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.
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.
The Neverland Backpacker