Long distance travel by train may have seen its glory days back in the middle of the century. We are now in an era where travel by air is much preferred by the current generation. Travelling by train, coast-to-coast, was not on my list, until a friend forwarded a post about how financially affordable, and a rewarding experience, it could be. I started scouring the Internet for more information about it, reading blogs shared by people who have done it, and a plan was made to do a coast-to-coast train journey. Some people may find this ridiculous and a complete waste of time, compound it with being unnecessarily expensive.
Let me dissect each aspect, and start with the financial part.
Option 1. There is a cheap and affordable way to travel coast-to-coast by train. Amtrak has Rail Pass packages for multiple days and segments. A 15-day Rail Pass for under $500.00 would give you 8-segment trips within a 15-day period. A segment is a trip on and off the train, bus, or ferry, regardless of length of travel. Technically, this could cover a coast-to-coast coach-seating trip and back. Coast-to-coast is 3-4 segments, so a complete out-and-back is 6-8 segments. But this is pushing it to a non-stop, with so-so basic amenities, and sometimes uncomfortable, travel. I thought of this, and bought the rail pass by impulse. However, better options came about and I’ve changed the plan later on. I’ve cancelled my rail pass for a refund, minus the cancellation fee.
Option 2. This option does not involve the use of money at all. Amtrak has travel partners that allow you to use points to cover the trips you plan. In my case, I have accumulated a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase credit cards (Chase and Amtrak have ended this partnership in December). This is the route I took. I used almost all my points to cover the complete loop from East to West, and back. A lot of points, yes, but this proved to be more economical, comfortable, and enjoyable journey. By using the points I have, I upgraded to a more comfortable sleeper-car accomodation, complete meals included, plus a companion pass for free. Final train travel cost – just the tips on meals and cabin attendants.
Let me jump to this note before proceeding. Option 1 shows that it is possible to travel America by cheap. You would see a lot of posts about this. Would I recommend this option for multiple-day travel by train? No. The train’s coach seats may be the equivalent of an airplane’s business class seats, but we’re talking about days of travel here, not hours. Another reason is food. Either you buy food on the train, which would add to your cost a lot, or bring a cooler with your own food. Both choices don’t appeal to me. Option 2, yes, I would recommend. Continue reading.
The other aspect, total waste of time. Yes, you would need 4 days to get from East to West non-stop by train. And another 4 days to get back. This is just the number of days on the travel itself, not including the days at destinations you wish to take. Most people would prefer a 5-hour air travel to get to the destination the fastest and spend whatever time they have at that location, then fly home again to complete the journey. But if you have time, train travel has its charm on its own. It’s not a waste of time, if part of the plan is to see places you’d never see when you travel by air, or even by car. You’d see canyons, ridges, valleys, and rivers, and the vast open space America has to offer – all amazing and wonderful. You’d spend peaceful and quiet moments while aboard the train. You’d meet people and experience sharing stories with them, telling them yours and listening to theirs.
In my case, I have time. I have unused vacation days for 2015. This would cover the travel from East to West. Then some carry-over vacation days to cover the West to East trip back home. Plus the weekends for destination stops.
The last aspect, ridiculous. Maybe not. Have a reason for everything you do, and you will find the experience rewarding. Long distance train travel is not for everyone. But If you want to get away from the chaos of the world, try it. It is relaxing, peaceful, and meditative. Not in my case, but even romantic, I imagine. You’d be surprised how rewarding this kind of trip is. I was.
So have a reason, plan, and take the plunge. And share the experience.
This one, you may find ridiculous. To do a 4-day train trip from New York to San Francisco, do a 12-hour run/jog/walk physically unprepared, do another overnight train trip from San Francisco to Seattle, then another 4-day train trip from Seattle to New York, finally coming home with a luggage full of dirty clothes.
This. Is. My. Experience.