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All Aboard! The Matouk Family Rides the Rails

All Aboard! The Matouk Family Rides the Rails

Most of us consider suffering through traffic jams and flight delays to be the price we pay for a well-deserved summer vacation. But for the Matouk family, getting there is as glorious as the final destination.

The Matouks, who describe themselves as a “train family,” see the romance in train travel—from the scenery to the family togetherness to rhythm of walking back and forth from the sleeping car to the dining car three times a day.

This past July, George and Mindy Matouk, along with their daughters Virginia (11, who the family calls Chachi), Violet (10), and Margot (8), boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder train in Chicago, spent two nights on the rails, and disembarked in Seattle. They then journeyed to Whistler and Vancouver, BC—and brought their Matouk along for the whole ride.

Here, our Q&A with Mindy Matouk about the family’s Amtrak adventure.

You describe yourselves as a "train family"—what's the appeal?
I've always been mesmerized by train travel. I grew up in the South, where there aren’t many trains, so my impression was from books and movies. That made it seem very romantic and exotic.

Now, the idea that we can jump on a train in Providence, where we live, and be in New York City within three hours is just wonderful. The girls have picked up on that enthusiasm, and it must have seems like magic to them, too.

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Virginia, Violet and Margot picking out what items to bring for the trip

You rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which travels between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. What was it like?
The train leaves Chicago and goes through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and finally into Washington State. It was pretty cool to stop in various towns along the way (Wisconsin Dells! Red Wing! Fargo!) and just keep on rolling along.

The train itself was nice, but not at all luxurious. It was utilitarian and satisfactory, with high points (the dining car) and less high points (the snack bar and the tiny bathrooms). But we weren't expecting luxury or spaciousness, so these didn't alter our experience at all.

You stayed in what’s called a Family Bedroom. What was that like?
It was definitely a family bedroom and not a honeymoon suite! Lots of family togetherness, which is what we were going for all along. We were fortunate to get two family bedrooms that opened up to each other, giving us slightly more room. This worked for us, as our three girls are young enough that they don't mind the lack of privacy.

I will say this: if you are planning on taking this train trip, bring a very small bag with only the essentials, and leave your larger luggage checked underneath. You won't need much in the way of dressing up anyway.

How did you spend your waking hours during the train trip?
We played cards.
We read.
We looked at maps.
We played Mancala.
We watched movies.
We listened to music.
We talked about the cities that we were traveling through.
We talked about what we did in Chicago.
We talked about what we would do in Seattle, Whistler, and Vancouver.
We talked about Taylor Swift.
We talked about the Grateful Dead.
We talked about a lot of other things, too.
We sat in the observation car.
We went to the snack bar.
We looked out the window.
We took pictures. Lots of pictures.
We fought. We made up.
We waited for meal times.
We looked at magazines, which usually ended up with us talking about Taylor Swift again.
Then we went to sleep!

How did you make the room on the train feel like home?
We brought all of our favorite Matouk linens—that and a toothbrush is really all we need to feel at home.

Making the train feel like home

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Having a goodnight sleep on Hemingway bedding

You all picked out Matouk bedding for your train beds. What did you choose?
Hemingway Twin Flat Sheet
Hemingway Standard Cases
Cove Navy Twin Fitted
Mirasol Azure Boudoir
Pico Turquoise Beach Towel

Nikita Azure Twin Flat
Nikita Azure Twin Fitted
Cayman Ocean Standard Cases
Arcadia Navy Throw
Auberge "C" Bath Towel

Star Crocus Twin Flat
Cove Crocus Twin Fitted
White Standard Cases with monogram
La Spiaggia Decorative Pillow
Salinas Aquamarine Throw
Pico Turquoise Beach Towel

Did you bring anything else from Matouk?
We brought along Matouk soaps for showering, and some Matouk laundry detergent and stain remover just in case. We also packed a few Matouk candles, which we couldn't actually light on the train. But even unlit, they made the rooms smell divine. A beautifully scented room, Matouk linens, and the melodic movement of the train was the perfect recipe for great nights of sleep.

What was the highlight of the trip?
It sounds so cliché, but the highlight was just having three days together with literally nowhere to go and nowhere to be other than in the room or wandering around the train. No appointments, no phone calls, no Wi-Fi, no play dates or games, no Pilates. . . just to the dining car and back. The girls are young enough now that having their parents to themselves for three days was a positive, and they are old and busy enough now that we felt the same way.

Can you share five must-packs for a family train trip?
Assuming books, magazines, music, and movies are a given:
1) Gum—helps with altitude.
2) Your own linens—or at the very least, your own travel blanket (which also makes a great wrap) and pillowcases.
3) Mancala—it’s a board game that our family is obsessed with. You can play it over and over and over. We ended up sharing it with some of our fellow passengers.
4) An atlas of the United States. It’s fun to look up the places you are passing through, and you need the atlas because there is no Wi-Fi!
5) An outfit that's so comfortable, you won't mind wearing it for three days straight.

You did an Instagram takeover for Traditional Home during the trip! What was that experience like?
It was a little intimidating at first. We wanted to do Traditional Home and Matouk proud, while still maintaining something of the mischievous humor that our family enjoys. Once I got a few posts up and saw the positive responses, it was incredibly fun.

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Getting ready to board the Amtrak Empire Builder

Anything surprise you about the Instagram experience?
Putting a post up, going to sleep for the night, and waking up with over 1,000 likes! While the images I shared from the urban spots (like the Grateful Dead farewell tour in Chicago) were the most popular, the idea that beauty is everywhere—from cows in a field in North Dakota to a sun setting on a quiet stretch of the Mississippi River on the Fourth of July—resonated with thousands of Traditional Home followers too.

Can you give me a highlight of each the major cities you visited?
Chicago gave us the architectural boat tour, a sold-out Chicago Cubs game, and a once-in-a-lifetime festive aura thanks to the Grateful Dead farewell shows. And the outdoor art in Millennium Park was breathtaking, particularly the Jaume Plensa faces. Those will stay with me forever.

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Admiring the view in Chicago

Seattle was all about being off of the train after three days and getting to walk the streets, taste the coffee and the delicious food, and take the kids on the Ferris wheel over the water. And showering in our huge bathroom, which I can't even confirm was actually huge. It just felt huge after getting off the train!

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Whistler was more beautiful than we could have imagined. The weather was sweet and crisp, and the mountains were stunning. We took a crazy gondola ride called Peak 2 Peak, which has records for the longest free span between ropeway towers and the highest point above the ground. So basically, the Matouks in a box of glass and metal hanging on a two-mile free span of cable 1,430 feet above the ground! It was not my happiest moment of the trip, but everyone else thought it was great.

Vancouver was just a huge surprise. George and I were blown away by the vibrancy, sophistication, and international vibe of the city. Vancouver is beautiful in its own right, but they have also made a significant commitment to public art and music, including a program that places pianos in random spots around the city. They’re available on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone who wants to sit down and play.

Where's your next family trip going to be, train or otherwise?
Believe it or not, we are boarding the train again tomorrow! This time it’s just me going solo with our two younger girls while our oldest is at camp. We'll be heading to Washington, D.C. to visit with friends and tour one of our favorite American cities. It will be another adventure for sure, but we'll miss George and Chachi. It won't be the same without them, and the six-hour trip will seem like a blip in time after our epic three days on the Empire Builder!