46. The Man in Seat 61, Mark Smith; 1m Visits a Month and Travelling the World by Train - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode 46
December 4 , 2018

46. The Man in Seat 61, Mark Smith; 1m Visits a Month and Travelling the World by Train

Warning: After listening you might just find yourself booking a ticket and heading off on a train adventure. 

One murky afternoon in 2001 London station manager Mark Smith, browsing the bookshelves for something to read on the train home, found a teach yourself HTML’ guide. The resulting train travel website ‘The Man in Seat 61’, now gets over 1 million visits a month. Mark has wonderful stories and trips for train travel to Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Albania, Tunisia, Syria, Marrakech, Istanbul, Ukraine & the Crimea, Petra & Aqaba, Moscow, Vladivostok, Tokyo & Nagasaki via the Trans-Siberian Railway, all over Burma, all over the US and so much more. 


On this episode we talk about: 

That fateful day he bought the HTML guide

His million visits a month

How he started the website as a hobby

The fateful night at Marylebone where on the spur of the moment he bought a book about website making

How it’s much easier to take the train than people think

The reason behind ‘Seat 61’

Moscow, Vladivostok, Tokyo and more by train

Working at university for Transalpino issuing European train tickets

Whether interrailing is still a big thing

How you can go interrailing even if you’re not a student

How train travel is far more cilviised than train

How journeys should have an intrinsic value

Lisa’s train journey from Istanbul to London via Sofia, Budapest, Vienna, Paris.

Mark’s best train journeys in Europe – the Caledonian Sleeper, the Bernina express through the Alps in Switzerland.

The money saving side of sleeping while you travel

What it’s like on the Trans Siberian Railway

The Moscow-Beijing Express

The Moscow-Vladivostok train

Train through the Gobi Dessert and the mountains of China

The ship from Vladivostok to Japan

London Waterloo to Japan overland

How making an effort makes us enjoy it more

Delayed gratification

How some of the worst experiences of travel can turn out to be the best

The fabulous rickety journey along the Nile to Luxor

Whiskey drinking barman on the slow train to Luxor

Being the only person on the Istanbul train to Aleppo in Syria

Travelling in the cab Abdullah and Sammy from Aleppo depot

Collecting money for the children of Syria

The spectacular mountainous 20 Euro all day ride from Belgrade to the Adriatic

Meeting Richard from EMI records who’d wined an dined Kate Bush on the Trans Siberian Railway

Michael Palin and his inflatable globe

Mutton and rice on the Outer Mongolian dining car

The new Chinese high speed trains

The Beeching report that decimated the UK’s railways in the 1960s

Car congestion

The railways second golden age

More Passengers now than after the first world war when the network was twice the size

Hopes that some old lines will be reopened

Lake District and the old the to Penrith

Reopening the east coast rail from Oxford to Cambridge

How travel destroys prejudice and makes people revel in the difference

How Burma/Myanmar was like stepping back in time

How review sites don’t always inspire people

Taking reviews with a pinch of salt

His greatest American train journey

Amtrak California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco – the Mississippi the flatlands of Nebraska, scaling the east face of the Rockies from Denver, the strange tradition of the people on the Colorado river (mooning!), Utah, Nevada, the Sierra Nevada, the Donna Pass (cannibalism!)

Can any of our US listeners (somewhere between Salt Lake City and Denver) clear up this strange happening?!

How all Burma train journeys are fantastic

The beautiful views from the single track, slow train linking Taze on the Mandalay Rangoon/Yangon line with Inle Lake

Taking the kids across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2

The annoying school holidays

The future of overnight train journeys

How faster trains have eradicated some sleeper train routes

The difficult economics of sleeper trains with budget airline competition

The lovely London to Cornwall overnight train arriving in Penzance at 8am

Pulman Dining with fine wine and fine food on the daytime trains

The best route from London to Malaga in the south in Spain

Eurostar to Paris – Barcelona on TGV through the Rhone Valley, vineyards, flamingoes, the Pyrenees.

The train hotel from Paris to Madrid

Planning to try out the New Hong Kong to Beijing High speed train – huge scale investment in China in high-speed rail

How the website has changed his life

How the website tries to give people the best tips:

The new Venice train that goes via Prosecco – yes it’s really a place!

The viaduct flattened during the war

How booking with the right website – usually the provider – can mean we can take cheap tickets and explore Europe at our fingertips

Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona