How To Survive A Long-Ass Train Journey… Or A Short One…

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Travelling Canada and the USA as I have done by train, I feel like I am fast becoming an expert in how to travel a train like a BOSS.

So let me share with you some wisdom I have picked up along the way that I have discovered helps – whether it be used for that half hour quick trip, or a 62-hour slog across the country. Yep, that happened!

1. Headphones are a blessing.

I rarely ever leave my house without my headphones on my person. On the rare occasion that I do forget, I’ve either forgotten them because my brain broke or because my headphones have broke. They’re an essential item for me to have and are an asset on a noisy train – whether it be just to relax to your favourite tunes, or to block out the babble of the other passengers and the rattle of the train on the tracks when you’re trying to sleep (catnap or other).

Just be careful when you put them away otherwise you’ll end up with a fisherman’s knot that you cannot undo!!

2. More space, the better!

This is essential when on a long-haul train. The need to spread out and stretch your body is strong, and when trying to sleep, being cramped up in a small space on a single seat is pretty painful. Grab two seats if you can so you can have your bag on your seat for easy access during the day and in the evening you can curl up in a tad more comfortable position at night – bonus points if your seat has footrests that you can pull up!

Obviously if your train is busy, don’t be that person that hogs two seats to themselves when it’s needed by someone else – no one likes that person. Instead, see if the other person is open to conversation and say hi. You’d be surprised about some of the people you can meet on trains, and how those conversations can really open up your mind and impact your sole perspective. Also, it makes it a little less awkward should you fall asleep on them at any point.

3. Maybe invest in a blanket.

For the long haul trips that last over night – or in my case three nights – a blanket is much needed to stop your insides from freezing over.

I don’t know what it is about the trains I’ve been on on this trip, but they LOVE the air con – which is OK during the day, it’s refreshing. But when you’re trying to catch those much needed zzz’s, being cold definitely does not help. Now you can resort to covering up yourself with a jacket or a scarf or whatever – I’m not luxurious by any means – but when the air is baltic a jacket does not cut it for me and I find myself needing to defrost my organs. Via Rail offers blankets for $5 CA each on their overnight trains. Amtrak does not, however, so try and grab a cheap blanket from somewhere, or buy yourself some thermal underwear. Either way, keep warm!

4. Get a book or a movie.

Boredom is your worst enemy on a train. So get Kindle on your phone and download some books, or grab a good paperback or three to keep your mind occupied. If you’re travelling on a budget or don’t want to spend money on Kindle books, then have a look through the library of free books that they offer -they’ve got a vast selection, some of which is crap, but then you have some of the classics going for free sometimes too.

Not into reading? That’s cool too, get yourself some movies to watch or wile away the hours marathoning your favourite TV show.

5. For the love of God, be on time.

Some stations ask you to be there about an hour before the train is scheduled to depart the station, some a half hour, and for the most part I’ve been able to keep to that.

The incidents where I did not follow this rule were when I went to catch my first train from Vancouver to Jasper and I was unaware that being there twenty minutes in advance was not going to cut it. I managed to remedy that mistake going forward until running to catch my train from New York to Savannah – I’d been extremely lucky with NYC traffic and so I was lulled into a false sense of security when catching my bus from Staten Island to Penn Station. I literally made my train with minutes to spare. I could taste my heart I was so stressed.

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So that’s it! That is my advice. Feel free to take bits and pieces or completely disregard it!
These are just things that I found helpful, and maybe they’re stating the obvious, but no harming in repeating them. If you have any tips of your own make sure you comment them below.

Best,

The Neverland Backpacker

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The Moonlight Express

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The rocking of the train was keeping her up. Normally it would lull her off to sleep, but tonight she was wide awake. It was 3.00AM, and every other soul on the train was sound asleep, the chorus of gentle snoring carrying itself down the carriage to where she sat.

She pulled her blanket closer around her shoulders against the chill blowing out from the air vents, slipped her feet into her trainers, and sneaked out of her seat. Stealing down the aisle through the carriage, she pushed the compartment door open, slipping through into the dining car swaying next door. The frigid cold that greeted her was almost enough to send her scurrying away back to her seat, which was slightly less freezing than this carriage was, but steeling herself, she stepped forward and up into the Sky Carriage with the glass ceiling.

She couldn’t see the stars that were sure to be hanging over head in the Canadian Sky, a stunning backdrop to the Rockies- the light from the dining car was lit and did nothing but obscure the glass. But she could imagine them all the same, so she shut her eyes and rested her head back, feeling the train sway to and fro as it rocked along the tracks.

She sucked in the cool air, soothing her agitated lungs which the dust from her seat had aggravated, and emptied her mind of thoughts. She had not a worry, not a care in the world whilst she sat here, oblivious to the goings on of the world speeding past outside. She hadn’t been able to check her messages for days since there was no wifi on the train – the predicament had forced her to adjust her usual habits and find other ways to entertain herself.

Smiling, she recalled some of the conversations she’d had earlier on in the day, interacting with the other passengers splayed about her. It was fascinating the different types of people that one could encounter on a single journey, the stories that they could tell and the memories that could be shared.

She opened her eyes, staring up into the glass ceiling, studying the pale reflection gazing back at her – it’s stark pale face stood illuminated against the green seat cover. She looked tired. She was tired. And yet, she could not sleep.

Sighing, she leant up closer to the window, so close that her nose pressed up against the glass as she strained her eyes to see outside. Nothing but the harsh glow of the luminescent bulb could be seen, until struck by an idea, she pulled the blanket up over her head and pinned it to the window, covering herself and sealing out as much light as possible. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough, and gluing her eyes to the window once more, she could finally see the dark landscape that lay beyond.

The moon stood low in the sky, just above the mountains and the tree tops, but still low enough that she could remark on how large it seemed. It’s pale glow illuminated the sky, a glowing backdrop against the shadows of the trees that ranged across the Canadian wilderness. The outlines of the mountains stood tall, yet she could see for miles and miles, she thought. Her eyes panned back and forth across the terrain, hungrily taking in the raw landscape, admiring the thousands of stars that hung up above it, dancing in the dark.

She had no idea how long she sat there for – it wasn’t until she began to fill the pins and needles in her legs, the chill of the air seeping into her bones, did she realise that she had been sitting immobile for a long length of time. She must go to sleep. Taking one last peek at the night sky, she snuck back along and down into the dining car, tiptoed through the door into her carriage, and crept back into her seat.

Curling up on the two seats she had claimed, she tugged the blanket up to her shoulders, made sure that her feet were covered, and within minutes, had fallen asleep, lulled once again by the rocking of the train.

***

It’s been just over a month now since I started this journey through the Americas, but it feels like much longer – in a great way. I’ve had so many experiences, good a
nd bad, and learnt so much about myself and the places I’m travelling too.

14390860_10209381415427862_5013321014807199676_nThis narrative is drawn from my experience of a 62-hour train journey crossing from Jasper to Toronto, a journey which was an adventure in itself. I had be
en
told by a woman I had met previously that I would do the leg once but then never again – yet I would actually love to do it again, because of the absolute beauty of the land I was crossing.

I just may play the lottery and splash out on Sleeper Class next time!

Best,

The Neverland Backpacker

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Cumberland, Vancouver Island

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When I first entered this town, one word came into my thoughts. Small. It seemed like I had signed myself up for three nights of boredom. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. No one to see.

A feeling of trepidation settled on me. I set myself ready to endure it.

But then, I considered the situation. Just because it seemed like there was nothing to do, doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything.

Turns out, I was right.

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Down the rabbit hole.

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In the middle of the woods.

Within a few minutes’ walk of my hostel was a trail, which when walked along provided me with some mind-boggling views.

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Lake Comox.

 

 

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Driftwood scattered all over the shore.

The town itself was full of colour, strange little quirks and peculiar characteristics.

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I wonder if the postman uses the gate?

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Maybe it’ll fit in my hand luggage…

Cumberland was just full of the strangest things.

Like a lot of places on this trip, this town left a mark on me, and reminded me to always look for the possibilities even when it seems that there are none. Because otherwise, you could end up missing out on some views of a lifetime.

Best,

The Neverland Backpacker

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The Murderer of Circumstance

The flicker from his cigar danced shadows across his face. Thomas D’Arcy McGee turned his collar up against the chill that still lingered early on the morning of April 7, 1868. Reaching into his coat pocket, the politician failed to notice the figure stalking him up the side of the building. His numb fingers fumbling, McGee was oblivious even as the stranger lurked behind him. He struggled to jam the key into the lock, clueless as the man behind him pulled out a pistol and aimed it at the gentleman’s head.

It wasn’t until the innkeeper of the boarding house – his residence – Mary Ann Trotter opened the door, did he notice that something was amiss, the look of alarm in her face causing him to turn around to the danger.

Too late.

The muzzle flash sparked, and Mary Ann Trotter’s screams cracked through the night, as she stood in shock over the shell of Mr Thomas D’arcy McGee.

***

There was uproar. The murder of a Canadian politician and journalist fired up the police and press. The next evening, Canadian authorities had over 40 Canadians locked in their cells and facing interrogation. The majority consisted of Irish immigrants, suspected of being Fenian sympathisers.

Tirelessly, the police ran through their suspects, pressing for answers, government officials breathing heavily down their necks for a conclusion, until they encountered a name that would bring them resolution.

***

Patrick James Whelan was nothing if not surprised when, upon leaving the house of Mr Richard Quinn and entering a tavern one evening, he was interrupted from his drink by the arrival of several officers of the law. More so was he surprised when he was the cause for their interruption.

Murderer!? He thought.

He was descended on, and upon being searched, a fully-loaded .32 Smith & Wesson pistol was discovered and held triumphantly in the air, clutched in the sweaty fist of one Sgt. Davis, while a box of cartridges, a month-old copy of the Irish American newspaper, and a photograph of a lady, along with either items, were unloaded from Mr Whelan’s person on to the tavern table.

***

It was rapid succession of events, and the press went wild. Within 48 hours after the ghastly murder of the honourable Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Canadian authorities had in their custody the villainous Whelan, a man who felt himself above the law and flouted it.

Whelan, of course, had not a leg to stand on. He was an Irish man, a Fenian sympathiser, and owned a gun matching the description of the murder weapon. The lack of witnesses, of any physical evidence, of anything else supporting the determination that Whelan was without a doubt the murderer of McGee, was forgotten or pushed aside.

And so began the peculiar trial that sought to convict Whelan and have him sentenced to death.

***

There are many events that occurred during the murder trial – witness testimonies that failed to corroborate, the whispers of bribery and deceit, the discretisation of police evidence.

This farce of a trial, the absolute joke of it, was questioned seriously by Whelan’s lawyer John Hillyard Cameron, and was so addressed in his closing argument, a statement which lasted close to three hours. The fact that his client was an Irish man and a Fenian sympathiser was the only reason he was now the easy target of a criminal court. Ending his address, Cameron spoke to the jury, saying that he “did not believe that any man had ever before been given a fair trial under circumstances so unfairly arrayed in prejudice against him”.

***

Unfortunately, such a passionate speech failed to move the court to sympathy, and on September 15, Whelan was found guilty and therefore was sentenced to hang. Hearing the verdict, Whelan stepped forward, looking to the jury, and stating loudly and emphatically, “Now I am held to be a black assassin, and my blood runs cold. But I am innocent, I never took that man’s blood. I am held to be a murderer. I am here standing on the brink of my grave, and I wish to declare to you and to my God that I am innocent, that I never committed this deed.”

***

Until his last breath did Whelan preach that he was an innocent man, unlawfully tried and imprisoned. His appeals to the court were denied each time they were sent, and so, on February 11, 1869, when Whelan took his final walk to the gallows, he was observed by an audience of 5,000, met his death.

His last words hung over the crowd.

“God save Ireland and God save my soul”.

***

 

Recently I found myself staying at the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel, a building I was fascinated with before I had even stepped foot through its doors. The chance to spend two nights in an environment such as this was exciting.

I didn’t realise until I was there that it was one of the most haunted buildings in the world. Free WiFi, free breakfast, free towels, and the occasional ghost sighting is not on your common lists of amenities which you’ll find at most hostels. But at HI-Ottawa, experiencing paralysis, the odd feeling of being watched when alone in a room, and other spooky scenarios is not uncommon.

Taking the opportunity of a tour around the hostel, to its solitary cells, the executioners row, and the inmates bunks, my curiosity was perked, and I listened with fascination as our guide regaled us with stories of hauntings experienced by both staff and guests.

Screams in the night, a little girl with a furious face, and a lady name Marianne.

But it was the story of inmate Patrick Whelan which most caught my attention14344288_10209381586392136_2715088253165190446_n. My imagination whirred as I wondered what it would have been like, to be convicted and sentenced to death for a murder which, if possible, put the wrong man to hang.

So to satisfy my own curiosity, and scratch the itch of a writer with an idea, I penned my own version of events so loosely categorised. It is not fact, but pure fiction with t
he occasional fact. With this case, that may be all we ever get.

Best,

The Neverland Backpacker

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To grow up would be an awfully big adventure.

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Young people – that is, adults in their 20s – are commonly being referred to as ‘The Peter Pan Generation’.

According to internet psychologist Graham Jones in his interview with The Debrief: “Over 100 years ago, childhood ended at 12, but with our ageing population, it makes sense, economically, for the Government to extend childhood to 18. It takes younger people out of the jobs market and means pension age can be extended. The Internet merely helps emphasise this culture, with people in their twenties and thirties posting things on their Facebook pages about youthful activities. This creates social pressure for more people in those age groups to do more of those youthful things.”

Similarly, a recent Evening Standard and Opinium Research study discovered that 42% of Londoners aged between 20-29 years of age are delaying having kids due to the steep prices in the housing market.

Escaping reality.

So, back to my first post, where I stated that when I tell people I’m a traveller, I get asked ‘Why am I running away from the ‘real world’?’. I suppose I would counter that question with one of my own, which is: “What does the concept of the ‘real world’ actually mean?”

I mean, taking a look at the above statistics, society has changed its definition of adulthood dramatically, even in the last few years. It’s no longer expected for an individual to finish college, graduate university, find a job, a partner, a house, and have three kids. Breaking this ritual is no longer such a social stigma, but it’s important to keep in mind that sticking to it, or living some variation of it, is not a bad thing either.

Too often I have encountered a situation where to avoid scoffs and mocking, I have had to fake a certain disdain at the thought of having kids, or getting married. Why? It’s not unfortunate for someone to announce their upcoming nuptials or the fact that their expecting a child.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that what somebody chooses to do with their life – whether it be to throw a backpack on their shoulder and buy a one-way ticket to Asia, or to take a trip to MotherCare to look at cots and prams, to standing in the middle of a changing room in that perfect wedding dress – is nobody else’s business, and nobody has the right to force their judgement on you as if their way is the wrong or right way to do things.

Live life as you like.14199574_10209245298345020_2888198121859939004_n

So why the name The Neverland Backpacker? I want to live life the way I choose, regardless of society’s judgement or the expectations that my generation seems to be facing.

My Neverland is not the place where nobody grows up to be ‘grown-ups’; it’s the place where people can grow up to be grown-ups in the many wonderful and complicated ways, without fear of judgement.

Best,

The Neverland Backpacker

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Source: http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/real-life/the-peter-pan-generation-why-20-something-women-just-cant-grow-up-20160261913

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Lost in Amsterdam

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The news was reporting the closure of the M56 due to a fire caused by a propane tanker that was at risk of exploding. It didn’t really register as important until I remembered at 10.00pm that this was the road I needed to get to Manchester Airport for 6.00am the next morning.

Don’t. Panic.

11884946_10206404138277794_5457190191245459546_oThe plan had originally been that I would stay at my parents overnight so that my dad (being the champ that he is) could take me to the airport the next day for my flight to Amsterdam. The road closure threw a wrench in the works. This was to be my first solo trip, and the hiccup now left me and my dad pulled over on the side of the road scrambling for a Plan B. In the end I caught the last train to Manchester to arrive at 1.00am, leaving me in the airport overnight to regroup my thoughts. Of course security was closed at this time, so I was left to curl up in a corner on the floor – not comfortable by the way – but it did leave me alert and ready to go when security opened. Naturally I was the first one though; three hours of pining for comfortable sofas had me moving sharpish, and I have had two hours to kill with cat naps.

Now, I’ve travelled before, and I’ve been on a plane before. But never had I done a trip on my own, with no one to meet me at the destination point. So when I landed in Schipol Airport I had to fend for myself. I must have looked like I knew where I was going though, as I was even so bold as to offer assistance to another traveller – a woman in her forties who had asked me for help.

It wasn’t until I got off the tram at my destination stop that I encountered a new problem. Which way? The directions on the slip of paper I clutched  in my sweaty hand said to take a left at the tram stop, but in my confusion I had got myself turned around and now there was no left turning. Cue me aimlessly wandering around the canals of Amsterdam lost, sleepy, hungry, and in desperate need of a wash.

An important lesson I learnt this day? The locals have better places to be and will ignore your attempts to make awkward eye contact in the hopes of receiving assistance; not to be purposefully rude, but because they have lives.

Inter11895159_10206426247750517_1726934406304599304_onal screaming.

I have to give a shoutout to the fella who was busy working hard pushing a dumpster – where to, I don’t know, considering he was pushing it past the gates of Vondelpark to no discernible location. But he took pity on this hapless Brit with a backpack strapped to her and a loo
k of almost grim acceptance on her face. Waving me over, he spread out the map and laid out my path for me. How embarrassed was I when it turns out that I’d been walking in literal circles around the hostel!

Finally arriving safe and sound, I was exhausted, but I now had a sense of achievement for having remained relatively calm throughout my ordeal. Plonking my arse down at a table whilst waiting for the dorm to be cleaned, and helping myself to a bowl of cereal, anticipation settled in. I gazed around in wonder at the other travellers, whose company I would be sharing for the next four days. My first adventure was about to begin.

Moral of the story though? Download Google Maps before going anywhere!

Best,

A Neverland Backpacker

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But… why?

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This is one of the most common questions I’m asked when I tell people that I am a traveller. Why do I travel? Why these places? And why am I running away from the ‘real world’?

My response?

To put it bluntly, why the hell not?

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At 25-years of age, I have a degree which I am doing nothing with, and work in a job that does nothing for me. Lovely people, mind, but the job? Well, it’s just not for me. Now is the time then for me to pack my room into boxes, throw what I can of it into a backpack, and hop on a plane. Unlike some people of my generation, I have zero commitments. I have two sisters who are settled down with their partners and with babies on the way; friends who are married or are getting married or are getting promoted. Me on the other hand? No partner, no mortgage, no nothing. I quite literally have no strings attached and so find myself presented with a fantastic opportunity, one which I’m going to take full advantage of, since I am well aware of my privileged position – I have the chance to change my life through travel, something that is not available to everyone.

So what’s the plan?

A mammoth four-month trek across the Americas – bar South America.

I depart from the UK – my homeland – and land in Vancouver on the 28th August, where the plan is to use ViaRail to get across Canada by the end of September, passing through Jasper, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Quebec City, and Montreal. From here, I intend to cross the border into the USA, switching to the Amtrak service from here on out, until the 11th November when I head down to Costa Rica, from which I will make my way back up north via El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, finishing in Playa del Carmen, Mexico on the 31st December.

Going stag.

IMG_1349This is to be my first solo trip – one that lasts longer than a week anyway – and I hope it to be the first of many.

With so few days left before I leave, I am now tying up some last minute loose ends and checking the days off of the calendar. I suppose until you make a massive change in your life, you don’t really realise the work that you have put into it, and therefore the amount of work that needs to go into it to close that chapter of your life successfully.

I don’t know what this next chapter will bring into my life, but I’m enjoying the anticipation. Good or bad, it will undoubtedly be an experience I enjoy sharing with you.

But that’s it for now though, folks!

Best,

The Neverland Backpacker

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