Author Topic: From East coast to West coast, by train!  (Read 6441 times)

GreenHorn101

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From East coast to West coast, by train!
« on: April 05, 2017, 03:25:48 PM »
Hi all, 

I am planning a trip from East Coast to West Coast by train!
Have anyone here done it before? Any suggestion/Recommendation? Things I should be aware of?

Backstory:
I recently left my web dev job and are looking for my next gig. Rather than staying at home, I decided it would be nice to use this down time and take a 1 ~ 2 weeks trip to visit different cities.


Current Route:
1) New York (Start)
2) Washington DC (stay 1 night @ friend)
3) Chicago (stay 1 night @ family)
4) Salt Lake City or Denver? Haven't decided yet (1 night @ Hostel)
5) San Francisco (stay 1 night @ hostel)
6) Portland (stay 1 night @ hostel)
7) Seattle (stay ? night @hostel, Trip End)

I am planning to get the 15 days pass for $459.00. Seems like a pretty good deal.

jamesbond007

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2017, 04:08:20 PM »
I heard Chicago to Seattle train route is very beautiful. Never done it myself but I can see why. It looks like you are missing it.

dhc

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2017, 04:35:43 PM »
I heard Chicago to Seattle train route is very beautiful. Never done it myself but I can see why. It looks like you are missing it.

A small portion of it is, but Denver - San Francisco is far better, or at least I enjoyed it more.

Enjoy the scenery! I'm not sure, but you may actually find it cheaper to buy the individual tickets than to use a pass. I believe you also need reservations in advance for most of these, although my understanding is there's no additional cost beyond the pass (unless you opt for a sleeper upgrade). Food on the train is quite expensive (again, unless you're in a sleeper) and gets boring quickly, so bring plenty of snacks.

I haven't done the full coast-to-coast trip, but I've done many of the individual portions. It's a relaxing way to travel as long as you can focus on enjoying the ride and not on getting to your destination quickly or necessarily on time.

ohsnap

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2017, 05:59:53 PM »
I agree with dhc that you should bring as much of your own food as possible.

Also, keep an eye on your stuff.  A friend of mine did a cross-country trip by train with her 2 kids to save money vs. airfare.  Between the food costs, and the cost of the electronic item that was stolen on the train that she had to replace...the train ended up costing her way more!   I hope you have a great trip - just keep those things in mind.

Laserjet3051

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2017, 06:37:02 PM »
I agree with dhc that you should bring as much of your own food as possible.

Also, keep an eye on your stuff.  A friend of mine did a cross-country trip by train with her 2 kids to save money vs. airfare.  Between the food costs, and the cost of the electronic item that was stolen on the train that she had to replace...the train ended up costing her way more!   I hope you have a great trip - just keep those things in mind.

I am an avid AMTRAK fan. For the past ~20 years I've continually been pricing the cost for train versus airfare for my big transcontiental or South to North trips. Never once, has the train even come close to beating the cost of flying when all things are considered.

GreenHorn101

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2017, 09:40:13 PM »
Thanks for the tips guys!

I am not worried about the down time on the train, as I will using the down time to make an app or learn some new JS framework.

I heard Chicago to Seattle train route is very beautiful. Never done it myself but I can see why. It looks like you are missing it.


I would love to take a train ride from Seattle to Chicago (Northen route) on my way back, not sure yet.

I agree with dhc that you should bring as much of your own food as possible.

Also, keep an eye on your stuff.  A friend of mine did a cross-country trip by train with her 2 kids to save money vs. airfare.  Between the food costs, and the cost of the electronic item that was stolen on the train that she had to replace...the train ended up costing her way more!   I hope you have a great trip - just keep those things in mind.

I will keep that in mind! The only expensive electronic i would have is my laptop, and I just bought a laptop lock.

I agree with dhc that you should bring as much of your own food as possible.

Also, keep an eye on your stuff.  A friend of mine did a cross-country trip by train with her 2 kids to save money vs. airfare.  Between the food costs, and the cost of the electronic item that was stolen on the train that she had to replace...the train ended up costing her way more!   I hope you have a great trip - just keep those things in mind.

I am an avid AMTRAK fan. For the past ~20 years I've continually been pricing the cost for train versus airfare for my big transcontiental or South to North trips. Never once, has the train even come close to beating the cost of flying when all things are considered.

Do you think i should stop by Denver or Salt Lake City? Can't decide.

Cranky

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2017, 05:02:29 AM »
Sometimes, if you ask when you are checking in, you can upgrade to a sleeper pretty inexpensively, and honestly, it is pretty nice to be able to sleep on the train. I've done Ohio to Florida a couple of times and what I've learned is that I can't sleep sitting up, so YMMV. If you are planning to sleep in coach, it's nice to have a blanket with you.

I met someone who was doing a crosscountry trip with only a fairly small backpack, and if you can stand it, that's the way to go.

GreenHorn101

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2017, 12:38:39 PM »
Sometimes, if you ask when you are checking in, you can upgrade to a sleeper pretty inexpensively, and honestly, it is pretty nice to be able to sleep on the train. I've done Ohio to Florida a couple of times and what I've learned is that I can't sleep sitting up, so YMMV. If you are planning to sleep in coach, it's nice to have a blanket with you.

I met someone who was doing a crosscountry trip with only a fairly small backpack, and if you can stand it, that's the way to go.

I use to sleep on the Greyhound Bus from Ohio to NY all the time. Train would be an upgrade!

How was the wifi on the train?

Axecleaver

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2017, 01:26:50 PM »
My wife did Albany, NY via Penn Station, to Seattle, over the summer about 20 years ago. She loved the trip. The best part was meeting all the interesting personalities, people who for one reason or another did not want to fly.

She said the plains were the most beautiful, miles and miles of wheat. It's a really fun way to see the country, if you have the time.

pomegranatemom

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2017, 01:41:50 PM »
I LOVED the San Francisco to Chicago route. Absolutely gorgeous scenery through Colorado and pretty interesting scenery elsewhere, too. We got a sleeper car and I would recommend that. Meals are included with a sleeper which took the stress out of deciding what to eat/how much to spend. I'd also recommend bringing a bottle of wine or two. Drinking is allowed in your room and having a glass with my husband while looking at wildlife along the Colorado River was a highlight of the trip.

bognish

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2017, 01:56:59 PM »
I think the train arrives in SLC in the middle of the night. I live close and don't find SLC all that remarkable and worthy of a stop (atleast walking distance from the train). Stops to consider between Denver & SLC would be Winter Park or Glenwood Springs. Glenwood train station is walking distance to the hot springs pools.

mm1970

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2017, 06:27:37 PM »
My MIL and her best friend did Albany NY to Portland, OR about 7 years ago.  They stopped a few spots on the way - Chicago, MT (had a friend there), and OR (friends there too).

Then after a few days in OR, they took the train down to Santa Barbara to visit us for a few days.

Then they flew back.

They really enjoyed it.

So much that hubby, me and kiddo decided to take the train to NM.  It was about a 24 hour trip one way.  And the "pretty" stuff in northern AZ is all at night.
Fun but...I really couldn't sleep on the train, even in the big seats.  It was def cheaper than flying though.  We talk about doing something like that again but with sleeper cars.  But in that case, flying is cheaper, almost always.

The food though.  It's horrible.  Overpriced and just gross.  Pack as much as you can.

Cranky

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2017, 11:54:47 AM »
Sometimes, if you ask when you are checking in, you can upgrade to a sleeper pretty inexpensively, and honestly, it is pretty nice to be able to sleep on the train. I've done Ohio to Florida a couple of times and what I've learned is that I can't sleep sitting up, so YMMV. If you are planning to sleep in coach, it's nice to have a blanket with you.

I met someone who was doing a crosscountry trip with only a fairly small backpack, and if you can stand it, that's the way to go.

I use to sleep on the Greyhound Bus from Ohio to NY all the time. Train would be an upgrade!

How was the wifi on the train?

The wifi is okay, but you will not be streaming anything, IME. And some people can sleep anywhere (my dh for instance) but I am not one of them. The train seats don't go back quite far enough for me to get comfortable, and on some stretches the train stops pretty often, which wakes me up every time.

I really love going by train, but it has it's peculiarities. Also remember that if you have a sleeper, you get your food as part of the deal, and you get first choice of seating in the dining car. However, you can bring your own food onto the train, and there's plenty of room to spread out. Lots of people bring small coolers. You aren't supposed to drink unless you go onto the snack car, but you can bring your own booze if you want. If you get a sleeper, you also get a better waiting room, which is extremely nice if you've got a long layover in the station. (There are usually snacks.) Check your luggage if you can (not all routes offer it.)

Some routes offer a business class for a little more, I know that NYC to Pittsburgh does, and I think that's a worthwhile upgrade. It's quieter, there are some seats with tables, you get free coffee and a free newspaper.

GreenHorn101

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2017, 01:01:07 PM »
Sometimes, if you ask when you are checking in, you can upgrade to a sleeper pretty inexpensively, and honestly, it is pretty nice to be able to sleep on the train. I've done Ohio to Florida a couple of times and what I've learned is that I can't sleep sitting up, so YMMV. If you are planning to sleep in coach, it's nice to have a blanket with you.

I met someone who was doing a crosscountry trip with only a fairly small backpack, and if you can stand it, that's the way to go.

I use to sleep on the Greyhound Bus from Ohio to NY all the time. Train would be an upgrade!

How was the wifi on the train?

The wifi is okay, but you will not be streaming anything, IME. And some people can sleep anywhere (my dh for instance) but I am not one of them. The train seats don't go back quite far enough for me to get comfortable, and on some stretches the train stops pretty often, which wakes me up every time.

I really love going by train, but it has it's peculiarities. Also remember that if you have a sleeper, you get your food as part of the deal, and you get first choice of seating in the dining car. However, you can bring your own food onto the train, and there's plenty of room to spread out. Lots of people bring small coolers. You aren't supposed to drink unless you go onto the snack car, but you can bring your own booze if you want. If you get a sleeper, you also get a better waiting room, which is extremely nice if you've got a long layover in the station. (There are usually snacks.) Check your luggage if you can (not all routes offer it.)

Some routes offer a business class for a little more, I know that NYC to Pittsburgh does, and I think that's a worthwhile upgrade. It's quieter, there are some seats with tables, you get free coffee and a free newspaper.

Thanks again! Seems like sleeper would a worthwhile upgrade, would definitely check it out. :)

My MIL and her best friend did Albany NY to Portland, OR about 7 years ago.  They stopped a few spots on the way - Chicago, MT (had a friend there), and OR (friends there too).

Then after a few days in OR, they took the train down to Santa Barbara to visit us for a few days.

Then they flew back.

They really enjoyed it.

So much that hubby, me and kiddo decided to take the train to NM.  It was about a 24 hour trip one way.  And the "pretty" stuff in northern AZ is all at night.
Fun but...I really couldn't sleep on the train, even in the big seats.  It was def cheaper than flying though.  We talk about doing something like that again but with sleeper cars.  But in that case, flying is cheaper, almost always.

The food though.  It's horrible.  Overpriced and just gross.  Pack as much as you can.

Oh no! Will definitely pack some sandwiches if time permit.

JoJo

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2017, 04:39:42 PM »
I'm doing the Empire Builder Seattle to Chicago next week.  No wifi on this train and no reception in Montana & North Dakota.  I am going to enjoy one blissful day disconnected :) on Good Friday.  It just happens to be my 44th birthday too.

ClovisKid

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #15 on: April 07, 2017, 05:03:15 PM »


I use to sleep on the Greyhound Bus from Ohio to NY all the time. Train would be an upgrade!

How was the wifi on the train?

I've only traveled on Amtrak in California, but I can share that the wifi is wholly unreliable.  It works *ok* in the metro areas, presumably where there is plenty of wireless coverage for the train's transmitter, but you often go completely dark for hours in the more rural areas (i.e. along the coast from Ventura to San Luis Obispo counties).  I would expect that to be applicable to other parts of the train routes across the country.

BTW, the coastal route from San Diego to San Luis Obispo is a lot of fun, has wonderful stops in places like San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, etc.  However, it doesn't connect to easily to other parts of the network (only via bus, I think).  The previously mentioned segment from Ventura to San Luis Obispo is particularly scenic as is goes along the coast.  The train is called the Pacific Surfliner.

kimmarg

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #16 on: April 08, 2017, 09:53:57 AM »
Done Boston to Denver before as well as Denver<--> SLC a few times. I quite enjoy the train.   Boston to Denver was 2 nights and the second one I couldn't sleep at al because all I'd done was sit on the train all day. Did chat with some nice folks all the way through Ohio and western NY.  Only reason I don't do it more is the time. BOS to DEN was ummm 36 hours+ on train and 5 on plane.


MrSal

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #17 on: April 08, 2017, 01:33:55 PM »
This is my goal for this summer as well ...

Here's the one I did 3 years ago in Europe:




JoJo

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #18 on: April 08, 2017, 05:27:15 PM »
Here's another great North American train trip: up to Churchill, Manitoba across the Canadian Tundra.

https://thehotflashpacker.com/road-train-to-churchill/

CapLimited

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #19 on: April 08, 2017, 06:06:54 PM »
Railfan here -- I have taken all of the Western long-distance trains from end to end.  I always save up a vacation fund and book a roomette -- I like my privacy and I like to be able to bring my own wine, plus I can't sleep well sitting up.  Also, as previously mentioned, meals are included with sleepers.  Try the steak -- pretty expensive if you have to pay for it separately, but great if you are in a sleeper and don't.

Some thoughts:

1.  If you can only swing sleeping accommodations on one segment, consider the Coast Starlight route (between SF and Seattle on your itinerary).  This gives you access to the beautiful Pacific Parlor Cars, which are only for sleeping car passengers.  The PPCs have nice lounge areas, special meal options available, and a private bartender for the car.  (They do take them off the trains for maintenance in Jan-March, though.)

2.  Glenwood Springs looks like a great option for a stopover -- very walkable and charming.  I've not been yet, but it's on my list. 

3.  It's good that you have worked in some overnights.  Trains sometimes get unavoidably delayed by freight traffic, idiots who stop on the tracks and get hit by the train, or equipment breakdowns. 

4.  No wifi outside the Northeast Corridor.  Maybe arrange for some extra data for basic stuff while you are on the train, but otherwise plan to download your entertainment media at your overnight stops when you have wifi access.  Honestly, I always download several books, and have yet to get through even one of them.  The scenery is mesmerizing, and people tend to get into long, interesting conversations with other passengers. 

5.  Make use of the observation car.  You will have a little more room to spread out enjoy the scenery.  Get off at the longer stops, too.  Even though you can walk around the train, it's still good to be able to walk the platform and stretch your legs.

6.  Meals in the dining car are community-style -- they seat you with total strangers if there is less than four in your party.  I thought I would hate this since I am an introvert, but I have had some of the best conversations ever over Amtrak meals.

7.  The scenery in Colorado on the California Zephyr is fabulous -- some say the best in the whole Amtrak system.  Going through the Sierra Nevada is pretty spectacular, too.  I liked the Empire Builder between Glacier National Park and Seattle, but it didn't do much for me between Glacier and Chicago.

Have a wonderful trip!


MrSal

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #20 on: April 08, 2017, 06:56:18 PM »
Railfan here -- I have taken all of the Western long-distance trains from end to end.  I always save up a vacation fund and book a roomette -- I like my privacy and I like to be able to bring my own wine, plus I can't sleep well sitting up.  Also, as previously mentioned, meals are included with sleepers.  Try the steak -- pretty expensive if you have to pay for it separately, but great if you are in a sleeper and don't.

Some thoughts:

1.  If you can only swing sleeping accommodations on one segment, consider the Coast Starlight route (between SF and Seattle on your itinerary).  This gives you access to the beautiful Pacific Parlor Cars, which are only for sleeping car passengers.  The PPCs have nice lounge areas, special meal options available, and a private bartender for the car.  (They do take them off the trains for maintenance in Jan-March, though.)

2.  Glenwood Springs looks like a great option for a stopover -- very walkable and charming.  I've not been yet, but it's on my list. 

3.  It's good that you have worked in some overnights.  Trains sometimes get unavoidably delayed by freight traffic, idiots who stop on the tracks and get hit by the train, or equipment breakdowns. 

4.  No wifi outside the Northeast Corridor.  Maybe arrange for some extra data for basic stuff while you are on the train, but otherwise plan to download your entertainment media at your overnight stops when you have wifi access.  Honestly, I always download several books, and have yet to get through even one of them.  The scenery is mesmerizing, and people tend to get into long, interesting conversations with other passengers. 

5.  Make use of the observation car.  You will have a little more room to spread out enjoy the scenery.  Get off at the longer stops, too.  Even though you can walk around the train, it's still good to be able to walk the platform and stretch your legs.

6.  Meals in the dining car are community-style -- they seat you with total strangers if there is less than four in your party.  I thought I would hate this since I am an introvert, but I have had some of the best conversations ever over Amtrak meals.

7.  The scenery in Colorado on the California Zephyr is fabulous -- some say the best in the whole Amtrak system.  Going through the Sierra Nevada is pretty spectacular, too.  I liked the Empire Builder between Glacier National Park and Seattle, but it didn't do much for me between Glacier and Chicago.

Have a wonderful trip!

Arent sleepers in Amtrak really expensive?

When I saw some of the prices it almost gave me a heart attack, like from Chicado to SF the sleeper would be an extra 600-700 dollars or so.

I miss European prices in that regard!! Most of the trips I did on the map above, a room could be had for extra 40-70 dollars!

CapLimited

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #21 on: April 08, 2017, 07:37:14 PM »

Arent sleepers in Amtrak really expensive?

When I saw some of the prices it almost gave me a heart attack, like from Chicado to SF the sleeper would be an extra 600-700 dollars or so.

I miss European prices in that regard!! Most of the trips I did on the map above, a room could be had for extra 40-70 dollars!

They certainly can be.  You're right -- European trains are much more reasonable, but the European governments provide much more support than the US government does.  Americans don't seem to have a problem with subsidizing air travel and highways, but balk at putting money into rail travel.  Amtrak is expected to pay most of its own way. 

I have had a lot of luck points-hacking Amtrak Guest Rewards points with the Amtrak credit card and by transferring Amex SPG points into Amtrak Guest Rewards.  Also, if you think of the train ride itself as the vacation, along with your transportation, you are also getting your sleeping accommodations and meals included.

GetItRight

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #22 on: April 09, 2017, 01:53:01 PM »
I have looked at trains to get from coast to coast. It's far more appealing than air travel, solely because the government (TSA) makes air travel miserable and requires violation of your rights and genitals to travel by commercial air. I only travel commercial air for work when it's more than a one day drive, for personal travel I drive and consider the train for trips where it would be practical.

Unfortunately coast to coast is 3 days at best via train with at least two long layovers, and costs more than air just for the ticket, not including 3 days of meals and such. For personal travel it also has never made sense for where I wanted to go as it cost a lot more than driving, at the cost of less flexibility as well. If the cost was cheaper than alternatives I would use the train, and for coast to coast it would have to get me either way in about 2 days, not burning a day waiting at or near stations.

So, long distance train travel is not practical from a time or money perspective unless you're in the northeast corridor, then it absolutely beats air travel between major metro areas and is worth it even if it costs a little extra as it saves time and no violation of your rights required.

Penelope Vandergast

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #23 on: April 09, 2017, 04:09:29 PM »
Didn't read all the prior comments so if I am repeating do forgive me. I love the train and have traveled with my family many times. Kids always ask when we can go again. The sleepers are great and if you plan ahead and have flexibility, you can get them affordably (or even free if you have enough Amtrak Guest Rewards points). It's worth getting the Amtrak credit card that comes with 20,000 bonus miles. Starwood points also convert one-to-one to Amtrak points. You can also get Amtrak gift certificates with Amex points.

The sleepers come with all meals for free in dining car. They are considered an upgrade/add-on from your regular fare, but they put you in "1st class" which comes with some minor perks like free water bottles in your room & free coffee or juice available almost all the time in the sleepers, along with the meals. You also get access to the Amtrak lounges -- in Chicago, for instance, the lounge was very recently renovated and you can get free snacks, Peet's espresso from an automated machine, free soft drinks, etc. There was an attendant walking around giving out fancy chocolates last time I was there too...Big hit with the kids.

Pricing for sleepers is very confusing. Basically the earlier you buy, the cheaper they are -- but if you wait until the very last minute (like the same day) you can sometimes also get them for cheap -- I recommend calling as well as looking at website. Also I have read that they do not do the onboard upgrades anymore except at full price. Amtrak also uses a bucket system, so some rooms on the same train will be more expensive (or less expensive) depending on how things are selling. They can be VERY expensive...or not.

The cars are mostly old and show it. Sometimes temps in the sleepers are too high, sometimes too cold. Plan accordingly. I just read someone recommending that you bring duct tape to secure loose banging things in your sleeper for better rest, which is a good idea (sometimes stuff like the little closet door or the bathroom door can be loose, etc.) A white noise machine or earplugs can be good too -- we were close to the engine once which blew the whistle at every single crossing across Ohio in the middle of the night, which seemed like about 1,000 crossings and I was woken up many times. The wine available on board is not bad at all -- buy it in the cafe car, it might help you sleep.

Amtrak.com does not allow you to search for a range of dates to see which might have the cheapest sleeper fare. Thankfully someone actually sat down and made an app for this, which is at http://biketrain.net/amsnag/amSnag.php .

If you are not in a hurry and can be laid back about most things like the above loose doors, I really do recommend the train. 95% of my experiences have been great. (Amtrak sometimes runs late...very late. They share the tracks with freight trains, among other things, and that can screw everything up. However most of my trips have been pretty close to on time, even on the Lakeshore Limited, whose nickname is the "Late For Sure Limited.") Tip the sleeper car attendants. It's a really interesting way to see the U.S.

I dream of the day that we actually have something resembling a decent cross-country rail system again. I really hope it happens before I'm old. It is so nice to arrive somewhere feeling totally chill instead of miserable after being smashed like sardines into a metal tube.




GreenHorn101

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Re: From East coast to West coast, by train!
« Reply #24 on: April 10, 2017, 03:29:49 PM »
Thanks for the reply everyone! I am super psyched now :)

The sleeper sounds great, I would definitely check it out if the price is not too crazy. Can't afford to be spendy pants when I don't have my next job lined up yet.   

 

Wow, a phone plan for fifteen bucks!