Ride a train. Change the world. The powerful vision of the Millennial Trains Project

millennial train journey map
via The Millennial Trains Project

Since Jack Kerouac published his iconic wanderlust novel, On the Road, the underlying goal of travelling during one's twenties could be summarized as, "Take a trip. Find yourself."

Now, in 2013, Patrick Dowd has a new vision for inspiring travel: "Ride a train. Change the world."

That's the vision behind The Millennial Trains Project, which is a cross-country train journey for people aged 18-34 that want to create world-changing projects.

The Millennial Trains Project from Millennial Trains Project on Vimeo.

Departing from San Francisco on August, 8, 2013 and traveling in refurbished 1950s and '60s train cars across the US to Washington DC, a diverse group of 40 members of the millennial generation will visit ten cities in ten days while working on projects and ideas that aim to "benefit, serve and inspire others."

Aboard the train will also be a number of successful mentors that will help answer questions and give direction to the participants to help them make their project ideas into reality.

Dowd tells me that there is already an interesting variety in the types of people and projects that have applied for the trip.

From local governance systems to K-12 computer science education, applicants are stepping up to explore many of the key challenges and opportunities facing our generation. Already, applicants have proposed projects focusing on a wide-range of important topics, including: wireless data systems, mindfulness, open data, wearable technologies, poetry in public places, sustainable transportation, autism, gender stereotypes, and efficient energy infrastructure.

The MTP is accepting applications until July 15, so you can still sign up!

I wanted to write about this for TreeHugger, because I think there are so many sustainability-minded projects that could be a great fit for this project.

For example, are you a beekeeper? What if you used this as a way to establish new urban bee hives in ten cities across the US? Do you know about rooftop gardens? Imagine leaving a trail of green as you travel from San Francisco to Washington D.C. Or if you're a documentarian, why not spend your time on telling the stories of sustainability across the US? The possibilities are endless!

I asked Dowd where he came up with the idea and why it was focused on trains.

"Traveling on a train has a very unique power to connect travelers to the landscape in a way you can't get from any other form of transportation. Trains are not only one of the most sustainable forms of transportation, but the train itself is a powerful element of the project."

In between cities, there will be workshops and collaboration between participants to help build upon and improve the various projects. Without the distractions that can come from traveling in a car or the discomfort of plane travel, the slow pace and comfort of a train will make for a good setting for conversation and working together.

Dowd was also inspired by a similar project in India called the Jagriti Yatra that has been going on for ten years. Here's a video on that train journey.

Jagriti Yatra from Pilgrim Films on Vimeo.

When in India, Dowd was working to solve the e-waste recycling problem. This helped him appreciate the power of trains:

"The reason I went to India in the first place was to work on e-waste recycling projects. I was looking at how there are these very disposable form of electronics that were dying in India, but found that trains were a timeless, permanent technology and being repurposed and recycled in India for a new functionality. The [Jagriti Yatra] was like a platform for young entrepreneurs and Indians to explore scale of problems and opportunities that exist in their country. And there's now this network of people in India that have this shared experience and are connected by this journey and want to work together to help improve their country. I want to bring this to the US."

It is an ambitious vision, but The Millennial Trains Project seems to be a perfect melding of the modern and historic -- a smart combination of individual goals and solo projects along with collective action and collaborative learning. It is a pragmatic overlap of global thinking and local action.

For more on the project or to apply to join the trip, visit The Millennial Trains Project website.

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