Over the course of the day, all 36 passengers trickled into Washington, DC from various corners of the United States and beyond. As more and more of the travelers gathered in the nation’s capital, discussions turned to the journey ahead, especially the first leg aboard the Capitol Limited to Chicago.

The excitement was palpable: 14 days aboard an Amtrak train bound for San Francisco, CA. With stops in Chicago, IL, Saint Paul, MN, Whitefish, MT, and Portland, OR all on the itinerary, there’s much to look forward to. The hustle and bustle of rush hour—with its frantic footfalls and frequent train bells—flowed around us unnoticed. In those first moments, the group was simply focused on each other and on the immensity of what lay ahead.

As the train got underway, passengers connected with their roommates and rifled through the provisions waiting on their bunks, Woolrich blankets and Moleskine travel journals, chocolates and smores, as well as Mizu water bottles. The energy in each compartment was palpable as guests digested their surroundings. As heads stuck out into the hallway, conversations spilled out from doors left ajar and into the observation car.

The group gathered for the first of many workshops aboard the Passport Express: a session led by National Geographic-featured photographer Michael George. Michael spoke on the topic of storytelling through imagery, drawing on his experience documenting his 500 mile journey across the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route through northern Spain. Some key insights of Michael’s seminar included helpful insights in finding your own voice in photography, pursuing projects that will spark conversations, and creating content that you will feel good about.

As the group made its way to dinner, the train snaked its way through Pennsylvania, everyone rocking gently in unison with its movements. The twists and turns seemed fitting; almost a precursor for some of the unpredictable moments that lie ahead in this journey. Everyone is ready for it, though; ready to learn more and challenge themselves, build lasting friendships, and see parts of this country that they haven’t yet discovered. It’s been a wonderful 24 hours with even more adventure ahead.

Passport Express mentor Jeffrey Gerson gives presentation

The next morning, Instagram community Manager, Jeffrey Gerson, shared insights on building online and offline communities in a digital age. With an emphasis on recognizing which communities you take part in each day, the group reflected on sources support and inspiration in their individual spheres. The idea that community is built one person at a time, not in leaps in bounds, was something that the entire train could relate to.

Next stop: Chicago.



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The Passport Express