Christmas night we left on an adventure that took us through 14 states, stopped in 5 cities over the course of 15 days by train! We embarked on this sabbatical from life (and social media) touring the great American Mid West along the railroad, just like the olden days.
The Train, a foamers delight
*Foamer: someone who loves trains, like this guy
We both fly a lot, and were eager to try the train. The best thing about traveling by train is the ease. You just show up a few minutes before it arrives and hop on. The conductor checks you have a ticket, then you can choose your own seat. There is no security checks at any point. We carried our luggage on, but you can check it if you’d prefer. They say the train is the civilized way to travel, and I couldn’t agree more!
I was able to stop and reflect and think about where I want to be this coming year, and make a plan on how to get there, a task easier completed without cell service.
We bought a $459 15 day rail pass each. This gives you 8 segments, which is how many times you can stop depending on your route. We parked at the Anaheim train station (which is free parking). Here we used up two segments on the way and back to go to LA Union Station, which is where our journey began. Another leg from Austin Texas to Chicago was two segments to get there, so in the end we had five stops allowed. You have to sort of puzzle it out and book your trips before you go. You can’t wing it and get off just anywhere.
Anaheim > Los Angeles (boarded at night)
Los Angeles > Austin, Texas (Two nights on the train)
Austin, Texas > Chicago, Illinois (One night on the bus due to weather)
Chicago, Illinois > Whitefish, Montana (One night on the train)
Whitefish, Montana > Seattle, Washington (One night on the train)
Seattle, Washington > Los Angeles (One night on the train)
Los Angeles > Anaheim
People are considerate, and friendly for the most part. At night I put headphones and an eye mask and a blanket and shut the world out. The conductors monitor the train day and night, so there is no trouble ever :D
The train bounces along and is a really soothing and fun ride. We had our reserved coach seats, but spent most the time in the Observation Deck, which was usually surprisingly pretty empty. We did not upgrade to beds, and slept in the chairs over night on the train in-between stops in hotels. This was a little rough for me, I suggest upgrading if you can afford the extra $300 a night.
We made reservations in the dining room car a few times, and they sit you with other people, so that you can make friends. My husband dreads small talk as if it were depleting his very existence, so we only went once, haha! The cafe car has a good turkey sandwich and they sell microwavable pizzas and snacks that are all double or triple the store price, including $7 single serving wines and beers :/ You can bring your own food and liquor, but keep the booze on the DL.
The best leg
I eagerly awaited the trip down the California coast from Seattle to Los Angeles, but have to admit that was the worst leg. We had a four hour delay from a power outage that caused us to miss many of the beautiful sites as darkness set. The people on this journey were also noticeably obnoxious and heavily complained about the delay. My favorite route was from LA to Austin, where the train snakes down along the Mexican border. The desert landscape wildly changes from hour to hour, changing from red rocks, to sweeping cactus covered hills. The train stopped in El Paso, right next to the fence dividing the US from Mexico where it snowed while I stood in line to get handmade enchiladas.
We had a funny thing happen in Missouri. The state suffered severe flooding, so we were ushered of the train onto the Little Rock fleet of tour busses at midnight. We drove all through the darkness passing along flooded ravines with haunting porch light eliminating floating cars and submerged homes. The bouncing bus and upright seats made it difficult to sleep with my head bobbing all over the place. After tying my head to the back seat with my scarf, I managed to sleep a few solid hours. Morning light brought sights of the St. Louis Arch and a welcome switch back on the train, which scooted us along to enjoy Chicago in time for New Years.
No use in complaining, it’s all part of the adventure right?!
The ideal train trip would be one night in a sleeper car from Portland, Oregon to Whitefish, Montana for a Christmas Holiday with a nice bottle of wine and a smorgasbord of fine cheeses while listening to Serial season one, watching Fargo, and reading Wool under a comfy blanket.
Feel free to ask questions if you decide to try the train!