One of the best ways to truly see Canada is by train. By traveling with VIA Rail you’re able to truly appreciate the vast distances of this massive country. While it is in my opinion the most romantic way to travel, after 24 hours on a train you can start to feel a little too “seasoned”. Having recently taken several multi day train journeys across Canada with VIA Rail, I thought it would be great to share some of my tips.
1. Pack food
VIA Rail is famous for it’s incredible Dining Cars, their food is second to none! Unfortunately they aren’t located on every train; instead, a Snack/Lounge Car will take it’s place which does serve pre-made meals and offers snacks and beers; however, if you want something a little more healthy than pizza, beer, or a bags of chips, I would suggest making a stop at a grocery store and pick up some fruit or veggie trays. Or for those more adventurous, consider sampling some Canadian Junk Food.
On 2 day journeys this is particularly true. Stops are few and far between, and having something set aside to snack on can make all the difference in your comfort level.
2. Power can be a Commodity
VIA Rail’s cars are for the most part from the 1950’s. Despite their age they’re still comfortable and ride the rails as smooth as ever. But like anything built in that generation, certain things weren’t included off the assembly line that today many feel might be a necessity. For instance, the thought of each person requiring an outlet to power a laptop or charge your phone wasn’t at the front of engineers minds.
Fortunately VIA Rail has outfitted most of the lounge & snack cars with at least a couple outlets for passengers to share, as well as providing each economy seat with an outlet; however, if you travel in the berth section, you may find yourself confused as there are no outlets in this section. Working from the comfort of your berth or watching a movie in bed is pretty much out of the question unless your computer can hold a charge for more than a couple of hours.
Riding in Economy and working is surprisingly comfy so you might be better off going that route should you require to keep up with work. While I can’t say enough good things about VIA Rail, I feel if somebody is going to pay more for a lot of extra comfort, an outlet per bed just makes sense.
3. A few Travel Items to bring
If you’re planning on riding in economy for more than a day, there are a few things I recommend bringing.
- Earplugs – drowning out the noise of children and the occasional loud train whistle can make for a better sleep.
- A good book or two – what better way to kill time on a multi day train ride.
- Baby Wet Naps – Feeling a bit gross in economy after going a day without a shower can make travel quite uncomfortable. Keep your face, hands, or body clean with the help of these trusty fellows.
- A pillow or Pillowcase stuffed with some clothes – Sleeping in economy can be difficult, having a neck pillow, or a pillowcase stuffed with some clothes can give your neck some extra support on these long train rides.
- Toiletries – such as toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc
- A Change of Clothes
- A camera
- A laptop – if you plan on working or watching movies on the train, a laptop is a must.
4. Stay Connected without Wifi
Many people are shocked to find out that VIA Rail doesn’t have Wifi on all trains. Given the remote areas that the train goes through, it’s fairly easy to understand why that is. While it would be nice if Wifi was as prominent on trains in the rest of Canada as it is in the Corridor (Windsor Ontario to Quebec), there is an alternative.
If you have a smartphone that allows tethering (iPhones, Androids, newer blackberries, etc) along with a plan that allows it, you should be able to stay connected and quickly grab your emails as you pass through a region with 3G. Sometimes these hot zones can be quite small, so play it smart. Grab what you need online and then leave the less important things (i.e. updating Facebook status) until you’ve got what you’re after.
Consider phoning your cell phone provider to temporarily upgrade your data usage for the month that you’ll be traveling with VIA Rail. I had my plan temporarily upgraded to include 6gb of Data, unlimited long distance, and all the other bells and whistles you could really need, all for under 90 dollars a month. As soon as the travels were done, I called them up and went back to my regular cell phone plan.
5. Get Comfy and Meet your fellow passengers
Two days is a long time, and while you may plan on finishing a book, don’t be afraid to wander to the snack car to grab a beer and converse with some fellow travellers. I’m always surprised by how easy it is on the train. Socializing while being transported from one place to another isn’t typically done; however, VIA Rail doesn’t just break the mould, it completely shatters it. Where on planes you’re encouraged to stay seated at all times, and bus’s tend to be rather quiet, VIA Rail is fine with people walking around. Stretching your legs and meeting new people is half of the experience. You’ll find that you’ll meet some interesting people from all walks of life that may end up being a new friend by the time you get to the next station.
7. Ask Questions
The staff on VIA Rail are known for being some of the friendliest people, if you find yourself starring out a window, asking yourself “What am I looking at?” – stop an employee and ask them. They ride these routes countless times, and most have a superb understanding of the routes the train takes.
Part of the beauty of train travel, is that your brain isn’t required to be “on” at all times. There will be times when you’ll think “Well, I dont have to worry about the next stop, as my stop isn’t in another 20 odd hours”. Once you’ve come to terms with the speed of trains, you’ll soon realize that it’s okay to shut off for a few hours. Catch up on sleep. Catch up on a book. Travel doesn’t always have to be “Go! Go! Go!”. With the gentle rocking of the train, the rhythmic clicks caused by sections of rail, the distant sound of a train whistle, you can’t be held to blame for nodding off, so enjoy it!
Special thanks to the folks at VIA Rail for having me aboard their train and giving me access to shoot photos & video.