Frank and I enjoy a good road trip, and we’ve made several through the years. The longest was probably the time we went to Detroit via Niagara Falls. For a giggle, I like to tell people it’s because Frank didn’t look at a map.
We enjoy the scenery and the sights you simply can’t get from an airplane window, especially when we have time to enjoy the journey itself instead of just rushing to our destination. There’s so much more to experience, and no x-rays or luggage searches are involved. For those reasons, we planned to drive to Tacoma, Washington one summer (in 2008, I think) to visit his mother.
“It’ll be fun!” we said. We began planning the route we’d take and deciding where to stop along the way. As the time drew near, however, gas prices skyrocketed to just over $4.00 per gallon. Leave it to us to plan a cross-country road trip in the time of the highest gas prices I had ever seen.
We hated to give up the time and the scenery, though, so we toyed with the idea of traveling by train. We learned that Amtrak’s northern U.S. route would take us directly to Seattle, and we could take the ferry to Tacoma where his mother could pick us up.
The cost of the train tickets was less than the cost of hotel stays and gasoline, and sleeper passenger tickets also included meals! We decided to give it a try. Because we feared boredom, we only bought a one-way train ticket, and booked a return flight home.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we’ve taken trips on two of the other three cross-country routes and plan to take the fourth one in the future.
Amtrak’s term for the travel space we chose is ‘roomette.’ It consists of two seats that face each other, a fold-away table, and a full-compartment window for sight-seeing. At night the seats flatten to form the lower bed, and the upper berth lowers to form a bunk bed. The restrooms and showers in each train car are shared by the other roomette passengers.
(For the record there are other, more expensive choices with private restrooms available. I didn’t plan to spend enough time in the restroom to justify the extra expense.)
At meal times we went to the dining car, where we were seated at a table with another pair of passengers. Without fail, it was different people each time, so we met several interesting folks and had some entertaining dinner conversations. The food itself was enjoyable, too. It’s a limited menu out of necessity for space, but all of it was quite tasty.
I learned a few things on our first train trip, not the least of which was that Frank and I can spend three days in a small space and still enjoy each other’s company and have things to talk about. The rest are more generally applicable:
The scenery is beautiful during the day. When it gets dark, you may as well go to sleep, because you can’t see anything outside anyway. And if you’re sleeping in the top bunk, go ahead and hook up the little cargo net thing that’s attached to it. Some of the tracks are a little rough.
With a full-size window, the scenery looks the same whether you’re facing the front of the train or the back of it. Make friends with the folks across the aisle so you can share views with them. Otherwise you only see one side of things.
Montana is flat except for the far-west edge. It’s called “Big Sky Country” because all you see is sky and flat. Not all cowboys live in Texas.
Taking a shower in a small compartment on a moving train is an interesting experience, as is walking, eating and drinking. The wait staff, however, are adept and the white tablecloths remain that way.
When the conductor says, “don’t get off the train,” because it’s only stopping to let passengers get off and on, he is not kidding. They will leave you if you’re not on the train. Our new friend across the aisle learned that one the hard way.
Flexible travel times refers to which day you go, not what time of day. There’s one train per day, and you go when it goes or you wait till the next day — at the same time.
It is a great way to travel if you’re as interested in the journey as the destination. The pace is slower and the seats are comfortable. The food is good, and the people couldn’t have been any nicer. I look forward to the next ride.