Travel by Train – Stop or Station?

Union Station, Los Angeles, CA
Train travel is probably my favorite. I sometimes consider the logistics of ditching the truck and trailer and moving around exclusively by train. Of course, then there are Mr. Cuddles and Mrs. Susie; having to rent a place if there are no friends or relatives to stay with; cooking meals, etc. So for now, our primary means of living and traveling are the truck and trailer.
 
 
Some of the things I love about the train are: lots of legroom. Usually plugins at every seat (on long distance Amtrak trains). The observation car. Sleeping while moving. Not having to stop and use the restroom. Or eat. Working, reading, watching movies or just looking out the window without having to watch the road. Naturally, there are the occasional disadvantages: noisy children (or adults), sick travelers (get on healthy, get off sick after enduring hours of co-passengers’ coughing and sneezing). Luckily, our experience with that has been rare, and since my son and I travel together, we are seatmates and don’t have to worry about sitting next to strangers.
 
Lamy, NM – a stop
Waiting for the train is not too bad either. At least at Union Station. There is decent seating, decent food choices and a newsstand. Down the tracks, however, can be a different story. Many stops do not feature the comforts of a station. Some stops are in the middle of town, almost just like a bus stop. Not too bad if the weather is okay. Not great in bad weather. Especially if the train is late, or you are very early. Other stops are quite a different story. For years, we took the train from Williams, AZ, “Gateway to the Grand Canyon“. Not only no station, but the stop is in the middle of nowhere. Outside of town. In the woods. On a dirt road! Exciting, huh? Having now spooked you, I will relieve your fears. Williams also hosts the Grand Canyon Railway, which owns a major hotel in town. Amtrak contracts with the hotel to pick up and drop off its passengers at the stop. So if you are getting on or off the train in Williams, never fear, your bus or van driver will get you to the train, or pick you up and take you to the hotel, from where you may retrieve your car or make other transportation arrangements (have someone pick you up) in comfort. 
 
Trinidad, CO – stop
So when you are making your train travel plans, keep in mind where you will be boarding or disembarking. Is it a stop or a station? A stop will be on the side of the tracks with no amenities except maybe a parking lot. Make sure you know whether you can walk to where you need to go, or somewhere you can wait indoors, or have someone waiting to pick you up. A station will have many amenities, including a waiting room, seating, bathrooms, ticket counter and maybe even food. At least you will be out of the elements if you have to wait and you may even be able to rent a car or take public transportation from there to wherever you’re headed next.
 
Albuquerque, NM – station
If you’ve never taken the train, give it a try. Maybe we’ll meet up with you on our next train adventure!
 
 
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How To Find Mass on the Road

Inside Stella Maris, Goose Island, Texas

I still am getting used to the idea of using my smartphone instead of paper maps, telephone books and a cell phone. Everything evolves around here, especially with rving full-time and relying heavily on modern technology to navigate and assist in finding what we need during our slow travels. The travel tip I’ll share today is from my smartphone, it sure makes simple work of finding Sunday Mass.
yp on google play

We have previously used various websites to locate Catholic churches and Mass times while adventuring. Currently, with our smartphones, on this most recent road trip to parts previously unknown, we have made good use of the YP (yellow pages) app and the pre-loaded maps app on the iPhone4. Although, in a couple of instances we have been steered wrong, these two apps have helped us find churches, post offices, homes of friends and relatives, rv parks, campgrounds, grocery stores, and more.

maps from apple

I shudder to recall the days when Google maps always had to be backed up with a paper street map and a cell phone to call and get directions. I still laugh about my friend’s couchsurfers, who never did find the Grand Canyon, because their smartphones sent them off on a more direct route – as the crow flies, rather than as the car drives. I now laugh at myself, when I get frustrated at the phone for leading me to an empty warehouse instead of the post office, but I am learning to pull over, re-calibrate and enter different info when that happens. It also helps to drive around a bit and have a young’un who’s pretty good with reading maps and navigating. And smartphones.


We haven’t gotten lost yet, but I can tell you, we have unintentionally taken some scenic drives and did arrive late for Mass once. We haven’t missed Mass on Sunday, though. I usually check YP on Friday, map out the route to the church, then call the number provided to check Mass times. 

Our Lady of the Valley, La Jara, Colorado

I still carry a road atlas and some state maps for general route planning and reference, but to find local stuff along the way, the YP app and the maps app have been invaluable and saved an enormous amount of time and frustration. I highly recommend checking your smartphone or tablet and trying out similar apps which may be available to you, as you plan your next pilgrimage.

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And One Last Word on Mobile Internet…

Update:
Things have changed since I wrote my first two mobile internet posts. My Straight Talk hotspot died again, and rather than continue to replace it every 6 months, I looked into Verizon prepaid, as we had recently experienced using a smart phone as a hotspot with good results. I decided to go with the iPhone 4 to replace both phone and hotspot, as the unit was only $99 online. The monthly no-contract rate for unlimited talk and text and 500mb of data is $45, with extra 3gb for only $20. I also earned an extra 500mb a month by setting up auto pay. To my calculations, this beats $35/month for straight talk phone plus $40 for 4gb on the hotspot. Not by much, but close enough. So far the service seems at least comparable, and if it ends up being better, that’s a bonus. The customer service is waaay better. I was having problems with the hotspot, and walked into the Verizon store and walked out with problem solved. (I was putting in my password wrong, ugh!). Sadly for the boy, Verizon prepaid does not offer shared minutes for an extra line, so he gets to stick with Tracfone for now.
For lots more detailed info on mobile internet, visit the Technomads, they wrote the book on Mobile Internet.
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Adventures With Mobile Internet

 
Today’s travel tip is all about our adventures with mobile internet. Internet service is a big issue when living and working on the road full-time in an RV. We are doing slow travel, usually staying in a location for several weeks at a time, before moving on. In addition to writing, I run a small craft business online. I am also promoting my first book, The Working Parent’s Guide To Homeschooling”. Reliable internet is critical. When we are staying at one of the grandpas’ homes we use their DSL, which is usually pretty good. In between and at our home base, we use a Straight Talk hotspot. I am still learning its quirks, but I will share what I’ve gleaned so far.
 
 
When we decided to downsize and embrace a minimalist lifestyle, traveling and living in the truck and trailer, it didn’t make sense to continue to pay $80 a month for landline and DSL that we would rarely use, in addition to cell phones and a mobile hotspot. Keep in mind that I do not have a smart phone or any other 3 or 4G gadget, I cannot advise on how any of that works on the road. I chose Straight Talk over Verizon or AT&T, because prior to hitting the road, our DSL usage was averaging 2-3GB monthly. So far this past year, we have only had 2 weeks at a time with only the hotspot for internet and with gaming, streaming and uploading photos, videos and files from the computer, our usage has easily gone up to 1-2GB a week. Still, even at 8GB a month, I think Straight Talk is more affordable than one of the others. Especially since there are months we don’t use it at all. So for now, we stick with Straight Talk. 
 
Here is what I am learning about the hotspot and data usage. Our hotspot is tied to Verizon, so if we are in an area served only by AT&T and its sub-sellers, we get no internet connection with our hotspot. One grandpa is in one of these areas, but fortunately, we are able to use his wifi. When that does not come in so well, we can drive about 10 miles and pick up a signal on our hotspot, or just go all the way to the next big town and use the library wifi. Our home base is out in the boonies. The hotspot picks up a signal, but uploading photos and streaming videos is a very slow process. Sometime this year, I plan to try a wifi range extender and cell phone signal booster there (our cell phone signal is pretty weak at “home”, too). I am still investigating whether the range extender will amplify the signal coming in from outside to the hotspot or only the signal from the hotspot to our devices. If the latter is the case, it may not help.
 
 
Since this post is already getting a bit lengthy, I will save the rest for next time: Public Wifi vs. Personal Hotspot; Getting the Most out of Our Hotspot; Is it Worth it?
 
Until then, check out the Technomads, they wrote the book on Mobile Internet!
 
You might also enjoy:
Surviving Slow Travel
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