From South Korea to Germany, Fiji to Bahrain, my passport is full of stamps. I love to travel and believe everyone should go somewhere new as often as possible. While the efficiency of going by plane fits our society’s need-for-speed lifestyle, I’ve boarded a few flights that were cramped, resulting in grueling and unenjoyable trips.
This past year, I was given the opportunity to travel to Portland. But rather than fly, I decided to switch things up a bit. I happen to be one of those folks who enjoys taking her time, so I made the decision to go by train. Amtrak ticket in hand, I set off on my 60 hour train trip up to Portland.
Sixty hours is a long time but I wanted to actually see the country, so I figured, why not? The plan was to take two rail lines to get to Portland from San Antonio: the Westbound Sunset Limited line (which runs back and forth from New Orleans to Los Angeles) and the Coast Starlight (which runs from LA to Seattle).
Available to me with the purchase of a coach ticket were three types of cars: any and all of the coach cars, the lounge car and the dining room car. I didn’t spend much time at all in the dining car—the food was quite expensive and, from what I heard, not very good. I highly recommend packing your own food, especially if it’s a short route.
Each train car has an upper and lower level. Most seats are located on the upper level of the coach cars, while a few lower levels have accessible seating available for those unable or unwilling to climb a narrow stairway. The lower level has bathrooms, which I must admit, are not exactly impressive; take some hand sanitizer with you for sure. There are several different seating choices and options for sleeping accommodations but I had no issue getting comfy on the coach seats. They recline way more than airline seats and have plenty of leg space as well.
I spent 99% of my time in the lounge car, the real reason Amtrak is so special. This car is essentially one giant window with a conveniently placed snack bar located on the bottom level. My favorite views and photos took place in this car. Decked out with booth style tables and several outward facing lounge chairs, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t jam packed with people for the entire journey.
The most interesting people I met while on my trip came into my life during time spent in the lounge car as well. An old man told me stories about Doc Holliday and other bandits of the Wild West as we rolled through the deserts of Arizona. I talked public transportation (or lack thereof) and other American curiosities with an Australian woman Amtrak-ing through the country. And dug into political ideas with a podcast host/jiu-jitsu fighter and his girlfriend traveling to Houston. There is no shortage of characters on the train and the frequent loss of cell service also helps you to realize that there are real live people with interesting stories sitting all around you.
I know that cross country travel isn’t for everyone but Amtrak has plenty of destinations close to San Antonio, which will make excellent train trips if you can spare a little extra time. Here are a few destinations that are on my list.
- Austin, TX (dirt cheap!)
Big Bend (Alpine, TX -rent car to drive another 90mi to Big Bend)
- Houston, TX
- Dallas, TX
- Texarkana, TX
- New Orleans, LA
- Lake, Charles, LA
I won’t be turning to Amtrak for all my travel plans, but I do have a new appreciation for the beauty of train travel. Going by train has shown me how wonderful an experience it is to put the phone down, take it slow and just stare out the window for a while.
If you’d like to get going on planning your next trip, check out amtrak.com for more details about the trains as well as entire vacation packages. And be sure to check out Amtrak’s Instagram account that’s full of gems from life on the rails.