Planes, Trains, Automobiles and More (Part 1): I AM CALGARY’S Summer of 2019

I suspect that the 1980’s movie titled “Planes Trains and Automobiles“, starring Steve Martin, has been the inspiration for many travellers to try out different forms of transport during their vacation explorations. I know I’ve often referred to the title in my travel writings to different countries around the world.

Bourton-on-the-Water Motoring Museum

Similar sentiments surround the fictitious Jules Verne character, Phileas Fogg, who wagered a £20,000 bet that he could circumnavigate the world in 80 days.  Bearing in mind the novel was set back in 1872, this was no small feat and no small fortune.  His endeavours saw him adopting a variety of unusual transporting methods in order to meet his seemingly impossible deadline.

We do have a bit of a “thing” for Minis, so were very excited to come across this little duo.
We wondered whether it was a sign to us to consider a “his-&-hers” mini combo, one day!

As mentioned in my first blog about our trip to Europe, we had comparatively easy access to our 11 different modes of transport that we used in a very matter-of-fact kind of way.  In some instances, I may have extended a bit of interpretational license as to what defines a “mode of transport”.  Here are our pros, cons and notes about the transport and service providers that got us to our various destinations.


The 18,000km mileage that we covered in 31 days was largely thanks to the convenience of flight.  We often give flying so much credit, as we should.  However, sometimes the precious vacation time sucked up by airport transit – navigating the terminal buildings, being funneled through check-in, baggage checks, and security controls – makes one question whether a short haul flight is really worth the time, stress and cost.

I have to admit, travelling with no checked luggage – a huge challenge for the two of us! – made some of these transitions during our recent European vacation a whole heap easier.


Travel between: Calgary International Airport (YYC) and London Gatwick (LGW)

Carry-on luggage only.
Lets get this party started!

WestJet’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners that fly passengers on their long-haul flights are a treat to travel in.  Even in economy class there were numerous notable niceties.

👍 Pros:

  • checked bags free on long haul flights (restrictions apply);
  • easy check-in on-line and in person;
  • friendly flight crew and service;
  • very reasonable leg room for an average height adult male;
  • comfortable seats with sensible reclining capability;
  • plentiful in-flight entertainment with a wide range of movies and TV shows on personalized screens and individual controls;
  • significantly reduced ambient flight noise;
  • some of the better food offerings that I’ve enjoyed compared to other airlines, including a decent beverage selection;
  • daily flights between Calgary and London (seasonal).

👎 Cons:

  • limited weekly flights between Calgary and Paris (seasonal).

✏️ Notes:

  • Something I learned a few days prior to our departure to Europe was that WestJet are strict on cabin baggage dimensions, for very reasonable reasons.  However, there is no limit on cabin baggage weight.  As long as the baggage owner is able to carry, lift and store their own bags in the overhead baggage compartments WestJet are satisfied that the weight is satisfactory.  This can be of great benefit to passengers.  We were no exception.

Aurigny Air:

Travel between: London Stansted Airport (STN) to Guernsey (GCI)

Aurigny Air is a Guernsey-based airline offering services to numerous destinations.

Our Aurigny Air Puddle Jumper that would take us across the Channel to Guernsey

👍 Pros:

  • Speed; reasonably frequent daily flights from several London airports;
  • friendly crew

👎 Cons:

  • limited baggage capacity;
  • bags generally have to be checked at a fee;
  • frequent flight delays;
  • restricted passenger and cabin baggage space due to small planes;
  • Stansted Airport security procedures are inefficient and painful;
  • no free on-board services.

✏️ Notes:

  • on-line baggage check-in and payment prior to the flight is cheaper and highly recommended;
  • cabin baggage (and checked baggage) weight is very tightly controlled.


Travel between: Paris (CDG) and London Gatwick (LGW)

EasyJet offer extensive flight routes throughout Europe at very competitive rates.

Early morning departure from Paris CDG to Gatwick

👍 Pros:

  • easy check-in and efficient passenger management;
  • frequent flights to multiple European destinations.

👎 Cons:

  • restricted cabin baggage;
  • checked bags require payment

✏️ Notes:

  • on-line baggage check-in and payment prior to the flight is cheaper and highly recommended;
  • cabin baggage (and checked baggage) weight is very tightly controlled.


City-to-city rail travel in Canada is unreasonably expensive.  Given the vast distances and weather limitations, one would wish that this could be a preferred mode of long-distance transport. Sadly, this is not the case.  So, enjoying easy and efficient inner- and inter-city rail transport during our vacation was a real treat and surprisingly inexpensive.

Gatwick Shuttle:

Light rail train connecting the north and south Gatwick Airport Terminals

👍 Pros:

  • free;
  • frequent.

👎 Cons:

  • none

✏️ Notes:

  • use the Shuttle to commute between the north and south terminals;
  • all surface trains to London and other destinations depart from the south terminal;
  • car rentals are located at the south terminal;
  • familiarize yourself ahead of time with which terminal you are arriving at.


ThamesLink forms part of the National Rail network, offering service between London to Gatwick and beyond

Prepared for departure on our ThamesLink train from Gatwick to London Bridge Station

👍 Pros:

  • at midday on a Monday in mid-summer this train was nearly empty when departing from Gatwick en route to London, so there was loads of seating and baggage space;
  • reasonably priced;
  • reasonably punctual;
  • clean;
  • tickets purchased are eligible for the 2-for-1 Days Out Guide deals (see notes below)

👎 Cons:

  • despite pre-booking a ticket online ahead of time there were some glitches with the system which meant we needed to stand in a slow-moving lineup at the ticket office to get this resolved before we could catch our train – issues were easily resolved but it was a time-waster

✏️ Notes:

  • commute time from Gatwick to London Bridge Station ~45mins with multiple stops but no transfers were required;
  • if you plan your travel well, you can use your National Rail train ticket to get you 2-for-1 deals to numerous attractions in London on the day of your travel (see “Days Out Guide” for details on participating attractions and rail services);
  • don’t be duped into taking the Gatwick Express train to London. You will pay a premium but will not necessarily save much time;
  • there are no longer (or in some instances, limited) baggage lockers at European train stations and airports.  We used the very convenient Stasher system in London to store our bags.  Make a reservation online to store your bags at a participating location near your destination or departure station of choice ahead of time.

London Underground:

For seasoned travellers the London Tube system is home to the all-too-familiar sounds and intercom announcements of “mind the gap” and “please stand clear of the closing doors” that have echoed through its ever-growing rabbit warren of underground stations for decades.  London’s public transit system, predominantly made up of the underground rail network and the above-ground iconic red double-decker buses spirit millions of Londoners and tourists around the city daily.

Mind The Gap

👍 Pros:

  • well-connected and integrated transport system

👎 Cons:

  • old carriages are very noisy;
  • stations and carriages are often stiflingly hot and stuffy;
  • the system is frequently overloaded at the ticketing access gates and on trains. Avoid work commute times if you’re on vacation!

✏️ Notes:

  • if you’re staying in the city for any period of time, consider buying a loadable Oyster card (£5) to avoid carrying cash.  Cards can be used on numerous public transit routes (underground, buses, light rail, riverboat services, Emirates Airline Cable Car) and are easily topped up at vending machines available at most stations;
  • some routes are serviced by newer carriages which are more spacious and quieter than the old;
  • the Underground is, for me, the epitome of loneliness amidst the commuter rat-race;
  • look out for and enjoy the variety in themes and décor of many of the central London tube station platforms.

Paris Metro:

While London’s underground train system is iconic, I have to say that Paris’s equivalent Metro system is, on the whole and in my opinion, a nicer overall experience.

The Paris Metro

👍 Pros:

  • well-connected and integrated transport system;
  • quieter rail noise than London’s underground;
  • not as stiflingly hot and stuffy as London’s underground;
  • friendly and skilled buskers and artists;
  • well signposted at street level with numerous access points from street level;
  • friendly and helpful ticket booth staff who were able to converse quite well in English.

👎 Cons:

  • smelly access passageways and platforms
The Paris Metro

✏️ Notes:

  • a noticeable presence of homeless and displaced families and individuals;
  • many themed central Paris stations e.g. The Louvre;
  • we purchased booklets (“carnets”) of 10 train tickets that worked out cheaper per ride than buying individual tickets.  Other card payment options are also available for tourists staying for longer durations.

Paris RER:

✏️ Notes:

We used this service to catch a 5.15am train from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle Airport.  At that time of the morning the service was efficient and there were few commuters.  A ticket cost us €10.50 each.

5.10am RER to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Trying to give the illusion of alertness!


✏️ Notes:

The great service, efficiency and overall experience that we had with France’s overland high-speed rail network was brilliant.  E-tickets or user-friendly Apps stored boarding passes for easy access and reference. We were able to arrive and board trains within five minutes of departure and, in most instances, pre-booked seats could be arranged at no extra cost. We pre-booked train tickets online (https://en.oui.sncf/en/) prior to our vacation and used the following rail services:

St Malo Station: the first of our experiences with France’s overland high speed trains

TGV: St Malo to Paris Montparnasse. A slightly dated-looking train but efficient, clean and on-time.  This was a direct service with multiple stops. Journey time: 3h 08min.

TGV: St Malo to Paris Montparnasse

OUIGO: Paris Gare de l’Est to Strasbourg.  A trendy-looking double-decker high-speed train.  Clean, punctual, quiet, comfortable.  This was a direct service with multiple stops. Journey time: 1h 55min.

TER: Strasbourg to Mulhouse.  A dated high-speed train.  Clean, punctual, quiet, comfortable.  This direct service had multiple stops. Journey time: 54min.

TGV Lyria: Mulhouse to Paris Gare de Lyon. A trendy-looking double-decker high-speed train.  Clean, punctual, quiet, comfortable.  We had 1st class tickets for this journey so were seated in the front car at a table with reclining chairs, reading lamps and generous space.  This direct service with multiple stops saw cruising speeds of 300km/h. Journey time: 3h.


Rental Cars:

We hired rental cars on two occasions during our vacation. In both instances I had reserved them through RENTALCARS.com prior to our departure from Canada to Europe. 

Our first reservation was for a vehicle pickup from London’s Gatwick Airport upon our arrival from Calgary.  Although the reservation was in place, some of the fine print came back to bite us and we ended up paying significantly more for the 10-day rental than I’d originally anticipated, due to various reasons.  Although our rental experience with EuropCar – the car rental company that was scheduled to leased us our vehicle – was very positive, it was the fine print on the RENTALCARS.com paperwork that soured our rental experience.  Unable to cancel the agreement and make a direct booking with EuropeCar once we discovered my mishap at the counter, we stuck it out and proceeded with the original reservation terms. 

Our Fiat Fit 1.6L diesel-fired hatchback rental vehicle served us well during our road trip that took us over 1,200km from Gatwick to Ascot to the Cotswolds to Cornwall, back to Ascot and returning to Gatwick.

Our EuropeCar Fiat Rental (rented online through Rentcars.com)

Having learnt the lesson of the pitfalls of the fine print in the RENTALCARS.com agreements, we cancelled our next reservation at no cost and re-booked directly with EuropCar.  This time there were no surprises when we picked up our 2-day rental in France from the convenient location at St Malo’s train station.  Although the pick-up process was a little inefficient, the after-hours drop-off two days later was effortless.  The electronic invoice was e-mailed to us within a week of returning our rental. 

Our EuropeCar Citroen C3 SUV rental in St Malo

In this instance we enjoyed a Citroen C3 diesel-powered SUV that we used to get to the nearby tourist mecca of le Mont Saint Michel then on to the medieval and quaint village of Dinan.  We covered 180km with our vehicle.  The only issue we encountered was that the fuel stations we tried to use to fill the car prior to us returning it to the drop-off location would not allow us to fill the vehicle completely.  After three attempts at refills of two to three litres at a time, while watching a fast ticking clock that was pressurizing us to get to the train station to catch our train, we gave up on trying to fill the tank. Instead, we took the penalty knock when EuropCar charged us a premium to fill the tank after we dropped it off.  This was a surprising, yet minor, matter at the end of the day.

Ride Share:

When catching our flight from London’s Stansted Airport to Guernsey, we elected to use an Uber service for the sake of convenience. We pre-scheduled the arrival time of the vehicle which arrived on time and got us to the airport in very good time. Although somewhat more expensive than if we had used the National Rail network, it was still one less logistical hurdle that we needed to manage as we prepared to leave for the Channel Islands.

Having said that, a note to travellers might be to make sure that if you use a saved credit card to book your car-share service, you might want to confirm with your Bank ahead of time that this will be a legitimate transaction. I discovered after booking and paying for our Uber that my credit card no longer worked. When I returned to Canada I discovered that my Bank had blocked my card thinking this may have been a fraudulent transaction. Fortunately we had other credit cards that we had access to, so were not completely grounded, but this could have become a problem, even if my credit card provider was acting in my best interests!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

That’s a wrap for the conventional travel modes we took during our summer 2019 Europe vacation. We hope that some of our experiences, observations and links might help you as you navigate your future travels in these – or other – first-world foreign destinations.

Shift Gears and Prepare for Part 2: Buses, Boats and Other Believe-it-or-Nots

Continue to travel with us as we relate more of our travel stories – and photos! – of some of the other conventional (and sometimes not-so-conventional) transport formats that we experienced during our summer vacation in Europe in our next blog (Part 2) that will be published shortly.


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