Saturday, September 18, 2010

So You Want to Travel by Train ...?

Our train ride home? It went much like the first part, except that we were blessed with the larger family-sized sleeping room. Tom had played around with dates of our trip online and poof! The family bedroom popped up at a lower price than the other two types. So he snatched it and wow, I'm grateful he did. Now that was riding in comfort. No more claustrophobic bunk nights!

Many people before and after our trip told us, "Oh! We've dreamed about taking the train for decades," so I thought I'd write this what-you-should-realize-about-train-travel post. Perhaps it will make your trip easier, or maybe it will cause you to pause and rethink the whole crazy idea. :)

(If you prefer to skip my banter about traveling by Amtrak and just start playing around with planning a trip, even a pretend one, go here. You'll see how each bedroom type is arranged, what is included and other details about train travel, including testimonials.)

First: Train travel is not for wimps.

Here's a silly warning: the train almost constantly moves. It rolls along, shaking side-to-side with each track switch, which makes walking to the dining car, the restroom, the observation room or showering, well, tricky--every single time. If you have dizziness issues, well, I don't know. I'm just not sure if train travel would be right for you. (But don't let me discourage you if you really want to try it.)

Amtrak does still make 'smoke stops.' (Sounds old-fashioned, doesn't it?). At those times, not only will they pick up passengers, but you'll be allowed to jump off the train for ten (or so) minutes, sometimes longer. But smoke stops are occasional. Most times they'll pick up passengers and you're not allowed to step outside for even one second.

There is no opening of windows on a train. You must be able to tolerate air-conditioned/recycled air, which usually, I can't, but on the train I felt fine. We did, though, always have to leave our room's door open a few inches to stay comfortable.

If you go by train, travel light. Tom and I took only one roll-around backpack each and I brought a good-sized purse, too. Though it's possible to check some of your luggage, we were grateful that we could fit our small bags inside our train bedrooms so we always had our things with us. There are shelves inside the lower level entry door for your larger bags, but it's quite annoying to have people step over you in the skinny aisle while you're retrieving, say, your undies.

You are allowed two bags each on the train, not counting a briefcase, computer case, purse or diaper bag.

Always, always buy a bedroom, not a coach seat (though, yes, they appear so cheap!), unless you can literally sleep anywhere (as Tom can). If you buy a roomette and you lean toward being claustrophobic, and you're part of a couple, it helps if one of you isn't. Claustrophobic, that is. Decide ahead of time who will sleep in the bunk (where the ceiling practically touches your nose.) The lower birth is large enough for one-and-a-half people, but I wouldn't recommend squeezing two down there.

And too, if you go coach, you've still got to eat, and well, train food prices being what they are, all that extra money 'you saved' will disappear quickly. All three (yummy) daily meals are included with the price of sleeper rooms. (Bring along lots of one dollar bills. Tips aren't expected at meals, but are appreciated, and since Tom and I love to give tips, we were glad for the dollars we carried for servers, taxi and shuttle drivers, bag check guys in station waiting rooms, etc.)

In the main hall of the sleeper cars there's semi-endless juice, coffee (regular) and bottled water. On both trips the water and coffee tended to run out, but always there was warm boxed juice. :)

There is no tv on Amtrak. No wi-fi, either, at least not on the CA Zephyr on the Denver route (I read they have it on a Sacramento route, though). If you take your computer, be sure to bring your movies and/or computer programs/discs.

Oh, and the shower. You must push a button every ten seconds for a slight stream of cold water to dribble down (think I'm joking?). Do try to time your showers for the smoke stops/passenger pick-ups so to avoid skidding around on the wet floor.

You'll be asked to sit with other couples at the dining car tables so you may want to brush up on your conversation/people skills. And relax. Train people are nice.

If you must sleep eight hours in order to function, if you must have a daily hot, powerful shower or else fall apart, if you must lock up your room/things and if you must have luxury, total quiet or watch tv daily, well, train travel is probably not for you. :)

In my opinion, Amtrak train travel is for rugged, adventurous, non-complaining souls.

Tom and I must be legally crazy. We are already eagerly anticipating our next train trip.


Still considering train travel? Go here to learn all about it.


jodi said...

A few years ago I took the train from here to Indianapolis and we gently derailed in someones front yard in Kentucky. One couple had gotten on the train with me and had more baggage than was allowed. When we derailed each person (unless elderly or handicapped) had to be able to carry their luggage to the bus by themselves. That couple was a lesson to all of us.

My name WAS Female, I shit you not! said...

Sounds like quite the adventure and you had me chuckling at some things mentioned.
Even camping in a tent can't compare to train travel.
THX for sharing.
Enjoyed your experience. :0)

Unknown said...

It's really the only mode of transportation we have not traveled on so we have actually been thinking about it. I will give it more thought since you answered so many of the questions I had. Thanks

Sara said...

I've loved your stories and it sounds like a wonderful and even refreshing time. I will wait for the "news" and in the meantime be praying. Enjoy the Autumn beauty, doesn't it always go a bit too quickly? Hugs~

Ann said...

We've talked for ages about a train trip like this. Not sure when it will happen but I can't wait. I'm reminded of Kathy's train trip across Canada in Mrs. Mike and Lucy and family in I Love Lucy when they come home from CA. Glad you had a good time and was able to share with us.