I went on a train trip! I’m super excited to share my tips for traveling on Amtrak and I sure hope they’ll be helpful to you.
This is how my very first Amtrak travel adventure went down. 🙂
A very tall man that I love harder than a goat butts a stump said to me, “Ethel,” (which is how he pronounces Sher), “let’s go to Chicago again, only this time LET’S TAKE A TRAIN!” )
(This is a good place to tell you there are a few affiliate links in this post, which means if you click and purchase something I recommend, I’ll become a millionaire who can buy my own train. So thank you for that.)
Naturally, I said yes without hesitation, but mostly because I was already thinking about Chicago Mix popcorn from Garrett Popcorn. That stuff is like middle-aged lady crack and I can’t get enough when we’re there.
Honestly, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect on Amtrak because everything I know about trains I learned from the movies. I imagined glamour, intrigue, mystery… you see where I’m going with this.
Here’s what our very first long distance train trip was really like. Read all the way to the end and you’ll have plenty of tips for traveling on Amtrak. Trust me on this.
We departed very early in the morning from Union Station in Kansas City. I have to say in all sincerity that Union Station is magnificent, and that means something because I’ve used that word only three times in my life.
Once when I first saw the bathrooms at Caesar’s Palace.
Once when I was describing my tap-dancing abilities on Match.com.
This wasn’t our first trip to Union Station. There is a great restaurant inside that we love called Harvey’s, and in fact the very tall man and I have even taken a Segway tour of Union Station and the surrounding area. (You can read about that here.)
Awesome things about traveling on an Amtrak train…
1. Amtrak travel is so stress free, you can’t believe it. When we fly we have to make decisions about the size of our shampoo and whether my tweezers may be perceived as a national threat. When you hop on Amtrak there are no such concerns. I could have put a gallon of radioactive pickle juice in my luggage and no one would have said a thing. (Next time.)
2. Leg room…leg room…leg room. The very tall man is 6′ 6″ and ten minutes into our train trip I issued a warning. “If you say, “LEG ROOM!” one more time, I am going to punch you in the kidney. He was right though. Ridiculous leg room is happening on Amtrak. (Don’t tell him I said that.)
3. Train travel is super comfortable and quite relaxing. There are two seats per row and they aren’t squished together so closely that you know whether or not the person sitting next to you has a heart arrhythmia. The seats were comfy on the Amtrak Southwest Chief – they reclined somewhat and there were adjustable foot rests as well. When we arrived to Chicago, we couldn’t get over how rested and ready for the vacation we were. We loved that.
4.The Observation Car and the Dining Car is train-soaked with awesome sauce. Majorly cool is the fact that you can get up and move around the train whenever you like without fearing if you walk too heavily, it will fall out of the sky. (That’s an airplane thing.)
You can go chill out in the Observation Car where the seats face the tall, wide walls of windows. You have a great view and you can meet other train traveling humans who seem to congregate here. I loved it. (Wish I’d taken better photos.)
If you’re hungry you can drop by the snack bar for a small bite or if you’re in the mood for something more, it’s a quick walk to the Dining Car to enjoy a relaxing meal.
We did all of the above because I declared myself Sher: Queen of Amtrak Mystery and Intrigue, so I wanted to investigate everything.
Which brings me to the not so awesome things about traveling on an Amtrak train, so keep reading…
It’s not exactly like Cary Grant or Gene Wilder told you it would be. If you’ve watched too many glorious old movies about train travel (guilty), you may need to lower your expectations a bit.
1. For instance, I was expecting porters to be like this:
On our trip BACK from Chicago, we had a crew (is that even the right word?) of absolutely stellar people who were dressed smartly in their railroad garb and looked for all the world very much like I expected them to look. I wish I’d taken a photo! They were warm and friendly and seemed completely thrilled to be working for Amtrak.
But, to be honest on our trip TO Chicago our porters acted more like this:
2. Shaky, fast-moving trains + potty visits + men enjoying coffee and beer for hours = REALLY WITH THAT? I don’t know what the bathrooms looked like when old Hollywood traveled by rail because they didn’t have Twitter, but I think I can imagine.
The picture below is Amtrak bathroom reality. I spared you the actual throne and the floor beneath it.
But, oh yeah. It’s what you think it was. On this issue, I was terribly disappointed in Amtrak. Surely there is time to clean at least a bit, isn’t there?
My suggestion to train travelers is to come armed with your own disinfectant wipes and/or Hazmat suit. They are AWFUL!
3. Amtrak is a mixed bag of nuts. From Baby Boomers pulling sets of designer luggage to Amish families playing cards (is that even allowed?) to college kids with their laptops plugged in (yep – there are electrical outlets everywhere), to old women with no teeth drinking directly from 2 liter bottles of generic soda, to middle-aged blogger chicks and very tall men – you’ll see it all.
I only mention this in the “not so awesome” column because it means you’ll be closed in for long hours with all kinds of personalities… and their cell phones and their smelly Corn Nuts. If you aren’t the kind of person who has a mental happy place, I suggest you forget about taking a train.
4. No WiFi. Download your books, magazines, music or podcasts and you’ll be fine.
Would We Take Amtrak Again?
We will totally take a train the next time we go to Chicago. Honestly, it’s not that much longer than flying from Kansas City to Chicago when you factor in the preparing, the driving and parking, the lines, the security, and then waiting for baggage. Plus, it is a true travel experience and I LOVE travel experiences.
In fact, I want desperately to go on a longer Amtrak trip where the scenery is breathtaking and we can experience a sleeper car. Sleeping on a moving train… heavenly, I’m sure.
If you decide to hop an Amtrak train for your next travel adventure, here are some suggestions that may help:
Pack some snacks you love. (Be considerate please and leave the Corn Nuts & tuna fish at home.)
Bring a small throw in winter. I got cold.
Download any content you want before boarding. Our ATT service was sketchy. I filled my iPhone with lots of podcasts and an audiobook.
If you have mobility issues, don’t reserve an upstairs seat. The stairs could be a challenge.
Headphones are your friend. I have my trusty Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones. They’re spendy for sure, but they are nothing short of magnificent and last for years and years. I bought my son Bose headphones when he was a sophomore in high school and he still uses them every day as a Senior in college!)
If you want to nap, you’ll want to pack a great sleep mask. (Love this one.)
So that’s my story. You should think about creating your own story. Go on! Book your train trip! It’s an ADVENTURE!
Have YOU taken an Amtrak train? Share your tips below! xoxo