The Ultimate Train Challenge – 30 Days from Lisbon to Saigon


In 2011, I embarked on a 30 day, 25,000km journey – all by train – from Lisbon to Saigon. I did it in collaboration with two other bloggers, and to date it marks one of the most amazing things I’ve done in my many years of full-time travel.


This project was the brainchild of Michael Hodson, who subsequently opened this challenge up to the public as an annual event!

Ultimate Train Challenge

If you’re interested in participating, check out Your World No Rules and  be sure to use the referral code ND13UTC for $30 off the registration fee, which entitles you to event parties, travel passes, mega discounts, and some grand prize trips for the winners.


Ultimate Train Challenge 2011

Would you like to come along from the comfort of your living room? Then join in the journey with these posts about the experience:

Planning and Tools

The Trans-Siberian, from Moscow to Beijing

Using Eurail in Europe

Sleeping on Trains, (and in Beds with HostelBookers)


Europe: Stops I Made Along The Way

Leaving Lisbon

Tapas, Mountains, Flamenco, and Siestas: This is Granada!

Staying off the Tourist Trail (or Not) in Barcelona

Zurich: Rural Urbanity

Naked in Prague at Night


The Very-Fast Train is 1 Hour Late (and Other Ukrainian Paradoxical Experiences)

Flat in Moscow


And here’s a video recap of the 17-day European portion of the trip:

(click here to watch on YouTube if the player below doesn’t work)

The Trans-Siberian (Manchurian) Railway Experience

A Week on the Trans-Manchurian Railway

Here’s a video diary of the week-long Trans-Manchurian experience:

(click here to watch on YouTube if the player below doesn’t work)

The Final Leg: China and Vietnam

Beijing: Then and Now

Guilin: River Culture and New Tourism

13 Random Experiences on Asian Trains


And the video recap of this 3rd leg of the Ultimate Train Challenge:

(click here to watch on TripFilms if the video below doesn’t work)

Have you read my books yet? Tales of Trains: Where the Journey is the Destination is an epic armchair read, and How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World shows you how I managed to save over $63,000 in my first five years of travel alone.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mareli Strydom April 16, 2013 at 3:50 am

This is the best collection of experiences I’ve seen so far (even tho I have only been prowling for them for about 3 weeks). I stumbled upon a guy who backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo and I was just hooked! I’m now slowly planning my trip from St Petersburg to Beijing, and this is a really great guide.

Thank you so much for sharing!


theprofessionalhobo April 16, 2013 at 9:14 am

Hi Mareli – Thank you!
St Petersburg to Beijing….well you must take the train! :-) What time of year will you go, and how long will you take to do it?


Mareli Strydom April 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

I was thinking of doing it around April, just shortly after my friend finishes her Masters. Then we can take the train from my parents house in Germany to St Petersburg – seeing all the things along the way, the Trans-Manchurian after that, and then backpacking around China. Hopefully it’ll be a 3 week trip of crazy laughter as we try to learn how to say “I’m sorry, we’re vegan” in as many languages as possible. Hopefully we can pull if off, but if we accidentally buy a whole bag of raw eggs, (classic!) we won’t kick up too much of a fuss.


theprofessionalhobo April 16, 2013 at 11:58 am

Sounds like a great trip! Your vegan adventures through Russia and on the train will be interesting….make sure you have a stash of things you can eat! :-)
(And as a general rule, you can avoid getting any eggs)! ha ha


Gijs April 1, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Hey hello! What a fantastic experience that must have been indeed. I am quite curious how much all the train tickets Lisbon-Saigon would cost together, approximately? Any indication? Thanks!


Nora Dunn April 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Hi Gijs,
My memory is a little foggy on the costs, and I must also admit that many of our tickets were sponsored. The European train travel was on a 15 day Global Eurail pass (which costs $800), the Trans Siberian was about $650, and the rest of the train travel in China and Vietnam wasn’t more than $250 I believe.


Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }