeannie Mark of (@NomadicChick)
Jenny Leonard of (@WhereIsJenny)

This is also a good time to give Chris Richardson of a series of high-fives for setting up the Ultimate Train Challenge website and for being the general IT guru behind the entire operation.


Many, many thanks also go out to, the primary outlet for purchasing Eurail Passes, and now a major sponsor of the Ultimate Train Challenge.

For those who might not be familiar with Eurail Passes, these unique train tickets offer travelers an opportunity to travel all around one or more European countries for a fixed price. You simply choose a Eurail Pass that covers the countries you want to visit and that lasts for the number of days you need, and then, with your Eurail Pass in hand, you’re free to travel as often and cover as much distance as you wish, all for that one fixed price.

It doesn’t get much easier than that, especially if you’re planning on spending a couple of weeks or more in Europe. More information can naturally be found at


At first, I was quite hesitant about confirming my participation in this challenge. This was partly due to the fact that rolling across Europe and Asia on one continuous train journey for almost 30 days straight initially seemed as appealing as hopping around the world on a pogo-stick while eating nothing but mayonnaise.

But the more I learned about the event, the more intrigued I became, and before I knew it, this crazy idea suddenly seemed quite tempting. I’m always writing on this blog about how once you get out in the world you’ll discover endless opportunities that you never before imagined. Well, standing before me right now is one of those unique opportunities.

And besides, every single person I mentioned this challenge to all had the exact same reaction: Why wouldn’t you participate?

Good point. Why wouldn’t I participate in the Ultimate Train Challenge?

The fact that as of right now I have no clue as to which train route I’d take or how I’ll manage to keep up with my online projects, including this blog, while in places such as the middle of Russia, without internet, and with only the clickety-clack of the wheels on the tracks as my companion for days on end, is not something I’m really going to worry about. That’s always been my travel style anyway. I’ll figure things out, whether two weeks before, two days before or even two minutes before I actually need to get something done.

And so, because I couldn’t come up with any real reasons not to participate, off to Lisbon I shall go.


I certainly want to invite you to follow along with this journey, both on this blog and on the official Ultimate Train Challenge website. I’m also very open to any input you may have to offer, perhaps based upon your own train travel experiences or simply based upon your ideas and thoughts about this event.

And if you happen to live in or will be traveling through any of the countries between Portugal and Vietnam during the month of September, do let me know. Meeting up for a quick chat and coffee in between train connections would be a most welcome addition to this adventure!


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Comments 53

  1. Train in Vietnam is amazing! I travel from Hanoi – HCMC by train and got unforgettable experiences, services on the train are quite good and landscapes are also attractive. However, besides train, cruise in Vietnam is also worth enjoying. I visited Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay through La Pinta cruise, so I really satisfied with services and price. Furthermore, admiring the beauty of these bays on La Pinta cruise will unforgettable feeling and experience with me. Greate sharing!

  2. Earl make sure the trains don’t leak September is the beginning of the Northeast Monsoon in Vietnam where it is rainy along the coast served as a USAF Weather Officer there 1968-69 along coastal Vietnam. Will follow your journey.

  3. Hi Earl
    I love the idea! I travelled SE Asia for a year and now I’m back to Europe again. At the beginning I wanted to get back by boat, but didn’t work out. I also wanted to do the Transsiberian route since I remember! So I really would love to try but not sure if you still accept people…

  4. Pingback: Longest train journey in world -

  5. Pingback: Choosing My Next Travel Destination… Help Needed! | Wandering Earl

  6. Hi Earl, looking forward to reading your stories from the train! Too bad you can’t add these miles you are going to make to your frequent flier miles. Is there such a thing like frequent trainer miles?

  7. best of luck Earl!

    I’ve just returned from Cambodia and can (sadly) report that there are no trains there! (recent blog post if you’re interested)

    You could clock up some serious train miles along the India coastline though, there’s a good resource online, I’ll track it down.

    1. Hey Andrew – I read your post about crossing into Cambodia earlier today and it certainly brought back memories of my own experience along that route! With the train challenge, India is unfortunately not an option as the idea is to travel continuously by train and from India there is no way to get to SE Asia by rail. So the route generally has to be Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, China and Vietnam…

  8. That is frickin awesome!!!!! My best buddy moved to New Zealand a few years back and travelled from UK to China via train (sadly he couldn’t hop a train from China to NZ). He said it was one of the best things he ever did in his life.

    1. Hey Forest – It is quite an amazing opportunity and guaranteed to be one fascinating journey. Anytime we travel a little differently, such as a long, cross-continental train ride, there are bound to be experiences that we can never imagine, as I’m sure your friend discovered as well.

  9. Funny, I’m a big proponent of train travel and yet, you and I will be switching roles this fall–from August through December, I’m sailing around the world as an educator on a cruise ship. But! I would prefer to do so by train =) I can’t wait to follow the six of you on this adventure–sounds like the making for some excellent stories!

    Speaking of cruise ships, any tips for living on board one? I’m going on a vacation cruise this week with Holland America, but I’ve never been on a ship for four months straight!

    1. @Camels & Chocolate: That is funny! And I’d probably rather be on board a cruise ship 🙂

      Seems like you landed quite a good gig on board ships. From my experience, on board educators enjoy quite a good life. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to make sure you have a life beyond your official duties and responsibilities. Go to the gym, go to the bars to socialize and even if you only have a short time off in port, go for a walk and get some food. The more activities you partake in, the easier it will be to maintain your sanity! But in reality, you’re going to have a great time. You’ll be part of that instant community of crew members that I miss every day I’m on land. There’s no place like it and the friendships you make as a result will make every moment on board more than worthwhile!

  10. Forgive me if you have said this already, but where will you be headed to once the train challenge is finished? You’re welcome to come back to Chiang Mai:)

  11. Very cool. Earl, over the past few months I’ve become a big fan of your site. I’ll be keeping tabs on your train challenge while we are getting settled into our teaching jobs in Aleppo. If you ever make it back to Syria, it would be great to meet you in person.

    1. Hey Barb – I hope things are going well so far for you all in Aleppo! I would love to make it back there at some point soon and will definitely try to work it into my next adventure.

      And thank you for following along over the past few months. I know it’s not easy to be connected in that part of the world 🙂

    1. Hey Ana – Random it is! But there’s nothing like a random adventure every now and then to spice things up.

      And thank you for your interest in reading along as it all happens!

    1. Thanks Mara! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see you all before I head off as I plan to make it to NYC before September.

    1. Hey Roy – I’ll be on trains, you’ll be on a ship. If you happen to be sailing around the Mediterranean or Northern Europe at the time, let me know and perhaps we can meet up.

  12. Cool challenge!

    I was looking at railway maps to see what options you have. While it’s understandable backtracking is forbidden, it does limit your opportunities. EG you cannot take the trans siberia express all the way to Vladivostok, because when you leave Vladivostok to enter China, for a small part, you’re travelling on a railway you already travelled on when entering Vladivostok.

    I guess the winner will be the one that comes up with the most complex route in Europe and/or in China.

    Good luck figuring out the winning route! It would be cool if one of you heads straight to China to rack up miles over there, while someone else tries to win the challenge by taking a big tour around Europe!

    1. Hey Wouter – It sure will be a little tricky. And since planning is not exactly my strength, I have no doubt my adventure is going to be quite interesting. I definitely want to criss-cross Europe en route to Russia but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten so far. Considering that there are 6 of us, I’m sure the routes taken will be quite varied as well.

      I’ll be pulling out those railway maps soon enough myself I guess in order to try and put a decent route together!

  13. I just watched ‘Super 8’ so really the only piece of advice I have is – make sure the Air Force isn’t carrying a bunch of little rubiks cubes on the same train you will be on.

    I’d wish you good luck but that would be cliched, so I wish you many kebabs.

    1. Hey Markus – Heck, I’ll take kebabs over luck any day. And thanks for the rubiks cube tip despite it ruining the movie for me.

      By the way, seeing you guys on the highway the other day had me laughing for about 30 minutes. I’m just driving down the road, turn to my left and there’s your mug right there next to me. Too funny.

  14. This is such a great idea! In my opinion, it’s this kind of crazy collaborations that travel blogging is *great* for! Looking forward to reading about it! Also, I hope we can meet up somewhere in France, Germany or Austria, depending on your itinerary and route! 🙂

    1. That would excellent Fabian! I’m sure we can make it happen in one of those countries. Once I get a rough idea of my route, I shall pass it along so that we can hopefully work something out!

  15. This sounds like a great experience, I will be following online…I start my traveling September 1st and will be in Switzerland, Germany, France, (on a river boat) the Netherlands and Belgium the first two weeks of September. Who knows maybe we will cross paths.

    1. Hey Meg – That’s quite a two weeks you have lined up in September! As the time gets closer let’s see if our paths do indeed cross. I’ll be working on my train route over the next few weeks so I should have a better idea of my exact whereabouts soon.

    1. @Dave and Deb: Perhaps we’ll pass each other along the way! I’m looking forward to your Mongol Rally as well. That is going to be one unreal adventure and I also wish you guys good luck and as few flat tires as possible!

    1. Hey Patricia – Drew’s challenge was a bit different as the goal of that one did not involve racing or trying to set any records. The idea was to ‘survive’ a complete circumnavigation of India by train, which, admittedly, is not easy to do at all! I think Drew was on the train for something like 16 days or so, which absolutely seems long enough for anyone to travel by train continuously. Hopefully I’ll be able to handle the 27 or so days of the Ultimate Train Challenge 🙂

    2. Ooh, I can chime in on this too. This does not seem to be the same at all Patricia, for one thing, it’s way more awesome in scope than ours was (Though ours was also pretty impressive). We also had someone work tirelessly for more than a year working out the logistics of how to make it all happen, which made our experience a lot easier once we showed up in Mumbai. This seems more flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants in terms of logistics, which to me, is awesomely insane.

      Like you, I will be following along. Jealously. I hope someone on this trip is able to chronicle it the same way I did with mine. I will love to read someone’s broad account of how it all went.

  16. Wow! This sounds really interesting. Though initially i was a bit skeptical as it sounded like some other ‘train challenges’ i had recently read about which sounded as appealing as being herded along with a tour group forced to hop in and out of countries. But here with rules, and the flexibility to figure out your own route and the whole thing arranged as a ‘race’ makes it very exciting even for us to follow! Hope to see frequent updates and how you manage to complete this and all the adventures encountered along the way! 🙂

    1. Hey Lavanya – I agree that this train challenge stands out from any others that might be organized, which is another one of the reasons why I decided to participate. The flexibility is a huge factor in making this an exciting event with each of us participants traveling all over the map just to rack up miles!

      I appreciate you following along 🙂

  17. I am sure your stories will be great and look forward to riding along. I will be living vicariously through you since it is impossible to leave kids alone at home for a month.

    1. @cashflowmantra: That is completely understandable of course and I’m just happy that you’re interested in following along with the challenge!

  18. I can’t wait to see how this turns out! Getting any work done is going to be a big challenge. We’ll probably be in Thailand from September (Chiang Mai is calling) so if you do any travel around the region afterwards we’d love to meet up and hear all your stories.

    1. Hey Erin – I think getting work done just might be impossible during this trip, but that’s okay, I know I’ll be able to update the blog while in towns/cities in between connections at least. As for after the challenge, the chance of me ending up in SE Asia without making a visit to Chiang Mai is slim, and besides, that would be the perfect place to finally meet up with you both!

  19. Oh, it seems I have guessed right what are your plans in the last post. There you’ve got some railway maps of most, if not all, of your route. Are you planning to use more direct trains, or local ones with a lot of layovers?

  20. We’ll be following you all on this ‘little adventure’ of yours and best of luck with it. Wouldn’t have thought any of you would be travelling via Turkey – unless you really want to lose that is. 🙂 Slow and steady, the rail travel here and not really en-route. Do you have a route planned?

    1. Hey Julia – I’d happily pass through Turkey but I’m not sure it’s possible since we can’t backtrack. So I’m not sure I’d be able to maintain the ‘continuous journey’ rule!

      And I don’t have a route planned at all. In fact, I haven’t even looked at a rail map yet, something that I should probably do one of these days 🙂

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