Travel Tuesday: Why I Love Trains

In addition to posts about lionfish, I’m including some regarding my experience in the Florida Keys. Enjoy! 

There’s something a little bit magical about trains.

It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s something about trains that doesn’t make me abhor traveling long distances. Other forms of transportation encourage gritted teeth and a racing pulse with the pressure of getting ahead- whether that’s switching lanes on the highway to get in front of that lumbering tractor trailer, or scooting in front of that guy with a million bags at the airport security checkpoint, our minds are programmed to hurry through the transportation process as quickly as possible. Gone are the days of glamorous air travel and leisurely Sunday drives- who do you know who actually enjoys the transportation process anymore? Cars and planes are simply vessels to get to our destination.

But trains…trains are different. Now I’m not talking about commuter rails or subways- I mean traditional, long distance passenger locomotives, the kind with dining cars and conductors. Picture the ones from children’s storybooks or old movies; gleaming machines that creep through the countryside like great beasts.

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I thought I knew what train travel was like. After all, I’d ridden trains plenty of times back and forth to school over holiday breaks. I’d always invest in a few good snacks and would use the time to huddle up and get some work done. I enjoyed it well enough, mostly because it was a much better alternative to driving that distance by myself. But last week I discovered what real train travel is like when I boarded the Auto Train in Lorton, Virginia for the seventeen-hour trek to Sanford, Florida. In my own little roomette, I spent hours reading, working, and watching at the east coast of the United States drifted by my window. I dined on smoked salmon and seasoned vegetables, topped off with a hearty ice cream sundae. And after it all, I fell asleep to the steady rhythm of pumping wheels and the sight of small, lit train towns outside.

The real beauty of train travel is this: from the moment you step off the platform into that great metal car, you sacrifice all control of the trip. For some travelers, this might be unsettling, but I think it’s rather beautiful. No amount of scheming or frustration will make an ounce of difference in your arrival time. You just have to trust that the train will get there when it gets there, and you are simply along for the ride. There’s nothing to do but settle in and peer out the window at the passing countryside. If you were on a plane, you’d see nothing but clouds and distant skyline. If you were in a car, your eyes would be confined to the road below and bumper in front. But trains give you a ticket to experience sections of the country that you may never have seen otherwise. The land passes by the window like an elegant motion picture, and you are one of the select few lucky enough to see it. As the world passes by, the steady, rhythmic motion of the tracks makes you pause, if only for a moment, and breathe.

Traveling on a train is truly an experience, not just a vessel to deliver you at your destination. They add a touch of luxury in a world where people universally dread the hassles of travel and therefore tolerate it only as a means to an end. And although I’ll quickly return to the necessary car trips and flights, I’ll always view train travel as bit of a treat.

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