Many travelers are making the shift from air travel to train travel as a more sustainable and enjoyable alternative to flying. Train routes offer a less stressful and more scenic journey compared to air travel. While flying may be cheaper on average than taking the train, especially with the dominance of low-cost airlines on many routes, the environmental impact of flying is significantly higher.
As the world seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, trains present a viable option for both short and long-haul journeys. And what better companion for a more sustainable travel experience than an eco-friendly, sustainably made WAYKS backpack?
I took my WAYKS Day Pack Original on a cross-country rail trip from Montana, USA to Washington, DC. The name of the train that runs from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois is the “Empire Builder.” It runs through Whitefish, Montana, just a few miles from where I grew up.
A 50+-hour journey (when the trains are on time) has the potential to be either a nightmare or a bucket-list travel experience that forces you to slow down and enjoy the road. There are several items that you can pack inside your WAYKS backpack to help enhance a trip like this, no matter where your long-haul train is taking you.
Here are the 10 essentials I bring with me to make long-distance train travel a breeze.
1. WAYKS DAY PACK, LEAVING FROM WHITEFISH, MONTANA
The WAYKS Day Pack is the best companion for a trip like this because the rolltop makes it easy to access train essentials, which no doubt will come in handy all along the route. I can fit two water bottles inside, and there’s just enough organization for me to keep track of all my small items that I will reach for along the way, sometimes in the dark. Although it holds a lot, it’s not a bulky backpack width-wise, and I don’t have to worry about whacking people with it when I’m climbing the stairs of the train or walking through the aisles. I attached some webbing to the outside for added grab points to make it easier to hoist to the storage areas above my seat.
2. TAKE A SIP FROM A HYDROFLASK WATER BOTTLE AT EAST GLACIER, MONTANA
As the train chugs out of Whitefish, Montana, some of the most beautiful scenery on the entire trip passes by outside the window, and the observation car invites you to take it all in. I saw a huge elk, and the other side of the car saw a black bear galloping through the rocky mountain front beside Glacier National Park. It’s important to start the trip off well-hydrated. I always carry Hydroflask water bottles. The huge 40oz bottle somehow fits perfectly in the water bottle side pocket of both the Original and Compact WAYKS Day Packs.
Having a large bottle that keeps my water cold for hours is great for a trip like this, and the smaller one is the perfect size for special drinks like coffee, matcha, or hot chocolate. You’ll be able to save so much plastic by relying on a reusable water bottle like this because you won’t need to buy plastic water bottles on the train. And I don’t mind carrying a heavier bottle on a train trip like this because I’m not doing a lot of walking.
3. AIR PODS PROVIDE A SOUNDTRACK FOR THE RIDE AT MALTA, MONTANA
The train lurches across Montana’s “hi-line,” the northernmost route in the state, traversing east to west, making stops in such remote places as Malta and Sidney, tiny farm and oil towns I’d rarely have the chance to see if not for this train path. Much of the route up there has spotty cell service, and there’s no wifi on the train. I like to take the chance to unplug from the news of the world, but I love listening to music while watching the western landscape blur past.
Apple Air Pods are great for playing your train soundtrack (Orville Peck, anyone?) as well as doubling as a private alarm in case you fall asleep and need to wake up at a certain time to not miss your stop. The best home for my airpods is the furry hidden pocket at the top of the WAYKS Day Pack. I always know where they are and that they’re protected in the soft secret zipped pocket.
4. COVER UP WITH THE TOM BIHN WOOL CLOTH IN MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA
By dusk, the train will have reached North Dakota, and by the time it’s rolling out of Minot it’s about time to get some sleep. Although the coach seats on the Empire Builder are spacious and recline enough to allow for some reasonable rest, the large Tom Bihn Shepherd’s Wool Utility Cloth makes the coach seat just a little more cozy.
The blanket is a warm, tightly woven fabric made from yarn from non-mulesed sheep, and there are often some really beautiful color options to choose from. It folds down to take up just a little space in your Day Pack, and it’s easy to clean and maintain. When I’m carrying my backpack around I use the blanket as extra protection for my camera, wrapping it around the body. When this blanket comes out on the train, you can relax just a little more and melt into your seat for the long night ahead.
5. ACTUALLY GET SOME SLEEP WITH THE TEMPUR-SLEEP EYE MASK IN GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA
The train makes a couple stops in the dead of night, and to avoid disturbance it can be really helpful to cover your eyes, especially if you have a window seat where light from station and streetlights may stream in. The Tempur-Sleep Mask blocks out all the light and contours to your face for a comfortable fit. I like it because the 3D eye-shaped covering is hollow, so it doesn’t squish your eyelids or eyelashes down. I won’t take an overnight train without this mask!
6. FRESHEN UP WITH ECO-FRIENDLY TOOTHY TABS IN SAINT CLOUD, MINNESOTA
By the time the train rumbles into Saint Cloud, if you’re lucky enough to wake up in time you might see a beautiful sunrise peeking over the horizon (I took this train in late September, so the days were still pretty long). To freshen up your morning breath, “toothy tabs” could be your new best friend. These solid toothpaste capsules are perfect for trips where you don’t want to carry disposable plastics or liquids, and you want to be able to plan for exactly the number of days you’ll be on the road.
Toothy tabs make it easy to pack because you can count out the number of times you’ll be brushing your teeth and take the requisite amount of toothpaste with you. Think for a moment about how many tubes of toothpaste you’ve used up over the course of your life, and how they will all probably outlive you due to their materials and difficulty associated with recycling them.
It took me several days to get used to the concept of dry toothpaste tablets, but now I won’t go back to gel toothpaste. I’ve now spent two years using toothy tabs and my dentist said my teeth have never been cleaner. You can also buy tabs with fluoride inside, which could be an added benefit. Though they’re still relatively new, these are some of the most versatile, eco-friendly toothpaste options available.
7. KEEP A RECORD WITH A TRAVEL JOURNAL IN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
I love collecting papers from my travels - tickets, brochures, postcards - anything that will help me keep a memory of the journey. A tiny Parisian journalmaker called Louise Carmen makes perfect travel notebooks. I can easily stuff my papers inside the "Roadbook" and carry them with me in my Day Pack.
We’re almost at the end of the Empire Builder route, which terminates in Chicago. From there we have to switch to the next train, the “Capitol Limited.” I grab the small green route card that the conductor passed out to each seat when we boarded to take as a small memento.
8. WASH YOUR FACE WITH SOLID CLEANSERS IN CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
In Chicago, there are a few hours to wander around before transferring to the Capitol Limited. It’s the perfect opportunity to wash your face and gaze up at the neoclassical architecture of the “Grand Hall.”
My favorite bar soaps for travel are a duo kit from Drunk Elephant - a cleansing bar and an exfoliating bar that make me feel clean and refreshed for the next leg of the journey. I found an aluminium soap container with a drip tray that’s perfect for carrying them and now I can’t live without it. Although I’m not washing my hair on this train trip, I also carry my Seanik Lush solid shampoo bar in a round lush aluminium case and this setup works great for me. The aluminium cases weigh next to nothing and they don’t rust. With these and a simple microfiber towel I feel refreshed and ready for the next leg of the journey.
9. SLIP INTO A SUN HOODY AT HARPER’S FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA
They're not just for hiking! Sometimes I feel like I need a barrier between my head and the seats or walls of the train. A light layer like a sun hoody serves this purpose perfectly. It’s easy to layer with different clothing items, and it’s not restrictive at all. This is an easy item to pack and it’s a great travel pajama shirt.
10. COVER WITH A BUFF IN WASHINGTON, DC
As the train rolls into its terminus, Washington DC, the last thing I do is slide a Buff onto my head. A bonus hack: this is also a really useful tool to use while brushing your teeth on the train to keep your hair out of the way. It’s a sporty look, but I always feel better getting my hair out of my face and not worrying about styling it before departing the train and getting on with my day. After sitting on a train for literally days it can be nice to have a hat or other head covering until I get a chance to take a much-deserved shower.
As the travel landscape shifts towards sustainability, long-distance train journeys emerge as a compelling alternative to air travel, providing a stress-free and scenic experience. Hopefully this mini guide will inspire you to consider trying out a train route instead of a flight for your next trip. Sure, it takes longer, but you’ll discover hidden corners of the world up close at eye level, places that most people just fly over.
With the WAYKS Day Pack and mindful packing, your essentials can enhance both your comfort and eco-consciousness, helping you have a richer, more immersive travel experience. What are some train travel essentials you always pack?
Author: Hannah Wilson