This summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel across Canada by train (all the details here).
Before that experience, I had only ridden a train once or twice on a very short ride. Needless to say, I was grossly unprepared for the journey that laid ahead. I had done some research but realized that the web didn’t offer much in terms of advice especially since most of the information was centered around train travel in Europe or America. Hello, what about us Canadians?!
I was committed to making a simple and efficient guide to help my fellow Canadians and/or foreigners ride the rails with as much ease as possible. That way you won’t make the same mistakes I did!
Before I start, it’s important to mention that my guide is tailored for train travel aboard the VIA Rail Canada which is the main train company here in Canada. Also, this guide applies to long train journeys (more than 24 hours) as well as economy class.
Before the journey
Pack a carry-on
This may sound obvious but make sure to put extra attention when packing this carry-on. Unlike a plane ride, a long-haul train ride will take 2x or 3x the time. Make sure you are plenty prepared for multiples days without a shower.
The ultimate train carry-on must include:
- Toiletries (toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant,etc.)
- Change of clothes for 2 days (if space is an issue, at least pack a change of underwear and shirts)
- Baby Wipes (awesome to freshen up)
- Toilet paper (although toilet is supplied on the train, I always bring some just in case)
- Warm clothes/blanket (no matter the season, the train is always freezing at night so make sure to bring those extra layers – if space is an issue, blankets are sold on the train for 5$)
- Travel pillow + eye mask + earplugs (this is the trifecta for train travel, you’ll thank me when you are unbothered by the uncomfortable headrests, the blaring lights, and the background noise/chatter)
- Slippers (cold feet are a real issue at night on the train so make sure to come prepared, or at least bring some thick socks)
- High-calorie foods (i.e. dry oatmeal, bars, bread, and spreads, etc.—try to stick to nonperishables)
Download the VIA Rail mobile app
Yes, make sure to have the app downloaded on your phone before you embark on your journey.
It is great because it;
- keeps all your bookings organized. All there is left to do is show the QR code to the agents once you board to validate your entry.
- tracks your train in real time. I found it helpful because long journeys = long delays, so it’s nice to see when you’ll get to your destinations (the original departure/arrival time written on your tickets isn’t always reliable.)
To be on the safe side, I always make sure to screenshot my QR codes, in case I don’t have access to internet/network when boarding.
Download your favorite movies/series
When you travel across Canada by train, you will meet incredible like-minded people and that’s awesome, you should strive to do that! But on those long journeys with sometimes 10-15 hours without a network, having other options can be nice.
If you happen to bring your laptop/tablet on board, then downloading a few movies/series could be a good idea for those moments when you want to be by yourself/can’t sleep at night. If you own a Netflix account, they recently started allowing users to download content for offline streaming so that’s perfect!
During the journey
Wake up early!
As they say, the early bird gets the worm! The ratio of passengers to bathrooms is 100 to 1. So yeah, they are pretty much busy all the time and it can be a real hassle at peak periods like mornings and evenings. I would suggest waking up at 6:00 am to beat the crowds and take your time getting ready without having someone constantly knocking on the door.
Take advantage of the dome car
The dome car offers panoramic views of the surroundings. People often went there to socialize, play board games and watch the sunsets. Make sure to hit it up a few times during the journey!
Avoid spending money on the train
Let me tell you, this one is difficult. You will be tempted by the warm food being served in the dining cars and suddenly the oatmeal you brought with you won’t sound as appealing. But try your best not spend copious amounts of money on the train because it adds up fast! (and the food offered on board is way overpriced)
Take lots of photos
No matter what train route you take, be sure to take lots of photos. Canada has so much to offer in terms of landscapes and wildlife that you’ll want to capture everything.
Once all the essentials are taken care of, then it’s time to have fun and enjoy yourself! Train travel is more than just a mode of transportation, it truly is a unique experience so make sure to soak it all up and make great memories.
Be sure to pin it for later!