Profiles in Passion – The Man in Seat 61

Three years ago I wrote a post about DC Rainmaker. DC was an IT consultant who also happened to be incredibly passionate about triathlons, technology, and travel, and he managed to create an unbelievably informative and entertaining web site that blended all of these passions together. Today he focuses on his blog full-time, still providing the best reviews of sports-related technologies to be found anywhere.

Well this week I came across a kindred spirit of DC – Mark Smith, also known as The Man in Seat 61.

Here are several excerpts from the bio on Mark’s web site:

I’m a career railwayman who ran away from Oxford to join the circus – or as we called it in those days, British Rail – as soon as he could.  Starting out in delightful rural Kent on what was then BR’s Southern Region, I was the Station Manager for Charing Cross, London Bridge & Cannon Street railway stations in London in the early to mid 1990s.  After a spell as the Customer Relations Manager for two major UK train companies, I worked for the Office of the Rail Regulator and later the Strategic Rail Authority, ending up at the Department for Transport in charge of the team regulating fares & ticketing on the British rail network.  Since 2007 I have run this site full-time, as (a) updating it has indeed become a full-time job and (b) it’s much more fun than real work.

Mark even created a mission statement of sorts for his site:

…first, the site aims to INSPIRE people to do something more rewarding with their travel opportunities than schlepping to an airport, getting on a soulless airliner and missing all the world has to offer.  Second, it sets out to ENABLE people to take train or ferry by giving the the confidence and know-how to book their trip themselves, or call the right people to book it for them at affordable prices.

As to why he does this:

Travelling by train from London to mainland Europe is a far more practical option than most people imagine.  But finding out about it has become frustratingly difficult.  The train operators themselves are little help, often not working together.  I thought I could post basic ‘how to’ information online for train journeys from the UK to Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Russia and every other country in Europe.  And how about reaching Morocco, Tunisia, Ibiza, Corsica, Crete or Malta by combining train & ferry?

And how he got started:

…one day in 2001 I found myself at London’s Marylebone station looking for something to read on my train home from work.  I wandered into W H Smiths and spotted a ‘teach yourself HTML’ book for £2.95.  I had bought a PC and my internet provider offered free webspace.  I read the book, tried a test webpage, it worked, and here I am.  There’s a lot of work involved in keeping the site even remotely up to date, but people seem to find the site useful, and this keeps me going. 

And the web site is how he now supports himself and his family, and his love of traveling: is a personal website, started purely as a hobby.  It’s grown and grown, and became my full time occupation in September 2007.  Which is just as well, as keeping it updated has indeed become a full-time job.  However, I’m not a company or a travel agency, just an individual with knowledge that others might find useful.  All the information on the site is provided free of charge to users, with the aim of providing sound practical advice to help people make journeys by train or ship instead of flying, affordably, comfortably and safely.  The site generates income through Google adverts and affiliate schemes (as well as books, t-shirts, and mugs) and this supports the site, helps fund my travel habit (…er, I mean research, of course) and buys me a beer or two and now even the odd bottle of my favourite Chateau Musar…

The site has won multiple awards over the years, and once you spend a few minutes on the site, you will see why. We were looking for the best travel options from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, and came across the seat61 web site, and it was his web site that really convinced us to take a train instead of flying.

Here’s the page that describes taking the train from London to Edinburgh, and it is quite impressive. The page includes links to where to buy tickets, pictures of the stations, the train, and scenery along the way. Again, well done.

The site offers details on how to travel by train around Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia & the Americas. Mark also lists some of favorite trips, what he call epic journeys:

  • Trans-Siberian Railway:  Using the Trans-Siberian Railway, you can travel overland from London to Beijing or Tokyo or even Singapore.  Seat61 will help you plan and book it the inexpensive independent way, with route guide, timetable, fares, photos and how to arrange tickets and visas.
  • Coast to coast USA or coast to coast Canada:  An epic, scenic and surprisingly affordable journey, a mind-blowing alternative to a mind-numbing flight.  Seat61 will recommend the routes, times, and how to buy tickets the cheapest way.  3,000 miles of scenery from New York to Los Angeles for as little as $278 (£191)!
  • Singapore to Bangkok:  For around $60 (£40) you can travel 1,233 miles from Singapore to Bangkok, on comfortable modern trains with your own sleeping-berth with fresh clean bedding for both overnight sections.  It’s not surprising this page is one of the most popular pages on the site…
  • London to Marrakech:  You can do this over the weekend, in just 48 hours, and it doesn’t cost a fortune, either.  Probably the most exotic location most easily reached from the UK by rail.  Ideal for a plane-free holiday to Africa..
  • The train to Tibet:  The new railway to Lhasa, featured on the China page.

Mark also lists some of he considers the most scenic journeys:

  • The Glacier Express & Bernina Express:  The two most scenic train journeys in Switzerland, or indeed Europe.  And no, I can’t tell you which has the edge, I can’t decide myself, you’ll just have to try both.  These pages show you the train and the scenery and will help you buy tickets.
  • The Northern Explorer & The Tranz-Alpine:  two great scenic trains journeys across New Zealand, NZ’s contribution to world rail travel.  And Wellington to Auckland costs from NZ$158 (£83) for an all-day experience, a bargain and one of my own favourite trips…
  • Venice Simplon Orient Express:  Luxury as well as scenery, on this classic train from London & Paris to Venice.  You’ll find a run-down on the real Orient Express on the Orient Express page.

This post can’t do justice to the amazing web site Mark has created, and you owe it to yourself to see what the result is when someone finds their passion and is willing and able to share that passion with others.

I know we will be using Mark’s site when we plan our trip to Paris, since we are not quite sure what the best way will be to get from London to Paris.

So the next time you are thinking about traveling somewhere, give Mark’s web site a look. He may well convince you to take a train.

Finally, a big thank you to Mark for the incredibly helpful web site you have created, we look forward to using it for years to come.

All aboard!

P.S. And I wish everyone can find their passion and pursue it the way DC and Mark have been. Such passion makes for a great customer experience.



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