I seriously started thinking about making this trip about three months ago. Up until then, it wasn’t really on my bucket list (which I don’t have anyway), but it was one of those things that I always thought I’d do some day; I just never knew when.
I guess now is when.
My original plan, after I’d made the mental leap from “maybe I’ll do it some day” to “I’m doing it starting in August”, was to buy a 60-day “system unlimited” railpass and not make any plans at all. I was just going to get up every morning and decide then and there where I’d be going that day. It sounded good at the time to a free spirit like me, but the reality is that if you don’t book ahead, you might not get a seat, and if you don’t get a seat, you might get stuck somewhere you don’t particularly want to be stuck for three or four days until the next train rolls through again. This is the reality of traveling in a service cut-back environment.
So, I backtracked a bit and decided to get the unlimited pass but be more adult about it by at least booking the major segments of the trip, which I did over the course of a few days, both online and on the phone. VIA trains don’t run every day anymore on most of the routes, so it was a bit tricky to figure out not only where I wanted to go, but how long I wanted to stay there. I also wanted to cover as much ground of the VIA system as possible while taking a few side trips to places that VIA used to serve, like Victoria for instance. To do that, I had to plot the major stops from start to finish (Halifax to Halifax, mid-August to mid-October), and then fill in the rest of the stops according to how much time I had and when the trains actually passed through the area.
It was like planning a war campaign. I had hardcopies of maps, calendars and train schedules strategically positioned within easy reach of my laptop, which I kept constantly on and opened to the VIA website. I dug out some unlined paper and old highlighter pens I hadn’t used in years and started scribbling notes and phone numbers and addresses of hostels that were within walking distance of the train stations. I pored over online tourist info and checked Yelp and TripAdvisor comments to find out not only about where I should or shouldn’t go, but also what I should or shouldn’t do if and when I got there. It didn’t help that I wanted to go everywhere and do everything, even if Yelp and TripAdvisor warned against it.
This was getting out of hand.
In my opinion, the best way to deal with an out-of-control bucket wish list is to apply the ice bucket challenge. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, here it is:
My personal ice bucket didn’t come in the form of ice or a bucket but in the hard cold reality of my bank account. The ticket cost had more or less drained it. So, even though I wanted to go everywhere and do everything I could within the 60-day time-frame of the rail pass, I had to keep within a very strict budget.
Interestingly, the reality of my financial limitations actually helped me to focus on what I wanted to do and see the most. The only stipulation to these newly acknowledged limitations was that I not regret not going someplace or not doing something. I didn’t want to hear myself saying after the trip was over: “Gee, I wish I’d gone there…” or “Gee, I wish I’d done that….” In other words, I’d much rather say “I wish I hadn’t done that” than “I wish I had….”
So, against the backdrop of this new and non-negotiable criterion, and within the confines of my humble near-beer budget, I streamlined and honed my trip of a lifetime. I am happy to say that I’m happy with the results thus far. Mind you, I still haven’t left yet, and I could still even cancel the whole thing from start to finish (while only incurring a $50 service charge from VIA), but I hope to God I don’t do that. I’m more excited about this trip than I’ve been about anything for years. I want to see the land, and I want to see it from a train window.
I want to make memories that last a lifetime and beyond.
That is, after all, what traveling is all about.