Train travel is way more exciting than the air travel
Five years ago I took a train from Minneapolis/Twin City to Portland Oregon. Many people simply just take few hours flight between the destinations, but in this post I will share my experience of crossing six states over the course of 37 –hour commute – an unique experience that I will never forget.
Truly amazing scenery passing through your window
(Picture: big sky Montana)
I have to admit that out of all the road trips I have embarked on in the mainland USA, this route, from Minneapolis to Portland Oregon, beats everything else to a pulp. Over the two and half days I woke up to the countryside of North Dakota, pass through big Sky Montana, and again woke up to the coastal community in Washington State, and finally all the way down to Portland Oregon along the waterfront. It truly is an inspiring journey and the vista in all the state is jaw-dropping gorgeous.
I did not sleep at the sleeping cart, but it was equally a fun trip and I had two nights of good sleep
My experience told me that you do not have to pay a room and stay in the sleeping cart to get a good night sleep. In fact, when train arrives in Minneapolis from Chicago, about 2/3 of the passengers disembarked. From that on the train has many available seats left and you can literally pick an empty row (with two seats) and lay down to sleep.
When the train arrives in Minneapolis, it was already past 9pm. If I recall correctly, at that hour or two stations ahead there will be no announcements made at that night till the following morning. Of course they will wake you up privately if the train reaches your destination at midnight. As the crew knows all the passengers need some sleep and they are happy to provide a silent environment for you to do so.
I was in the economic cart and in the daytime I enjoy the view of the American countryside, and at night I fall asleep straight till the next morning (I slept nearly 12 hours every day). I promise you that when you wake up the next morning, you will be stunned at you can sleep that long without a bed.
There is a dining cart, but we turned it into a party cart
I have taken many trains in the United States but unlike any other train, the dining cart on this train turns out to be a spacious space for party. I guess maybe most passengers are tired of the silence after 20 hours train ride, and desperately seeking fun activities to do with others. For any reason all of us had fun at the party.
There are alcohols featuring on the train, and I had a small bottle of wine to drink during the party. We had this lady from Portland started blasting the music on her laptop whiles others simply drinking, dancing and sharing their funky stories. I remember there is this guy sharing his jail time in the US but refusing to tell us what kind of felony he has been committed. Another female passenger from Spokane (Washington) asked nearly every guys in that cart buying her a drink and everyone seemed fine with that, and that she had a huge hangover but managed to get off when train arrives at Spokane around 2am. The Amtrak crew even allowed us to abuse the dining cart and voluntarily threw themselves into this party, what a crazy experience.
Endless beautiful sights
I have mentioned it before, but this time I will let the pictures do the talk. In short, you will be waking up to the view like this (In North Dakota):
And this (Washington State):
and this view (in Washington State):
How much is the ticket?
From my experience, if you decided to Amtrak from the east to west, then purchase a 15-day or 30/45-day pass. Otherwise you will be busting your budget on each segment you travel. The pass is only available for economic cart, but for 15 days 7 segments, that is a very good deal.
My pass back in 2011 was only $389, and considering I was on the train for nearly 75 hours (from Richmond VA to Miami, Chicago to Twin City, Twin City to Portland OR, Portland to San Jose CA, and San Jose to LA) and with accommodation included (of course it is not luxury but at least it is comfortable), it is a very affordable journey. As for the food, you do not have to eat at the dining cart all the time, but you will find a way to get some decent meal. Sometimes the train offers $10 chicken meal, or simply stops at a station for more than 30 minutes and that is when most passengers behop out of the train to grab local food.
The end: everyone knows everyone on the train
I have taken the flight to travel throughout the states, but how many times I said I know everyone on the flight? None. This train makes everyone connected. There is no internet access on the train, and everyone just take their time enjoying the view, and striking conversations with others. To this day,I still believe there is this one weird reason to connect everyone: we would rather spend more than 30 hours on the train instead of 2-3 hours air travel. But when train arrives in Portland, everyone moved on and continues moving on with their own lives.
When the train reached its final destination, the lady who blasted music during the party insisted on offering me a ride to my hostel. We did not exchange our contact information and I do not even remember her name and her appearance. I handed her a calendar I purchased from Hawaii to say thank you, for the ride and for the good times.