I’m not new to traveling by train. As I was a child, I used to travel by train to my grandparents during summer vacation. It was so much fun, preparing for the trip, packing our bags, packing food and water, telling all school mates that I was going on vacation, even without Facebook! Train travel those days used to be a 20 hours fun. Before every trip I had to hear the usual advice by my parents.. don’t talk to strangers, don’t accept any food/drink from strangers, never to get off the train at stations etc. After few years, I could remember it by heart. But I loved train.
Train travels continued in my adult life. My first job involved a lot of traveling, all over India, mostly by train and occasionally by plane. It was still ok, but too much of train travel together with taste of air travel meant I started to avoid train as much as possible.
My first stop in Europe was France, it’s fantastic rail network, fast trains, beautiful scenery were irresistible. I started to enjoy train travel again. But when I look back, I carried over some of my old habits, like not talking to strangers, always staying close to people I knew. Culture does play a big role in shaping our behavior and it probably played against me in this case. My travels could have been much more enjoyable had I been a little more open. Once on a trip from Paris to Marseilles, I saw a group of artists that was just returning from an exhibition. With my basic French knowledge back then, all I could understand was that they were talking about how they create especially targeted at exhibitions or auction houses or for private buyers. I wish I had asked.
My love-hate relationship with train continues in Germany, where frequent strikes, bad connections to places I often had to travel to, complicate ticket booking systems all contributed to my bad experiences that I wrote about earlier, here and here. But something positive has happened too.
During my night train journeys, I often met the same people that used to travel every week and made good contacts with few of them. I got out of my comfort zone and started conversations. One of the gentlemen during such trips turned out to be a US Army officer who is now studying at Harvard Business School. Another one is a student of Spiritual Psychology, a PhD student in Information Security who later collaborated with me on a project. The the most humble experience was a chat with a former officer of Universal Peace Federation (UPF). I had never heard of such an organization which seems to be active all over the world through it’s regional chapters, doing charity work and running programs promoting peace and security in the world.
I’m glad I talked to strangers.
And today, I met a student of Screen Writing at University of Television and Film, Munich (HFF München). I’ve always had lot of respect for people in creative professions, but script writing for films? Never had a chance to talk to any script writer yet and today sitting across the table, I got to learn many new things from my fellow traveler and exchange ideas. For example, it takes 4 years to train a script writer, and I wanted to become a writer with no training. How naïve. What makes a truly great story? Can anybody write one or does it take a trained writer to come up with a compelling story? Some are born with storytelling gene, others acquire it through hard work. I came to know of storytelling courses at various multinational companies. Companies want their sales staff to tell their product story instead of listing features.
Sometimes train travel can be hard with crowds, delays, cancellations, but the prospect of meeting and talking to new people, strangers and probably making lasting contacts is reason enough for me to continue using the train.
I’m beginning to love train travel, again.