You always hear the phrase: “it’s more about the journey than the destination.” I can’t say that I’ve enjoy all my flights more than the place I was traveling to explore, but I can say that train travel is ALL about the journey.
I had traveled on the sleek, timely trains of Europe, crisscrossing Germany, France and Italy, but I had never spent more than a few hours on New Jersey Transit–my only American experience on the rails. I decided to dive head first and take a 3 day, 56 hour direct Amtrak train from blustery Chicago to sunny Los Angeles. I skipped all the the baby steps and dove in full throttle.
Now, spending two nights and 3 full days on a bumpy train without more than a ten minute “smoking stop” to breathe in fresh air, isn’t for everyone. But I have to say, it is an experience that not only teaches you a lot about this beautiful “Fifty Nifty” but also a lot about yourself.
I profiled the food, the sleeper cars, the entertainment options and I even interviewed fellow passengers in this 5 part video series. But most importantly, I’ve come up with my seven best pieces of advice for you enthusiastic train travelers.
1. Turn your phone into a wireless hotspot
There’s very spotty service in many areas that we trained through so don’t be stuck without email, social media & Youtube videos. Make sure you can tether your phone to your laptop so you can catch up on TV shows, track your route and stay connected to the world.
2. Download Entertainment ahead of time
With no wifi on board and limited service via your phone, be sure to pre-download all you need in terms of TV, movies, books & magazines. You’d be amazed at how many series you can crush in 56 hours.
3. Bring Games
Cards and other portable games will help pass the time and if you are traveling solo, allow you to meet new people!
4. Separate Bag
When you get on your car, there are designated areas for large bags. They are crowded and you will have to fight the pile of other bags to get to your toothbrush unless you take an auxillary bag. I had a small duffle bag that I had my clothes for the ride, pajamas, toiletries and comfy shoes. This was the only bag I used while on the train and I could keep it right in my cabin. If you don’t have a cabin, make sure it’s small enough to take with you for meals.
5. Check out the Cars
There is a panoramic view car that is wonderful for watching the world go by, but there’s also an upstairs and downstairs food car for a change of scenery. And remember, you can walk to other cars to get your blood pumping!
6. Bring Booze!
If alcohol is not on your menu, ignore this tip. But if it is, know that there aren’t many options on board and the limited selection that is available is very expensive. Bring some bottles of wine, a case of beer or your favorite libation and bring plastic cups. You will thank me later.
7. Window Gaze
Thinking back to this trip, the most magical part was really getting to see the dramatic American landscapes change before your very eyes. Be sure to take photos as you go along and you’ll be shocked at the difference that an hour can make in the moving picture that is outside your window.
Watch the rest of the series here–>