by Rachel Smith
10 May 2019
Some people love planes. Some love a road trip. But give me a train journey any day.
The compact desk, the cosy cabin, the couch that converts to a bunk at night, the ever-changing scenery outside the window. As a break from your daily routine, it’s a writer’s dream.
And I’m not the first to wish for a writing retreat on a train: in the US, Amtrack started offering a writer’s residency in 2014 following a Twitter conversation by a couple of writers. The company got so many applications that I think they nixed the program in 2017, but I still hold out hope that the Indian Pacific will one day offer something similar.
I’ve done the Indian Pacific twice as a travel writer, back in the day (that’s me by the window) and the 4-day coast-to-coast train journey is epic. I adored those long days chugging through the Nullabor, tapping away on my laptop and enjoying the enforced deadlines of meals in the beautiful dining car… and of course a pre-dinner tipple or two with other passengers in the bar.
Other train journeys I’ve done have been memorable for different reasons: the bone-shaking bumpiness of a Moroccan sleeper train between Tangier and Marrakesh. The impossibly tall mountains through the clear ceiling of the PeruRail Vistadrome, enroute to Macchu Picchu. The eye-watering smokers’ carriage (the only spots left) on a day tripper train through Italy, where we practiced our Italian with the friendliest train passengers I’ve ever met.
One trip I’ll never forget though was when I was sick as a dog with the flu, and I ditched my flight home from Melbourne to Sydney to take a sleeper carriage home instead. I cuddled up under crisp sheets and blankets – and was served Vegemite toast and a cup of tea in bed by the porter as we chugged into Sydney’s Central Station at first light. The best.
Since reading Lonely Planet’s Amazing Train Journeys I’ve realised I still have so many trips on my train travel bucket list: the week-long Trans-Siberian, the three-day Eastern and Oriental Express, the three-day California Zephyr, the two-day Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Banff. Most of these will be saved for when my 4-year-old grows up and it’s just his dad and me, as I’m not sure a kid could appreciate the romance of being stuck in a cosy little cabin for hours on end, writing and watching the scenery go by, and enjoying long leisurely meals in the old-style dining car. But oh! It’s my idea of heaven.
Of course, you don’t have to be technically moving to write in a train carriage – the next best thing is staying in one, and I’ve got AirB’n’B beauties like this one and this one on my mini-break list.
Would you fancy a writing retreat on a train? What’s your idea of the perfect retreat?