So, the hubby and I have always talked about wanting to go west to see the plains, Wild West, and the coast. Our visions of this trip included packing our bags, a cooler, bag full of snacks, and a full tank of gas in the car. When we finally got around to making plans for this amazing trip, we had one issue…our car was way too old to make this kind of long distance trip, especially all the way from Indiana to the coast. So, what’s a disappointed travel-hungry person to do when they want to see tons of states on their way out west..take a train, of course! After looking into this option, we found that it was very comparable to flying but would be way more adventurous..pretty much a win win. Traveling this way was absolutely an experience, one of pure wonderment and one of learning. The following are some of the learning experiences we had with this trip, and hopefully you’ll be able to take something away if you’re considering train travel.
1) If you are taking a trip that’s more than, let’s say, 14 hours, I would highly recommend getting a sleeper car. We hesitated on this due to the increase in prices, but considering our trip last 50 hours, it was money well spent! One, you get your own room to yourself, you get bunks to sleep on at night, free coffee and water whenever you’d like, and let’s not forget…three meals a day included (more about this at end of post)! These meals weren’t any ‘ole diner food either. The first dinner we got steak and salmon…delicious! The sleeper cars also had showers, which I will say I did not use, because who wants to be moving around when taking a shower? Nevertheless, they were there is you chose to use them.
2) Bring snacks. If you spring for the sleeper car, like I said, meals are included. However, if you want any kind of snack in between these meals, you have to pay a premium at the cafe. Granted, we did get beers and soda there one night, but I would not have wanted to pay for anything else with those prices.
3) Do not plan anything for that first day you are expected to arrive. Apparently, and we didn’t know about this until we were on the train, Amtrak borrows the railroads from the freight companies, so if they get behind a freight car (going 10 miles per hour), they have to just wait until they get past a station. We ended up only being about 2 hours past our expected arrival time, but at one point we were up to 6 hours behind schedule.
4) Spend time in the observation car. There obviously windows in the coach and sleeper cars, but the rounded windows on the top of the train in the observation car are worth spending at least some time in them. Gorgeous views! Maybe get a expensive snack at the cafe (just below the observation deck) and chill out for an hour or two.
And, speaking of views, that has to be the number one totally worth it reasons that taking is a train is such an amazing experience.
Now, like I mentioned, you do get meals included with the sleeper cars. One thing that we also did not know about until we were actually on the train, was that the meals are communal seating. By this point, Cade and I are fairly used to communal seating, as this way common practice most of the time we were in Europe, but growing up in the Midwest where this is not at all common, it always sparks a little anxiety within me. So, as we report to the dining car for our first dinner aboard and I realize that we are being sat with two other people, I do get that anxious sense creeping up within me. As we sit down with what looks to be a grandmother with her teenage granddaughter and begin talking with them, as routine goes, I begin to feel more comfortable about conversing with strangers. This also becomes more comfortable as we eat our second and third meal with complete strangers. Now, if you’re like me and thinking, “oh, hell no!,” let me reassure you that we had some of the most memorable experiences with these fear-provoking strangers. As I mentioned, we did get sat with a grandmother and her granddaughter that first evening and learned that she was originally from Pasco, Washington and was having her granddaughter come out to visit her. During dinner the second night, we were sat with a couple from England (the wife originally from New Zealand) and had a fantastic talk about the upcoming vote for Scottish independence from the UK. And, for breakfast the third day, we sat with a middle-aged man who had been living in Seattle for over 40 years and had tons of stories to tell us about the city and his vegetable garden he was nurturing back home.
All of these amazing amenities, views, and interactions made our trip absolutely worth it, and we have become addicted to train travel after just one trip. We plan to travel this way as often as possible and look forward to that second trip!