Train Trips = Strong Memories
We caught up with Georgetown University senior, Seattle-native and Amtrak fan Tucker Cholvin to hear why this undergrad is a strong believer that train time is time well spent (and enjoyed). After two cross-country trips, Tucker has first-hand experience and thoughts on the benefits on long distance travel, as well as a few tips for making the most of your journey:
Amtrak: What inspired you to take a long distance train trip?
Tucker: When I was 15 and started wanting to do things around Seattle by myself, or go places that my father didn’t particularly want to drive me to, he encouraged me to take the bus. I took buses, light rail, anything anywhere I could, and I wanted to see how far I could take them. I discovered that Amtrak ran trains down the coast from Seattle to Los Angeles, and this immediately became my 16-year old pipe dream. So I tucked it away into the list of things that I vowed to accomplish one day. When I found myself in San Diego a few years later, I knew I had to do it, so I booked a ticket from San Diego to Seattle. Before I got on the train I was pretty sure that I was going to be miserable, because I was visualizing a 40-hour plane ride. But I felt I had to do it because I was wedded to my teenage dream. What I found instead was a completely new way to travel, and one that I’ve totally fallen in love with.
What struck you as you traveled from Washington, D.C. to Chicago? From Chicago to Portland?
Train trips make really strong memories. On the Capitol Limited from DC to Chicago, the train wound alongside the rivers and most of the time the view was just trees. But occasionally, the train would cross a bridge over the river and a whole new view would open up for a split second before it was gone. As we went over one bridge, I could see all the way up the river to another bridge, and at the base of it there were some people. I could see their faces turn to look at the train, and it was amazing because we had fallen into their reverie, something completely serene. And then the train crossed the bridge and they disappeared. It’s a bit tacky to say, but it was so profoundly poetic. I never had time to take a photo, and I’ll never forget it.
From Chicago to Portland, I traveled with a friend on that trip, and we joked a lot that the only way we would make it through North Dakota and Montana was by sedating ourselves. But for both of us, those legs of the trip turned out to be some of the best parts of the trip. It’s like taking a train across the Moon in some parts–it goes on forever, it’s completely desolate, and really beautiful for that reason. It was a chance to see a part of the country that few Americans ever see, and in no particular hurry. That’s luxury.
What are some of your traveling tips?
I am very proud of how I have worked this down to a science. The essentials: earplugs, neck pillow, small blanket, eye mask (preferably one that says ‘DIVA’ or something embarrassing on the front), and comfortable clothes. This is also super embarrassing, but I have also gotten very good at washing my hair on the train. All I need is a small towel, a large water bottle, and some shampoo. People can and will judge me, I’m sure, but it makes me feel great. The real luxury item for the train is an electric water heater. The cafe will usually give you free hot water, but this makes things so much easier. I plug it in at whatever table I’m at in the observation car, and then all day I make instant coffee, tea, oatmeal, instant soup, whatever just needs water. It’s amazing. I’m told that you can also hard-boil eggs in one of those bad boys, but I’ve never been that bold. Beyond the functional tips for the train: bring everything you’ve been meaning to read, write, or think about for the past few months and shut your phone off. You’ll be amazed, and you’ll be a smarter, happier person when you get off the train.
What else do you think people should know about long distance train travel?
I think people get hung up on this idea of travel of just being transported from A to B by whatever means is most convenient. The thing about train travel is that it is actually travel in its most essential form. You don’t just step on and step off. You take a journey. I’m bordering dangerously on cliché here, but I think that the value of actual travel is what people misunderstand about train travel. It’s an experience. It’s something that moves you in a way that your five-hour flight from LA to New York is never going to move you. So I always tell my friends to take the plunge and if they hate it they can delete me on Facebook or get their rage out on my any way they like. Funnily enough, they never have to.