Train Tips for the Economy Rider

I have now been on this train for three nights and two days. I only have one more night to go before I reach Vancouver, so I feel like I pretty much have this whole train thing down pat. Although, something happened to me yesterday while we were stopped in Saskatoon. That experience made me realize I should write a list of tips for those who are going to be travelling in economy on The Canadian as well, or travelling for long-haul distances by train in general. If you’re curious about what happened in Saskatoon, it’s #3 on the list.

Tips for Economy riders on The Canadian:

  1. Bring a decent pillow and blanket. This is imperative. I’ve been using a coat for a blanket and let me tell you, it sucks. The inflatable pillow I got from MEC on the other hand has been saving my neck for days.
  2. Bring food other than granola bars, almonds and apples. You’ll tire of it quickly and will resort to the “sandwiches” for sale on board. I spent $5 on a ham and cheese sandwich today. Not only did that one sandwich have the same number of calories and fat as a hamburger, but it was prepackaged and didn’t expire until November. That’s just wrong. Our train has a toaster and hot water available for riders to use. Wish I had known that before I left!
  3. Don’t use the onboard bathroom while the train is in a major station stop. The train refuels and gets a water refill during this time so the toilet will not flush. I learned this the hard way earlier today. I’m not one to leave even paper in the bowl, so I was forced to stay in the bathroom for ten minutes before the damn toilet could flush again. Pain in the ass. Yes, this may be sort of gross to some of you, but you’d rather know and save yourself the embarrassment, right?
  4. On a related note, refill your water bottle after these refilling stops. The water will be fresher and colder. Somewhere between Winnipeg and Saskatoon the water took on a funky taste and smell. Not a good thing to have in your Nalgeen. It festers.
  5. Take note of the sleeping positions you’re most comfortable in. I’ve been lucky and have had at least two seats to stretch across during this trip. Believe me, knowing what makes you comfortable will save you many headaches (and neck aches). Plus, you’ll become a pro at sleeping in a chair in no time.
  6. Make friends. I can be very introverted at times but having a constant companion to talk to on this trip has made it more comforting. It also reduces the cabin fever you may experience.
  7. If you’re a fast reader bring more than one book (or an e-reader). I was only able to pack one novel as my bag was stuffed and I finished it by the end of the first day. My other two books back at home are mocking me for leaving them behind.
  8. Create a playlist for your journey. Not only will it keep you entertained but every time you’ll hear those songs afterwards it’ll remind you of your time away. You can do as I did and chose a theme for your song selections (Canadian musicians in my case), or just gather your favourites. Music will definitely help the trip regardless though, so make sure to bring some.
  9. Become one with the train. Similar to how a sailor would develop their “sea legs”, get your “train legs” (anyone who is a regular rider of the TTC or other subway system will know what I mean when I say this). This is especially helpful when you’re trying to wash your hands in the bathroom. I now have a bruise on my hand from a quick jerk the train made. I overcompensated my attempt to balance and basically punched the tap. So graceful.
  10. Be trusting but not naive. You can leave your items at your seat and nothing will happen. Honestly, you’re all on the same train. How would a thief get away? However, if you do wander don’t leave your shit lying around to advertise what valuables you have with you. Be smart.
  11. Sleep as much as you can. Just like a car ride will soothe a cranky baby, the train does the same to cooped-up adults. You probably won’t have to try hard for this one. Even the train’s whistle lulls me to sleep now. You’ll get so used to the movement and rhythm that you will be able to tell the difference between the train slowing down to let a freight train pass and an actual station stop. Sleeping helps pass the long-hauls and will energize you for when you get to your destination.
  12. Be courteous. Keep the aisle clear, don’t play your music on your headphones too loud, don’t talk too loud during early/late hours of the day, keep your area tidy, etc. It’s common sense. You don’t want to piss off the people you’re stuck on a train with for 4,200 kilometres.
  13. If you have an iPhone, Personal Hotspot is your friend. There isn’t any wifi on the train but if you get cell reception you can turn your phone into a router and hook up your laptop. It’s amazing. This may also be a feature on other smart phones, but alas I’ve never owned one so I’m in the dark about those. In fact, I only learned about this feature on my own phone the night I was leaving, but it has saved me during this trip (I need to give a shout out to my boy Chuck who showed this feature to me. You da best!).
  14. Bring a smaller bag with the items that you’d like to keep handy packed in it. I’ve been keeping my big backpack up in the overhead luggage rack and my smaller bag at my feet. It makes for easy access and saves you from having to climb up every time you need something.
  15. Us lowly economy riders do not have access to the showers. Bring baby wipes and dry shampoo. And deodorant.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. I hope this helps any possible future riders. Believe me, some of these things I wish I knew beforehand. I hope this helps you on your own train ride.


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