Traveling cross country via the train is something I’ve always wanted to do. Now that I’m bi-coastal, I thought it’s the perfect time to check it out.
So here I am seeing America on the train. Currently, I’m halfway to Los Angeles from New York, and I’m absolutely loving it. This morning, as we pulled into the Elkhart, Indiana, train station it felt a bit surreal. Growing up in Indiana, I would see railroad stops but never put together the big picture of what train travel is all about. Now I can really appreciate the beauty and history of a Union Station in Washington, D.C., or Grand Central Station in New York City which I’ve always cut through on my walks just to enjoy because it’s so majestic.
Granted, this whole cross country train thing was my idea. Admittedly, I had to talk my new husband into it, and he’s thankfully being quite a trooper. He is accustomed to comfort and going First Class when possible, so train travel is a bit of a challenge for him. So far, we’re making it work and that’s thanks in large part to the professionalism of the staff.
While I’m an old pro at airline travel, I’m also quite frankly sick of it. I’m tired of going through the scanner (aka stripper machine—you might as well just walk through naked for the TSA agent since they can see everything anyway). I don’t enjoy taking my shoes (or in my case boots) off. It’s a hassle. With the train, you don’t have to mess with all of that. Also, even in First Class on a plane, you are pretty much confined to your seat for the duration of the flight. If you start walking around the plane, you’re annoying, suspicious, or both. With the train, you can roam around freely. Visit the club car and have a cocktail or two. It’s quite relaxing.
Before you assume I’m being paid by Amtrak to say all this, let me honestly say that it’s not entirely perfect. For one thing, Penn Station where we began the journey is a dump. It’s a disgrace that this is the station most New Yorkers have to deal with when taking a train.
Also, I’ll admit basic things like sleeping isn’t for everyone on a train. For me, it’s been great. I love the movement on the train and sleep like a baby. My husband unfortunately is not having as good a time with the zzzzs. It didn’t help that we had bunk beds on the first part of the journey. My top bunk was perfect, but his bottom bunk wasn’t cooperating. Last night, I was probably being a very bad wife laughing at all the bad words I heard coming from below.
We both agree that the food is pretty good and the staff is stellar. In fact, when we arrived on our first train, the Lakeshore, our room was quite small. My husband is a big guy so he didn’t relish the idea of riding across the state of Ohio in a cramped space. The staff kindly sprang into action and found an unoccupied handicapped room that was just fine. Train protocol is incredibly organized and these people really know their stuff which makes it great.
The Lakeshore appears to be more of a commuter train. Our next train, the Southwest Chief, out of Chicago is supposed to be nicer. We’re hoping for a bedroom or suite on the next leg of the journey. Right now, we have a five hour layover in Chicago. That’s the other challenge I’m learning about cross country train travel.
What do you do with five hours to kill in Chicago?
The first order of business is finding a place to store the luggage. Dragging it down Michigan Avenue would be a bit weird. After we solve that, we’ll need to find something to do. Granted, it’s Chicago which is an awesome city. Then again, it’s January in Chicago. That leaves out a lot of strolling around taking in the sites. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
You may wonder what to bring on a train trip across America. Some might suggest cards, a good book, and board game. That’s not my style. I brought champagne, wine, Jack Daniels, snacks, baby wipes, disinfectant wipes, air freshener, and a candle. Last night, we enjoyed champagne by candlelight on a moving train. Very nice (although come to think of it I probably should have also thrown a fire extinguisher in my bag just in case—oh well—next time).
Sans the difficulty of the bottom bunk not being anywhere close to competition for the Westin’s Heavenly Bed, we’re both enjoying the trip. It’s nice knowing the route you’re traveling, seeing cool sites along the way that you’d never see otherwise, and just having a real adventure riding the rails.
We have two more days to go. I’ll blog along the way and share our odyssey.