Tips for Traveling by Train

This post doesn’t have anything to do with art, but instead is a little insight and tips for traveling by train, specifically in America by Amtrak.

In May, I went on my honeymoon and for part of that my husband and I traveled by train. We flew into Chicago and from there we took Amtrak’s California Zephyr line to Salt Lake City, Utah. That isn’t the full length of the line though, the California Zephyr travels from Chicago all the way to San Fransisco. I learned about this train through other bloggers and immediately fell in love with the idea of seeing America by train. Since this was our first time being on a train for any extensive period of time (from Chicago to Salt Lake City is 35 hours) we decided not to take the full trip. After our time on the train though I wished we had, because it was a wonderful experience I think everyone should have at least once.

The view leaving Denver.

We didn’t do much research ahead of time on what one should bring along or expect. I had read articles gushing about the beautiful views of the Rockies, Glenwood Canyons and winter parks. I knew I wanted to see these things for myself. Otherwise, all we knew is we didn’t want a coach seat, so we booked a sleeping car for two and took off, which brings me to tip one…

Tip #1: Book as big of a sleeping car as you can afford.

Our Superliner Roomette

Amtrak has several options for sleeping cars and we decided to go for the cheapest one (the Superliner Roomette), because it said it could sleep two adults. The picture above is the space my husband and I shared for 35 hours. There was a bunk above our heads that pulled down when you wanted to sleep and the two seats slid together to form the second bed. Roomettes have enough room for you to walk in and sit down. Nothing more, nothing less. You can see the little fold down table between us, there is a door with curtains you can slide shut for privacy, one outlet for charging, and climate control that mostly worked, but it got hot in there quick.

All sleeping cars come with free meals (more on this later), personal service and basically the same bathroom amenities you’d get from a hotel. The difference between the cars comes down to two things really, space and private bathroom. We had to share a couple bathrooms and one shower with the rest of the roomettes in our train car. Which, all being said, was not the most awful thing but it would have been nice to not wait in line for a shower. But really, I would have liked more space to stretch out. All in all, sleeping cars are definitely the way to go though. It was nice to have a private (albeit small) space that we could have conversations (there is a designated quiet time so it was nice to not have to worry about that) and enjoy the views in. Big room or not though, make note of the next tip…

Tips #2: Pack bathroom necessities and shower shoes.

My biggest “damn it” moment was when I realized I didn’t have shower shoes. I hate other people’s feet. It’s gross and it doesn’t matter how much the train care personnel cleaned that shower, it was communal and covered with other people’s germs. So, yeah, bring flip flops or water shoes. Something. That aside, they do have soap, shampoo and whatnot available, but after spending hours on a train it felt nice to smell “like me” because I had my own body wash and hair care products. My next tip is the other thing you should pack…

Tip #3: Bring your favorite food and drinks with you.

One of the nice things about booking a sleeping car is that you get three free meals a day. When the train isn’t serving meals there is a snack bar available (not free) as well. Here’s the downside though: it’s the same stuff each and every day, including your big meal options. I don’t know how often Amtrak rotates their menus, but be forewarned that for the duration of your trip you will have the same breakfast, lunch and dinner options of mostly prepared beforehand food. Now, it wasn’t bad per say, but it wasn’t great either. It was edible. When we arrived in Denver and had a break to stretch our legs though, my husband and I rushed into the station to buy fresh fruits and snacks, which brings me into…..

Tip #4: Make note of which stops you can get off at to stretch.

During the trip, the train will make many stops at other stations along the way. Some of these stops are very short while others offer riders the opportunity to get off and walk around for a little. There are train schedules available (our room had one in it) which will list the arrival and departure time for each stop so you can note the longer ones. The conductor will also announce whether or not you can walk around for a bit. Each car has a personal caretaker as well who will know too. You’ll want to take advantage of each one to get some fresh air and move, plus take in the sights from outside the train. These stops are also when my husband and I would rock some yoga moves.

Tip #5: Have music, movies, TV shows and games downloaded ahead of time.

There were times, when the sun was down and we couldn’t see the views, or maybe the views weren’t that interesting (sorry middle of America, too flat) and so you’ll want something to occupy your time. For a lot of the train ride we didn’t have excellent cell service and there is NO WIFI on the train. Now, I liked that because it meant we couldn’t get distracted, but it also means you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of entertainment available that doesn’t require an internet connection. Don’t spend too much time on these those, and listen to my next tip…

Tip #6: Walk around the train,  talk to strangers and look out all the windows.

These are the three things that make traveling by train different from other forms of transportation. It not only offers you the opportunity to see beautiful landscapes up close, but also meet new people. Plus, you can walk around which is way more fun than sitting in a cramped airplane seat. Amtrak has communal dining so you’re going to be sitting with strangers at least three times a day and you need to take advantage of it. My husband and I met so many interesting people, heard hilarious stories and learned tricks and tips from train pros. The train also has a viewing car that offers a large windows to see better from which is a great place to make new friends. I’m of the opinion we spend way too much time in our personal bubbles and traveling by train was one way to get out of that comfort zone.

One of the views as we entered a desert part of Utah.

Finally, and most importantly, be sure to walk around the train and take in all the views, because you’ll see way more this way than hiding in your own little area. It was amazing to watch all the different landscapes. We saw everything from snow capped mountains to large deserts with plateaus. America is truly a beautiful and amazing country. Since this trip I have a new found respect for the various parts of my country. There was way more out there than I imagined, even though I thought I knew. If you’re going to take the time to travel by train, take the time to take in and appreciate what is around you.

I could go on and on about the train, moving at a slower pace of life and give endless tips, but these are my definite go to ones. If you have any questions about this trip or train travel in general, let me know in the comments below and I’ll answer as best as I can! Next week, I’ll continue the travel talk with a little bit about the time we spent in Utah.

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