Slow is a very relative term. In the past, traveling by train was considered fast, compared to traveling with horses or on foot even. Now, it’s considered slow, compared to airplanes, that have become such a common mode of transport nowadays.
A lot of people would have thought me crazy or stupid for taking the train to ride from Minneapolis in the center of the United States, all the way to Portland, Oregon on the westcoast. The whole ride took about 38 hours – not counting the different amounts of delay – and almost 3000 kilometers. That sounds like a lot. And it is! But then, time is also relative.
When you’re studying to become a doctor, it takes years, possibly more than a decade. When you hold your breath, one minute seems like forever. So why did I choose to take all of that time to spend it on a train instead of taking an airplane and be much faster?
Well, my main reason was to experiment and test out alternatives to flying. Which distances in which area can be traveled at which cost in time and money, with which level of comfort? You might even say, that I took the train for purely research-based reasons.
But that would not be the complete answer. For me, it was appealing to my curiosity, to see more of the country I was in at the moment. It was allowing me to take time for just myself. No internet to distract me, no people calling me, and if I chose so, not even people I would talk to. So for me, it was also an island. A space to breathe. A time where I didn’t NEED to DO anything. Where I didn’t NEED to BE anywhere. My own little bubble or cave. But with an interesting and ever-changing langscape.
So for me, it was not losing time, but gaining it. And gaining so much more with it!
On my ride to the westcoast I was happily keeping to myself. Creating my little bubble of taking time to watch the landscape floating by, changing slowly but steadily. Doing different kinds of writing work that I had planned to do. And allowing my thoughts to just wander and be inspired. Just enjoying time for myself. And marveling at the differences of trains and train connections between the U.S. and Europe. How the train here was going so much slower than in Europe, but also the people being more relaxed. The space for each seat as well as the double seats being huge and almost feeling like I was in first class. And to have one train that went such a long distance without me having to change trains at all the whole time. At the same time marvelling at the completely empty train station some hours before my train – and only the second of two trains that day – would arrive. Something you would never find in (bigger) train stations in Europe.
The ride back was filled with more connections and more observations. Knowing much better what to expect, I was more relaxed on that second trip. Already at the train station, waiting for the train that was about an hour delayed, I observed other waiting passengers, connecting with them through eye contact, smiles, or simple acts of kindness. And for some reason, one woman had caught my eye. I had observed her for some time, writing and checking or reading a book at the same time. And something inside me told me that she must be a writer. Not wanting to disturb her work, I had to leave that question open. For now.
Getting on the train, all passengers were assigned to their sections of the train, depending on where they would get off. And for some miraculous reason, I met that same woman in the same wagon I was staying in! So I saw one more opportunity to have my curious mind be soothed and my question being answered. But she was still very much focused on her work, and I felt my options slipping away – not knowing when she would get off.
Having some experience with my excited kind of curiosity, I knew that I needed to trust and let go. So that’s what I did. So, sure enough, I was finally given my gift. Over the same experience of walking along the path from one wagon to the next and both observing all the people sleeping in their own very unique way on either one or two chairs, with footrests used or not, and backrests put back or not, we were able to connect. We could talk about our observations, and I finally had the chance to ask my question, if she was a writer. And she was!
Having only recently fully embraced that I was a writer myself and that I would focus on the book that has been brewing inside of me for some time now, I was so excited to find and be able to talk to a fellow writer. To me, it’s just always fascinating to talk to people who are similarly observant about their surroundings as I am. And to see and talk to others who already jumped and had written and published a book! Connecting with likeminded people on a somewhat similar path has been a constant source of inspiration, energy and courage. It was the same reason why I had started my podcast about people who follow their heart (currently only in German, but will most likely switch to English or alternate at some point).
Later on, I also connected with a man sitting in front of me, who told me fascinating stories about her daughter and granddaughters choosing or switching to careers that are still unusual for a woman – Like building houses or being a mechanical engineer – which is something I can relate to very well, having worked in IT security for quite some time. And he told me about his connection to nature, and his other daughter running a farm and her kids loving it when he was taking them out to go camping and learning outdoor skills.
Both conversations showed me that consciously choosing either a mode of transportation – or really any location – that is out of the mainstream, will draw in likeminded people. It’s much easier to find a common ground and something more than just the location or the weather connecting you. And the train created this for me – and possibly many other passengers.
And even the fact, that apparently the trains are always late, was not only creating some difficulties for some people, but also was creating a common ground to easily start a conversation with strangers.
So slow travel – like this time on the train, but also biking or hiking or other similar modes of traveling – allows for more connection with likeminded people, and creates a richness of experience on so many levels that you will remember for much longer than any plane ride you ever took.