Solo Travel and the Long-distance Train

by Gray Cargill on August 31, 2011

Ever wondered what it would be like to go solo on a long-distance train trip? Wonder no more. Today’s guest blogger, Brooke Schoenman, outlines what train travel can be like for both the solitary–and the sociable–solo traveler.


Brooke on Indian Pacific Train

Brooke on Indian Pacific Train

Out of necessity, I started traveling solo, as many of us do. After several jaunts and jumps to different parts of the world, I knew what I liked about solo travel – the freedom and the ability to do what pleases me without having to worry about another person’s preferences.

That said, I also know what I dislike, at times, by being a solo traveler – the loneliness, the lack of comforting companionship in awkward situations, and just someone to share the adventure with. It’s a fine line between being comfortable and being thrown into the deep end with no paddle (or companion) to latch onto for help. Because of this, there are some situations I’m actually a bit apprehensive about entering into for fear of it being unbearable for a solo traveler like myself – someone who loves their space and yet craves a bit of interaction every now and then.

Just a few months ago, I traversed the entire country of Australia by riding on the Indian Pacific Train, a solo journey I was originally a little nervous about doing alone. Luckily, I discovered that you can get the best of both worlds riding a long-distance train. The ride gave me what my solo-savvy and my sociable sides of the brain both needed to make it enjoyable.

Indian Pacific Train

Indian Pacific Train

Sociable: You get to meet new people from around the country and globe.

Whether they are your carriage mates, your seat neighbor or just acquaintances you met in the dining car, there are plenty of other people to meet, chat with or just simply “be” around. It makes those lonesome solo travel moments seem less of an issue, and who knows? You might meet a new best friend or two.

Solo: When you need your space, you can get up and leave.

The beauty of train travel is the ability to get up and walk around to other sections of the train. You aren’t confined to your seat as you are on a bus or a plane; there is no seatbelt sign that becomes illuminated at the most random and worst times, like when you’re bursting to use the lavatory. On a train, you can explore by heading into different environments, such as the food carriage or the lounge carriage. Find a spot, and enjoy your peace.

Sociable: You might be able to find dining partners instead of dining alone.

As a solo traveler, one of the hardest things for me to do is dine alone. I have succeeded in getting it to a point of manageability, but if I had the option, I would most likely not want to be spending my time eating alone, especially when I am surrounded by tables of people jovially getting along during their dinner.

Solo: On the other hand, eating alone was quite common.

There is no need to feel awkward sitting there eating your dinner alone because chances are that several other people are doing the same. It’s comforting to look around and see that you are not the odd one out.

Inside Indian Pacific Train

Inside the Indian Pacific Train

Sociable: You can meet short-term travel companions.

Most of the people on a long-distance train ride, like the Indian Pacific in Australia, are doing it for the same reason – the travel. They will most likely be wanting to explore and learn about the journey and hop out when possible for an overnight or whistle stop tour. These are great people to befriend so that you have a bit of that social interaction now and then.

Solo: When the trip ends, you can go your separate ways.

You know when you take up traveling with a friend, only to realize half-way through the trip that you really just want to be alone? Oh, yes, it can be a bit awkward trying to explain to someone that you just need a bit of time to do your own thing. That’s why taking up friends in short-term situations, such as when riding on a long-distance train is so great–you know there is an end in sight and there is no awkwardness when that end comes along.

I’m generally an introvert, so I have a tendency to get lost in my own mind and ideas, which is perfect for long stretches involving transport. On the train, I found it especially nice as I had hours and hours on end to let my mind wander as my eyes gazed upon the passing landscape out the window. If you have a book, a laptop, a pen and paper, you can let your solo self have at it.

Although it is nice to know you probably won’t have to be completely alone if you don’t want to be.

Brooke Schoenman is an expat in Australia that spends about 80% of the time traveling solo even though she would prefer to travel 100% with her boyfriend. She dreams about riding long-distance trains, like the Indian Pacific and the Trans-Siberian, and is hoping to complete the latter next year. You can follow Brooke on both Facebook and Twitter @WhyGoAustralia.

Gray September 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

I agree, Christine. I think short spurts of shared travel are okay. But then it’s nice to part ways so you can do what you want to do. The best travel companions are the ones who get that, and who are independent enough to break away from you for periods of time to do their own thing while you do yours. Then meet back up and compare notes and share stories.

GRRRL TRAVELER September 24, 2011 at 8:27 am

Nice post. That gray line of solo vs. sociable is easy in some cases, but a hard straddle in others. It’s the one you mentioned about finding it awkward telling a person you’re traveling with that you need some time to do your own thing. I notice I have a tendency to try to acclimate to the person I’m traveling with and this throws my solo/independent self off at times. Like I started eating more meals cause the girl I was traveling with was always hungry.. so I’d get hungry too! (which is never my norm) Short spurts of shared travel always seems to work best.

Gray September 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm

@Keith – It’s never too late!

@Renee and @Katie – There is no “should” when traveling solo. That’s the beauty of it. You can be as sociable as you want, or keep to yourself.

Katie September 21, 2011 at 3:46 pm

“Sometimes, I think I should be more sociable and talk to other strangers to break the ice, but to be honest, I’m not interested most of the time. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s akin to reading the newspaper when someone sits next to you.”

I am exactly the same and feel a bit guilty or rude if I don’t interact a bit with strangers. Somedays I just want to keep to myself and do everything possible to avoid having to talk.

Renee King September 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

I’ve noticed that even when traveling with someone, I enjoy my alone time. Sometimes, I think I should be more sociable and talk to other strangers to break the ice, but to be honest, I’m not interested most of the time. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s akin to reading the newspaper when someone sits next to you. You simply enjoy your own company at times. I look forward to taking a solo trip via train…sounds like fun.

Keith Taylor September 1, 2011 at 5:35 am

Great article. I’m always impressed when I meet solo travellers – I’ve never been able to bring myself to go it alone, and as a result I’ve missed out on a few amazing opportunities.

Brooke, WhyGo Australia September 1, 2011 at 12:17 am

Thanks so much for letting me share my solo travel train experience 🙂

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