Congrats! You’ve just landed a job that makes you live on a train – and if it’s the circus train, this is probably the post you’re looking for.
Packing to move onto a train is a strange task when you’re not sure what’s about to happen to you, but here are some tips on things to bring with you, what you can buy once you’re there and other tips to help you minimize moving costs as you run away with the circus.
To begin with, the circus train has several different types of rooms. If you’re joining as part of a big troupe, as a clown or as floor crew, you’re likely to have “coffin.” This is a tiny room that is essentially just a bed. You’ll share a bathroom and kitchen area with everyone else in your train car.
If you join as musician, as part of a smaller troupe or as a technician, you’re like you have a slightly larger room that has an elevated bunk bed with a table underneath it. You’ll have about 2-3’ of floor space and then a counter with a microwave and a small fridge. Think of those fridges you often see in college dorms. You’ll still share a bathroom with everyone in your train car.
If you’re joining as a head of department or in a management role, you may have a quarter car. These rooms are much more spacious and have a full sized bed, a refrigerator and freezer that are usually smaller than full size, but close to regular sized. Some quarter cars also have an eating area, oven and more counter space. You also have your own bathroom.
If you’re joining as department head within management, you may even have a half car, which is almost the same thing as a regular apartment. It has a bedroom, a fully functional kitchen, a living room and it’s own bathroom.
All cars share a washer and dryer per car.
When you move onto the train, you should receive a roll of toilet paper, a pillow and a blanket, but that’s all you can bank on receiving. Also, the pillow and blanket are nothing to write home about.
Since you’re likely to fly to join the circus, I recommend filling your bags with all the clothing you’ll want. Don’t forget that you’ll be in all temperatures, usually at their extremes (since the company hopes extreme cold and heat will drive people indoors to watch the show). You’ll likely have either a uniform or costume for work that will be issued once you’re there. I flew with sheets, a comforter and pillow, since I didn’t know they would provide one (but I wound up happier that I had mine). I also managed to cram my Keurig in there.
Rather than paying for overweight bags or an extra bag, I’d say set that money aside for a taxi, so you can hit Walmart for everything else you’ll need once you get to the train. Also, there’s not much storage in your room, so think of how many suitcases you really want to have to deal with anyway. Once a week there’s a Walmart/supermarket run, but you might not want to wait that long to go buy everything. The bus is also super packed on those nights, so splurging on a taxi for this initial trip will probably be worth it.
If you’re moving into a car with a group kitchen, scout out the situation first and see whether or not you need to buy anything to cook with or eat off of – purchasing Tupperware is a great idea though, especially if you’re in a PR heavy position like a clown or preshow host. You’ll have lots of opportunities to scoop up leftovers then.
If you’re in a quarter car or larger, you’re kind of on your own. You’re going to want to buy the basic necessities to stock any apartment – a cup, bowl, silverware, dish washing liquid, towels, cleaning supplies, etc.
You are responsible for keeping your room clean. No one comes in and checks, but no one is going to do it for you.
If you have a shared bathroom, you’re going to want flip flops for showering. If you have your own bathroom, you should be set after one good scrub – but do give it a good scrub. My room was in abominable shape when I moved into it. It was seriously repulsive.
When you first arrive, there’s a section of the train called the pie car, which is like a little restaurant. You can get food from there until you sort out your own situation. There’s also a food truck called pie car junior that is available at the arenas during work hours. The prices are pretty reasonable, the food quality… varies….
I lived in a quarter car that didn’t have an oven, so I wound up buying a Foreman grill and a crock pot to cook most meals in. It did have a stove top though, so I also purchased a good pot and few kitchen supplies like a good knife, wooden spoon, etc. I want to say I spent about $115 at Walmart picking up supplies for my room that included extra toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, cooking supplies and extra pillows.
If you get motion sick, you’ll want to bring some Dramamine or something for the first few train runs. There’s definitely a lot of motion to the moving train, but it was definitely some of the best sleep I’ve had in my life!
There’s no internet on the train, so if you want to remain connected, you need to invest in a mobile hotspot, and let me warn you right now, you’re going to go through all sorts of areas and park in areas that often don’t have any service. It’s a major pain in the butt. You can often get online at the arenas.
Uber and Lyft can both be awesome (and save you a little money vs a regular taxi), but you might want to put under the notes section that you are in a train yard and what your train car number is.
And have fun, not too many people can say they really did run away with the circus! It’s an incredibly difficult job, but sometimes I still miss it. And I’ll always miss the peaceful magic of train runs.
If you’re interested in what it’s like to pack to live in some weird spots, you can also check out my post on what to pack to live on a cruise ship.