After years of uncomfortable and stressful experiences on planes and in airports, I never want to fly with a commercial airline again for a domestic leisure trip. I’d like to avoid it for work too, so when I paid a recent visit to PCMag’s office in New York City, I volunteered to make the journey by train.
This trip was timely because I’ve started exploring digital nomadism in both my personal and professional lives. Simply put, digital nomads are people who work while they travel. Many globe-trotting digital nomads stick to internet-based jobs to work wherever they can find a Wi-Fi connection.
Though I primarily write all of my words from my home in Atlanta, I am not a digital nomad—yet. I plan to make use of my company’s “work-from-anywhere” policy over the next year or so to weave extra travel opportunities into my life’s dense tapestry. I know it won’t be easy, though. I don’t enjoy the faster and less expensive forms of travel (driving and flying), and I’m not alone. Recently, I asked my Mastodon followers what was keeping them from becoming digital nomads, and some replies were about finding alternate travel methods.
Traveling aboard an Amtrak train is much slower than a plane ride, and much more expensive than a road trip, but it’s an enjoyable way to get work done as a digital nomad. The trip from Atlanta’s Amtrak station to New York City’s Moynihan Train Hall took roughly 16 hours. For the departure leg of my journey, I reserved a spot in a bedroom in the sleeping car on the train. My return trip was still in the sleeping car, but in a roomette, which, as the name suggests, is smaller than a bedroom.
16 hours is plenty of time to get in some work (and sleep). After the full round trip, I had plenty of time and experience to determine exactly what you need to make remote work on a train work for you.
What You Can Bring on Amtrak
My trip began following a two-hour delay, so we didn’t leave the station until after 2 a.m. I immediately went to bed, and when I woke up, I unpacked my bags and got to work. I recorded a video of my unpacking experience while chronicling my train trip on my Mastodon account.
Amtrak’s baggage policies are very generous compared with airline policies. Travelers can bring two personal items and two carry-on items. Each passenger can check up to four bags (the first two bags are free, then it’s $20 per bag).
One of the great things about Amtrak trains is that there are plenty of electrical outlets for passengers. On the train, I replicated my desk setup at home, complete with multiple laptops, phones, and a tablet. Remember to bring a USB adapter and all the dongles, power cords, and other accessories you will need for your electronics.
I didn’t pack pillows, blankets, or other sleeping accessories because Amtrak provides them for passengers free of charge. Drinking water is accessible from the faucets on the train, so I brought a reusable water bottle, but my bedroom accommodations included a few free bottles of water.
Working Train Trip Tech Essentials
Below is a list of items I brought with me on the train. Believe it or not, I used almost every item on the list!
- Power strip with USB ports: This big, sturdy power brick was a last-minute purchase from Amazon, but it made my entire working trip possible. The eight additional power outlets and four USB charging ports powered the equipment listed below.
- Lenovo Thinkpad T14: This is my company-issued laptop.
- Apple MacBook Air: My preferred video editing device.
- Apple iPhone 12 mini with T-Mobile cellular service: My work phone. I don’t keep many apps on it, and I only use it for work purposes to limit exposure in case of a hack or other misfortune.
- Nintendo Switch OLED Model: Once a games journalist, always a games journalist. I wanted to get in some gaming time on the rails, so I brought my Switch. The OLED screen looks great, and I like the look of the white Joy-Cons.
- Apple AirPods Max: They’re the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever used and some of the most expensive. You will appreciate the noise-canceling tech on the train, especially if seated in the coach section.
- Beskar Clip-on USB fan: I was taking a train ride through the heart of the Deep South during the hottest time of the year, so I knew I’d need to beat the heat. The bedroom on the train didn’t get too stuffy during the day, but I clipped this fan to the side of my bed at night and turned it to its lowest setting to stay cool.
I usually overpack, but this time I brought just the right amount of gear. 16 hours is a long stay in one room, so I had plenty of time to use almost every item I packed. The only thing I didn’t use was my Nintendo Switch, but I plan to bring it again on my next train trip. I didn’t travel solo this time, but when I do, a game console will provide welcome entertainment during the rail journey.
For more, you can read all about my working experience on a train here. And find out why I prefer train travel to hurtling through the air while stuffed inside a cramped cabin—it just might convince you to reconsider your next flight. Finally, leave a comment and tell me about the carry-on items you think I should pack on my next trip.