Railways. Transcontinental exploration. Life in the slow lane. Nowhere to be but where I am.
Let’s talk about riding the train.
There is a picture of me riding the train somewhere in Kansas around the age of 3 or so. It must have been part of my cognitive development that traveling is key to my survival. I know around that time I had traveled between the Midwest to California a few times. All this travel before I could speak it is only inherent that I haven’t stopped since.
The train did not become my main source of travel until I was 24. I was living in Portland, OR when my best friend called in dire need of my company. The plane tickets between PDX and LAX were astonishingly high and my only option was the train. To say the least I was not disappointed. It had been a 20 year old goal to travel by train.
I boarded the Coast Starlight and my life was changed forever. Before this I had daydreamed about purchasing the 30 day rail pass, but up until this point it was a bit intimidating. After this coastal ride I was determined to travel America by train.
With about 7000 miles under the belt over the last 5 years I have learned a few ways to be comfortable and fully immersed in the experience.
First thing you need is a piece of fabric that is at least your arm span and at least your height. This will serve as your security blanket as well as your scarf, head wrap, a dress, potentially a towel, but again, your blanket for sleeping on the train or napping in a park on a layover. It gets cold on the train and the lights are always dimly on. I can pull this over my head while it still stretches to my toes. Once the poor kid next to me was so cold I threw it over both of us. If you are a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fan you can equate the importance of this fabric to the towel 😉
Pack minimally. I promise you that if you don’t have it with you you will find a way to make due. I’m usually dead broke when I travel, but there is always the option to purchase what you forgot or borrow it from the friend you are staying with. The worst thing to have forgotten was my charger but someone was kind enough to let me borrow theirs. I realize I forgot headphones this trip and the last 3. But I did bring earplugs and I find that even more helpful than music and podcasts. I have regretted bringing too much and have never regretted not bringing enough.
What to pack?
The key to packing your clothes is… and this is coming from a person that once owned over 200 pairs of shoes… staple items!
- 8 underwear (1 fancy lingerie ’cause you never know)
- 1-2 bras
- 4-8 socks
- 6-8 tops (2 long sleeve, 2 short sleeve, 2 tanks -weather determined)
- 1 Jeans
- 1-2 Stretchy pants ( esp. for travel day or sleeping)
- 1 Dress (day to evening)
- 1 Sweater
- 1 Jacket
- 1 bathing suit (you hope there is swimming!)
This will shift with climate and the time of the year, but not by much. I forgot my sweater on this trip, but thank goodness I have my purple fabric to use as a shawl.
As you can see in photo #2 I have packed both my Frye (resoled) ballerinas and a pair of heels because I know I will want to get fancy this trip. I also have my trusted pillow. Another MUST have item. Last night I used my jacket to fill the gap in the seat a bit and the pillow was the key ingredient to a perfect nights sleep. I use bungies to make it smaller.
After the comforts of clothing and train sleeping is taken care of you must get your food in order. You should eat in the dining car at least once. However, I wouldn’t suggest it every time. I love eating and I hate shitty food. If there is one thing I over pack it is food. The white PooBah tote and the grey cooler in photo #1… Food ! The above pic is my menu of all the options I brought. Below is a sample of my decadence.
The black hand bag in both photos #1 and #2 is my most trusted day bag. It can convert to a backpack, it’s not so ugly I can’t carry it into a nice restaurant and it is small enough to not get too heavy. It like my Kanken (the 20 liter front load backpack) is a Fjallraven bag. These two bags are like my two pair of trusted Frye shoes. They are worn in to last all day and compliment each other well.
The black hand bag holds all my valuables. I want to be able to leave my backpack above my seat and have all my precious items next to me at all times. I sleep with this bag pretty under my body. It has my passport, camera, journals and craft bag as pictured above.
Only once did my backpack get taken and that was because the conductor kicked off my seat mate for being drunk and in the shuffle grabbed my bag by accident. I was dumb enough to not put it in the over head, but fortunately some French tourists noticed it was Fjallraven and found me. I retrieved it before the train left the station.
Other than that bump nothing bad has ever happened.
I could go on forever about the train. However I think I covered some of the basics. Just to throw it in though, don’t be afraid to get up and walk around. Get your seat, but spend most of your time in the view car. People are usually there to socialize. If you are not in the mood though they won’t bug you.
Dont be be afraid to ask a nice looking person to watch your things while you run to the restroom or back to your seat.
I have met some very, very wonderful people in this unique public place.
Good luck. XO