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How I Survived the AMTRAK Train

USA | Thursday, 10 November 2011 | Views [5776] | Comments [3]

This year I travelled across America on the AMTRAK. Beautiful sleeper cabins, a dining cart with cocktails and white linen table clothes and service that would put top restaurants to shame. I thought this would be a beautiful way to see the country.

I was wrong.

A good friend and I set off on this adventure from San Francisco to Chicago after battling a very serious 20 hour hangover. Coffee in hand we boarded the AMTRAK, excited of the pleasures to come. An hour in, we began to discuss how long we would be sitting there for.

“It’s only 3 days”, then “It’s 54 hours...” and then “we could fly to Sydney return. TWICE!”

The first 5 hours were bearable. We explored the carriages, looked at the beautiful scenery, read and listened to music. The foggy glassed “observation desk” could really only be used to observe passengers settling in for their 54 hour games of UNO, terrible, terrible (TERRIBLE) guitar sessions and bizarre word games which still to this day I can not understand (It was basically use every letter in the alphabet backwards to invent new words....?).

Here are 5 tips I wish someone had told me before I boarded (although I’m sure the barman in San Fran did, we just thought we knew better):   

1. Take your toothbrush

A rookie mistake. There is nothing worse than spending 3 days with your toothbrush, hairbrush, hand sanitiser, deodorant and clean clothes travelling snuggly in the baggage cart. I don’t know why we didn’t think to bring these things with us on the train, but it's safe to say that my friend and I got further and further away from each other as the days went on.

2. Take food

So important! The food offered on board in the kiosk is inedible. And that’s saying a lot as i'll eat most things. We spent the entire trip surviving on 2 apples, a box junior mints and milk duds. You can take anything you want on board with you so definitely stock up on drinks (maybe some booze..) and something nutritious. Even if you do have to eat from the kiosk, the best you’ll find is a microwaved pizza or cheeseburger.

This is an actual AMTRAK pizza - you have been warned!

3. Mingle and take a friend

There are plenty of interesting characters on board, most puzzled as to why 2 Australians were on their train. A lot of the travellers we met on the train were drifters, travelling cheap to meet women in Chicago or ...training it just for fun. Everyone was very friendly and had interesting stories to tell about their journey, although I am happy I had my fake husband with me. I felt safe travelling on the AMTRAK, but you’ll have a more relaxing journey if you have a friend with you.

4. Take entertainment and expect crazy thoughts

We had 4 books between us and both read The Prophet twice. If I had an ipad or a kindle back then I doubt I would have been as restless as I was so I highly recommend taking them on board with you if you can. Also, when you are stuck for entertainment and sitting on a train for 54 hours straight expect some crazy thought patterns. On the last day my friend and I said very little to each other, although both had the “what am I doing with my life” thoughts in our minds.

5. Enjoy the ride    

Thinking back now, the experience was amazing. It's one of those trips that's horrible at the time but hilarious as soon as you get off. Take your camera and your journal and enjoy the ride as on one side of the window you'll see beautiful dirt hills and outback scenery then a few hours later it will transform into picture perfect snow covered houses. Just beautiful. 

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About the author

Kate Hoffman is the Editorial Producer at WorldNomads.com. She lives for all things travel and food. Follow her on twitter @Hoffkate.

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Tags: amtrak, chicago, san fran, transport, usa



I just finished a ferry boat adventure of 4 islands and three rides in BIW.
1. Antigua to Montserate
2. Montserrate to Nevis
3. Nevis to St. Kitts.

  TOM NICHOLSON Jul 28, 2013 6:08 AM


BWI is British West Indes, not Baltimore Washington International Airport.

  TOM NICHOLSON Jul 28, 2013 6:13 AM

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