Until a few years ago, the answer to question was an easy one: Nighttrain. Zürich to Amsterdam leaving at around 21:00, with arrival in Arnhem around 7:30 the next morning. There was a bar, you'd meet other people, you got breakfast in the morning. You got to shower from Köln to Düsseldorf. Nice! This meant I was with my family around 10:30 in the morning. Travel time: 13,5 hours. If I subtract the 8 hours I was in bed, you got 5,5 hours of effective travel time. The price typically was about 100 EUR. Back to Zürich is a comparable experience.
Then DB stopped operating their sleeper. The ÖBB took over, but unfortunately not the Zürich-Amsterdam line.
So I tried flying for some time. This meant leaving a bit early from work (15:30), so I could catch the 17:30 flight from Zürich to Amsterdam. With a bit of luck, the plane landed around 19:00, so I could catch the train to get to my family's place around 22:00. This gave me a travel time of 6,5 hours for around 150 EUR.
But this is not all. The way back stinks. A Sunday-night flight from Amsterdam to Zürich usually is more expensive than a Monday-morning flight plus a stay at some hotel at the airport. So the way back looked like a 2,5 hour train ride, a short night in the hotel and then the Monday-morning flight back to Zürich from 7:00 to 8:30. So the whole return journey took me from 20:00 until 9:30 the other day. Of which I could sleep some 7 hours. So all in all: 13,5 hours minus the 7 sleeping ones for an effective travel time of 6,5 hours. Price: 100 EUR for the flight + 100 EUR for the hotel.
This wasn't very satisfactory. So now I'm trying to give the train a new chance. In a few weeks I'll be leaving work Friday at 13:30. Arrival at 22:30 for a total travel time of 9 hours. The way back will be worse: leaving Sunday evening at 19:00, arrival at work Monday morning at 8:00. That makes 11 hours! And without a bed, I can't realistically subtract any sleeping hours. At least I don't have to get up and switch trains between 22:00 and 6:30. The price is good though: 75 EUR each way in 1st class. And I get to sit just behind the train driver from Basel until Köln, which is admittedly very cool.
I'll keep you posted about my experience. But I really wish the nighttrain back...
Prices and times are neatly rounded to the nearest 25 EUR or half hour.