There is a saying that goes about how it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. Well, whoever came up with that saying has probably never been on a long train ride in a foreign country. Alone.
On a recent solo trip to Hokkaido in Japan, I spent almost every day on a train. Most journeys take about two hours to get to my intended destinations. On day One, it was exciting to see the view from the train. Then as the day progresses, I realised that it was going to take more than just a stunning view to keep me from feeling bored in the train.
Water and food
This is a no-brainer. It’s not hard to get a bottle of tea or a sandwich before boarding the train as convenience stores are everywhere in Japan. You can even get them at the train station say like… 10 minutes before your train departs.
The trick is to simply be prepared. There are days where you might wake up late and end up rushing just to catch the train.
Just to make the time, you may decide not to get anything to eat or drink for the ride. I can tell you, it’s not fun feeling hungry or thirsty on a long train ride. So the night before your trip, make a quick stop at the convenience store, buy what you want and pack it right away into your travelling bag. You’re welcome.
A good book
Reading is a great way to kill time. But forget about the hardcovers. Don’t even think about packing a dictionary. It’s not the time for War And Peace. No encyclopedia unless you’re going to use it for self-defence. What you really need is a paperback that doesn’t weigh much and won’t take up a lot of space in your travelling bag. Get yourself an easily digestible book like Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan or Tina Fey’s hilarious autobiography Bossypants. This would also be the right time to finally convince yourself to get a Kindle.
Downloaded content on mobile device
This is something you can do before you leave for your trip. Open applications like Netflix and Spotify. Select the items you want to watch or listen to later, and download them for offline viewing. You save precious Internet data and you’ll never have to rely on WiFi just to keep yourself entertained. Fun fact: there is no WiFi on the train.
Pick an absorbing series to binge-watch (Orange Is The New Black or maybe The Story Of Yanxi Palace that everyone has been talking about?) or a few exciting movies to go along for that long train journey. I’d recommend light-hearted fares like romantic comedies or Hollywood blockbusters. I admit I’m a sucker for Sandra Bullock movies.
And there’s more than just music on Spotify. You can also download interesting podcasts such as the NoSleep horror stories series plus various others on topics like movies, philosophy and social issues. If horror is not your thing, then check out the true crime podcasts.
Then there’s stand-up comedy albums by the likes of Aziz Ansari, Katt Williams and Eddie Murphy.
Noise-cancellation earphones or headphones
Be mindful of others on the train when you’re watching or listening to the stuff you like on your mobile device. Newsflash: nobody deserves to sit through the sound coming from your choice of entertainment. Plus, it’s considered highly disrespectful to be noisy in the train. I know because there are train announcements in English just to remind you to behave.
Get yourself a pair of comfortable earphones or better yet, headphones. Invest in a pair with Bluetooth connectivity and noise-cancellation technology like the KEF Space One Wireless. This is great because you don’t have to waste time untangling wires. Simply pop this device over your head, turn on Bluetooth and you’re good to go.
You can keep the sound to yourself and even drown out the noise from outside. Now you know what bliss sounds like.
But of course, do remember to pay attention to the announcement on the train so you don’t miss your stop.
So you’ve got something to keep yourself occupied. However, watching movies and listening to music can drain the battery life in your mobile device. Remember you would still need your smartphone when you reach your destination. There is quick navigation details to check and of course, to stay connected with loved ones. So far in all the train journeys that I have been on while in Hokkaido, I did not see any convenient power outlet to charge mobile devices.
To stay safe, make sure to pack a fully-charged power bank and use it to keep your device alive.
If you don’t want to rely on your device too much in order to save battery life then there’s always the option to just read a book.
Get some sleep
It’s the best thing ever. Especially on the early morning or late evening rides. The train rides are so smooth that you can’t help but want to fall asleep.
Now this is a bit tricky. If your destination is the terminal station or the end of the line, you can comfortably sleep through all the other stops. But if you have to get off after a certain number of stops, then sleep should be the last thing on your mind.
Fortunately, a little planning goes a long way. The Japan Rail System is super efficient and your arrival time is accurate to the one printed on your train ticket. Best is to set an alarm to get yourself to wake up at least 15 minutes before arriving at your destination. Each stop is brief so be prepared to take off and don’t leave anything behind.
To keep yourself clean you filthy animal. I guess you could also use some to keep yourself feeling refreshed throughout the journey. And maybe to wipe your hands after a satisfying bento meal.
Writer l JEM
Jem likes pina colada and getting caught in the rain. Not into yoga. 30 years old and still learning how to use a can opener.