We wanted to do something adventurous, relaxing, and scenic for Spring Break this year. We discovered a lost form of traveling and took a train across the country! We traveled on Amtrak's Southwest Chief #3 from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA within about 43 hours.
This is a trip I definitely won't forget, and the experience was so amazing that on the final day I found myself looking up more routes and destinations I wanted to try out. This was a completely new experience but it was positive in many ways. Here are nine things I learned from riding on a train.
1. Trains are laid back and flexible.
I found the stations to be less stressful and easier to navigate than airports, although much of the concepts were the same. They were flexible because I thought bringing your luggage on the train with you instead of checking it was easier than on airplanes.
2. These types of trips are for adventure or scenery seekers.
The large windows showed amazing scenery as we passed through New Mexico.
The train was constantly rattling and chugging along, but the views were worth it. We ate breakfast during a vibrant pink Kansas sunrise and traveled over mountains. We sped past the arid southwest in places only a train could reach. The scenery was my favorite part.
3. Sleeper cars are the best deal.
If you are going on a long trip, it is worth it to splurge a little for the sleeper car. We booked a roomette which was a small room with two chairs that turned into bunk beds at night. It ended up being cozy though. It included all dining car meals along with free water, coffee, and a friendly train attendant.
4. The train makes frequent stops.
The sun set during a quick stop somewhere in Arizona.
The train constantly stops about every hour to pick up passengers along the route. These were cool stops in states across the southwest and contributed to the journey of traveling. Every few hours was a "fresh air/smoke break" stop that lasted between 10-50 minutes where you could explore the area. Don't stray too far because it will leave you if you don't respond to the "all aboard" call!
5. The food was good.
We ate all three meals offered each day that came from a pre-determined menu. The food wasn't gourmet, but it was well above the snack car's fast food which we also visited to buy snacks. There was lots of coffee available and I was never dissatisfied. Breakfast was my favorite meal, of course.
6. Two days go by quicker than you think.
While we napped in the room, the rest of the time was spent in the observation car which had skylight windows.
A lot of people asked how we survived on a train for about 40+ hours. Easily! Time passed very quickly and I was never restless because of the frequent fresh air stops. Much of the day was spent napping. I found myself wishing it was longer so I would have had more time to read the book I brought.
7. The large Union Stations are beautiful.
All of the large train stations that house multiple tracks were beautiful in a grand, historic way. They were modern, clean buildings with large skylights, old decorative lights, tall ceilings, and soft jazz which created a unique atmosphere.
8. It was on time.
The train sped along quickly, except when it slowed down for curves.
To bust the myth in a lot of online reviews I saw, our train was always on time. In fact, it was an hour early to our final destination. Also, there were constant announcements which kept us updated on all information.
9. There is limited wifi.
Although "available" in the sleeper cars only, the train's wifi was spotty at best. I don't blame the technology because my phone's hot spot didn't fare much better. There is not much you can do when you are going through a remote area of the southwest plains or mountains. I enjoyed the disconnection.
You could see the train tracks from the window in the back of the train.
While they aren't the luxurious stereotype presented of the past in movies, a train is an amazing journey to make when you want to disconnect and slow down a little. You have a lot of time to relax, meet new people, or nap. It allows you to enjoy the feeling of traveling while adding a sense of adventure. Trains provide you with gorgeous views of the passing scenery through the large windows. And, there are more adventures that await you at your final destination.