Around the world. By train. And for charity.

One epic, and collaborative, voyage. 40 individual train trips.

Raising funds for Ataxia UK (regd charity) at the same time.


All smiles with Tim White on Day 1 of the original 2013 attempt

This will actually be my second attempt at making this journey. A wee bit of history:

It was during my original “around the world by train” journey, in late 2013, that I first I started to fall over for no apparent reason. I had reached Novosibirsk in Siberia (on the famed Trans-Siberian Express), when I decided that it might be wise to abandon the journey there and then, and return home to Scotland for medical tests to find the cause of my increasing balance problem.

After I had zig-zagged all across Europe. Covering over 21,000km. So not a bad first effort.

In March 2015, and after 17 months of scans, lumbar punctures and blood tests to find the cause of my falls, I was finally diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia. A very rare, incurable (and progressive), neurological condition which will eventually see me in a wheelchair. Or worse.

“Ataxia” was completely new to me. Which isn’t really surprising though, as I have subsequently found out that I was not alone in my ignorance: 91% of the UK population have never heard of it either.

I know all about it now though!

I also discovered that a specific type of ataxia (Friedreich’s Ataxia) also affects children/young people too though. Children and young people who will never have the chance to see some of the things that I have been fortunate enough to see, or who will never have the chance to experience some of the things I have been lucky enough to experience.

Please watch the following two videos (the first of which was my introduction to ataxia after my diagnosis in 2015). Both videos feature a brave young girl called Millie-Mae Enderby, and are about her first diagnosis (when she was just 10 years old), and a later video which explains how ataxia affects her, and other teenagers, at an age when young people are very conscious of how they appear to others:

And, rather sadly, I also learned that the medical research which aims to find a cure for this condition, and which is currently being done in a variety of medical laboratories across the planet, is totally reliant on charity for its continued funding.

So, to do my bit, and to raise some of the money needed, I started “walking”.

Between 2015 and 2017, and while I could still walk for long distances (although I increasingly had to rely on my walking stick, mainly for balance at that stage), I “walked”.

Raising £1,100 for Ataxia UK (the UK charity which funds the medical research into a cure for this condition), and immeasurable amounts of ataxia-awareness, at the same time.

During all of this time though, and in the back of my mind, I always had the goal of completing my original “round the world by train” journey (the journey that I was in the middle of, in 2013, when I first started to fall over).

So now that the progression of my own ataxia means that long-distance walking is now impossible for me (even shorter distances are now difficult), and as I would like to continue my fundraising/awareness-raising efforts, trains are back at the forefront of my mind.

Only this time around, my “round the world by train” journey will be done as yet another ataxia fundraising/awareness-raising event too.

My plan all along though (well, for the last wee while anyway), was to complete this trip when I was finally in a wheelchair (as rail travel involves a lot of sitting down anyway – and a “round the world by train – in a wheelchair” event would attract even more public/media attention).

But I’m now no longer feeling as confident in my future ability to do so. Because as well as losing the ability to walk, I can also expect to have problems with, and have already started to experience difficulties with, choking while talking & swallowing (caused by a weakening of my throat muscles). Two abilities that I will most-definitely want when travelling anywhere (talking to people, and eating local food, are two of the main reasons that I travel in the first place). So I now plan to complete this trip as soon as possible (which really means as soon as I have saved enough pennies – late 2018 is the target).

[And I might as well make good use of the research that I have already done anyway 😉 ]

An “around the world by train – for charity” journey then?

The 2018 route (From – To : Train/Railway Name):

START/END (Central Hotel in Glasgow Central Station)

Glasgow – Carlisle : West Coast Main Line

Carlisle – Settle : Carlisle Settle Line

Settle – Leeds : Northern Rail

Leeds – London : East Coast Main Line

London – Paris : Eurostar

Paris – Moscow : (2 nights on the famous Paris-Moscow Express)

Moscow – Ulan Ude : Trans Siberian Express

Ulan Ude – Beijing : Trans Mongolian Express (or alternatively the Trans-Manchurian Express)

Beijing – Hanoi : Beijing-Nanning-Hanoi Through Train

Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) : Reunification Express

[Fly: Ho Chi Minh – Bangkok (no railway across Cambodia – 2013 plan included Bamboo Railway)]

Bangkok – Kuala Lumpur : Eastern & Oriental Express (1)

Kuala Lumpur – Singapore : Eastern & Oriental Express (2)

[FLY: Singapore-Darwin (or Singapore-Perth, but Darwin is my pref)

Darwin – Adelaide : The Ghan

Adelaide – Melbourne : Overland

Melbourne – Sydney : CountryLink

[Fly: Sydney – Auckland]

Auckland – Wellington : Northern Explorer

[Ferry: Wellington – Picton]

Picton – Christchurch : Coastal Pacific

Christchurch – Greymouth (RTN) : Tranzalpine

[Fly: Christchurch – Sydney]

Sydney – Brisbane : XPT

Brisbane – Cairns : Sunlander

[Fly: Cairns – Seoul]

Seoul – Busan : KTX – Gyeongbu Line

[Ferry: Busan – Fukuoka (“Beetle” JR Kyushu Jet Ferry)]

Fukuoka – Hiroshima : Shinkansen Mizuho

Hiroshima – Tokyo : Shinkansen Nozomi

[Fly: Tokyo – Los Angeles]

Los Angeles – New Orleans : Sunset Limited

New Orleans – Washington DC : Crescent

Washington DC – Chicago : Capitol Limited

Chicago – San Francisco (Emeryville) : California Zephyr

San Francisco – Portland : Coast Starlight

Portland – Vancouver : Cascades

Vancouver – Calgary : Rocky Mountaineer

[Bus: Calgary – Edmonton]

Edmonton – Toronto : The Canadian

Toronto – New York : Maple Leaf

New York – JFK Airport : Long Island Railroad

[Fly: New York (JFK) – London (LHR)]

Heathrow Airport – London : Heathrow Express

London – Fort William : Caledonian Sleeper

Fort Wiliam – Mallaig : The Jacobite (AKA “Hogwarts Express”)

[Ferry/Bus: Mallaig – Skye – Kyle of Lochalsh]

Kyle of Lochalsh – Inverness : Kyle Line

Inverness – Edinburgh : Highland Main Line

Edinburgh – Glasgow : Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway


Around the world. By train? Why?

Since I was a spotty teenager, I have travelled quite a bit. And on many of my previous travels, I always tried to include a journey on a local train, because I found that this was a great way to meet real local people (not just local people who serviced the travel/tourism trade). I found that when people are comfortable and relaxed, and have time to kill, they are more likely to talk to “strangers”. And train travel provides that comfort and relaxation.

Sure, there are other means of long-distance travel where you are surrounded by others, and have hours of “downtime”. But unlike planes and buses (where you will only see the back of the heads of the people in front of you, and you are very unlikely to see the people behind you at all), trains are set up so that passengers are facing each other. And if you put two strangers face-to-face for a while, they will eventually talk to each other. Additionally, you can wander down to the dining/buffet car, and meet your fellow passengers there too.

So, it was the idea of combining all of these smaller train trips, trips which had been so personally rewarding, into one huge journey that would take me right around the world, that was the inspiration for my original attempt in 2013.

My estimate is that this trip will cost as much as £5,000 (even more if I need to take a carer with me – but, hopefully not, I’m not quite at that stage yet). So while I am furiously saving this amount, I will continue my ataxia awareness-raising by reviewing donated products. Products which I will subsequently give away as fundraising competion prizes or raffle/auction lots:

A “collaborative” journey.

The entire RTWbyTrain journey is made up of 40 individual train trips. And I want each of these 40 individual train trips to be documented in separate articles by professional travel writers/bloggers. These 40 linked articles will then make up the final account of the journey.

Ideally, the travel writer/blogger who will write about one of the 40 individual train trips will accompany me on that individual train trip. However, I am well aware of the long-range timing difficulties when making such an involved itinerary (things go wrong, trains are missed, trains break down, etc), so a certain degree of flexibility is required. But, in the event that a travel writer/blogger is unable to personally make a specific journey, they can still write about it (using my notes and photographs, in addition to other sources of information that we can find). Their finished article will still be one of the 40 individual articles that make up the final record of the event.

This is the ideal opportunity for a travel writer/photographer/blogger to be part of a rather unique, positive and very visible event, and for their participation to be widely recognised.

Additionally, this whole event is being broadcast “live” (via Twitter) to a social media audience which now numbers well in excess of 32,000 followers (so it is an excellent SEO/advertising opportunity too). As well as attracting mass-media attention.

Therefore, the final account of this journey will be made up of 40 articles spread throughout the travel writing/blogging community.

My reason for wanting to do this is three-fold:

1. An increased audience.

As well as adding to the £1,100 I have already raised for charity, one of my main reasons for making this journey is to raise awareness of the ataxia condition. Research carried out, by UK charity Ataxia UK, showed that 91% of the population have never even heard of the condition. A statistic that comes as no personal surprise really, as it was news to me too when I was first diagnosed in 2015.

So, by involving as many different people as possible, especially people with an existing, and pretty substantial, audience, the ataxia message reaches even more people. This is a symbiotic exchange though: your audience becomes aware of/more-informed about ataxia. My audience, in a very entertaining way, learn more about you.

My audience? As well as a social media audience which now numbers well in excess of 32,000 followers, the established media (both Press and TV) have already covered my previous fundraising efforts. Both nationally and internationally (previous media coverage).

2. An entertained audience.

At best, I’m an eager traveller. A fundraising traveller, perhaps. Hopefully, inspiring others to follow their hearts.

But I’m definitely not a professional travel writer/photographer.

Yes, I can write when required, and I can take some fairly decent photographs too. But I really don’t enjoy doing either. I prefer to leave these things to the experts.

3. A Travel Companion.

I was about to type “carer”. But I’m not at that stage yet.

Travel is a very social experience (well, for me anyway). The exchange of ideas between the traveller and the local population of the place being visited, and the exchange of ideas between fellow travellers, has always been the single-most important aspect of travel for me.

And this is actually why I prefer solo-travel. You meet a lot more people. Circumstances mean that you have to. And travelling solo makes you so much more approachable too (which invariably leads to some form of social interchange).

My days of solo travel will soon be just a memory though.

But for the time being, and for this journey in particular, I really just need somebody to look after my bag while I stumble off to the loo.

So, if you would you like to cover/write about/photograph one of the 40 individual train trips, please contact me via Twitter.

Additional cost-saving.

Every single cost of making this journey will be minimised whenever possible (or even negated completely – so you might even end up getting a bit of a freebie, but you should count on paying for your own train ticket at least).

There are three major areas of expense: transport, accommodation and daily sustenance.

1. Transport.

Complimentary/reduced-price rail tickets will be sought from the train operator for every individual train trip. And where I will be accompanied by an expert travel writer/blogger, two complimentary/reduced-price rail tickets will be sought. So, as well as being part of something rather unique, and extremely visible, my companion may end up getting a bit of a freebie.

2. Accommodation.

Other than transport, my daily accommodation is likely to be my biggest expense. And there are three particular ways in which I hope to minimise these costs:

Hotels and apartments.

Hotels in cities along the route will be contacted prior to the journey starting, and complimentary accommodation requested.

If you own/operate a hotel along the route, and would like to be recognised as supporting this event, please contact me via Twitter.


This is likely to be my most-used method of sourcing accommodation.

As mentioned above, the social aspect of travel is the main attraction of travel for me. And Couchsurfing is a great way to find accommodation with local travel experts while travelling. And was the main method used during my 500-mile charity walk in Spain in 2016.

Some of the amazing people who helped make my fundraising walk in Spain a reality (Facebook only I’m afraid):

Couchsurfing HQ in San Francisco were so impressed with how I found help from the Spanish Couchsurfing community that they wrote an article:

Staying with members of the Travel Massive.

Travel Massive were very kind sponsors of my original (abandoned) journey in 2013. And, having chapters worldwide, they will again be a major source of assistance.

3. Daily sustenance. Food and drink.

As with accommodation, complimentary meals will be requested from restaurants/food suppliers in cities along the route.

Again, if you own/operate a restaurant/food outlet along the route, and would like to be recognised as supporting this event, please contact me via Twitter.

Thank you for being part of this journey, and for helping to make this journey possible in the first place!