I Choo Choo Choose You: The Joys of Traveling by Train

Summertime is Adventuretime and coincidentally, like Heidi, I have found myself in Portland. And I got here by the most delightful way, the train. (From Seattle after a plane ride from SF).

I love the train, and it holds a very special place in my heart much like the US Postal system. Although I have to admit, I had kinda forgotten they are fun to ride, and am so happy to be reminded that they are perfect for summer adventuretime, or when your mean sister won’t drive you down to Portland. (And she totally didn’t apologize profusely, make me the most delicious honey toast, and carry my bags into the station. Jerk.)

I was on the Amtrak Cascades from Seattle to Portland. It was supposed to only take three and a half hours (the car ride would have been at least three, but more on that in a minute), and only $31, which I don’t think would have been far from what I would have had to spend on gas. There was also free wi-fi, beautiful scenery, and plenty of room to stretch out. I g-chatted, watched True Blood, and happily ate an overpriced (but not totally airplane overpriced) cheese and cracker plate. If I hadn’t had my computer, I would have been content with just staring out the window. It was real pretty.

If you have flexibility in your plans, Amtrak’s fares vary in price throughout the day and there are often special deals. There’s one currently on the Cascades line that has something to do with kids, but since I don’t, I didn’t pay attention. I did notice the kids activity book though, and made sure to snag one for myself.

Sure, some of the cars are like sitting in a storage freezer (a tip from a friend, if you are traveling overnight bring a sleeping bag so you don’t turn into a popsicle) and some of the cars smell disturbingly like creamed peas. And confusingly enough, we got stuck in traffic (freight train traffic) and were delayed about a half hour.

But I’ve dabbled a little train travel, mainly the 24-hr long ride from Chicago to New York, back when they had smoking cars and a fair amount of passengers were riding simply because you could take your weapons. I’ll save those stories for another day but those rides were filled with men fresh out of prison, off to reunite with loved ones after years away, raucous smoking car parties that exhausted the train’s beer supply, and making the unlikeliest of new friends.

That’s part of what train travel is all about. You don’t have to interact with the other passengers, but if you want to sit in the dining car, playing cards with strangers and reminiscing about times you got kicked off airplanes, there are plenty of people who will want to do just that with you. I think maybe because no one is shoved into uncomfortable seats with their knees jammed against tray tables, people are less cranky than on airplanes. (The tiny windows might have something to do with it too.) Personal space is not such a precious commodity. People even smile at each other.

Trains often aren’t the cheapest or fastest way to travel. But you are guaranteed to have an experience you won’t forget, interacting with America’s landscapes and people unlike you ever have before. I highly recommend at least trying a three hour or more ride once. Sure beats sitting in a metal tube or sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. (Did I mention they serve alcohol?)

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PS. A little known fact, I wrote this on the hotel bathroom floor. It was too ridiculous not to share.

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About the author

Jessica Longo - Two-Bit Reporter

Jessica was born, moved around a lot and has an odd dialect to prove it (see: hella, bubbler, and cawfee), and is now precariously settled in SF. Despite graduating high school too many years ago to count, she was crowned Prom Queen this summer and considers her life complete now. Last year her production editing job was outsourced to the Philippines. Hope they like it. Luckily for you, this Lady of Leisure is currently accepting applications for the position of Wealthy Benefactor.
  • http://www.facebook.com/thedonjohn John Robertson

    100% right on the money, as usual. Train travel is AWESOME! I’ve only done it once but it was cross country both ways (SF to SoCal to New Orleans to East Coast, then back through Chicago to SF) and I totally had a BLAST, met new people, played cards etc. Now that TSA wants to stick it’s virtual or non-virtual hands down my pants, maybe I’ll take another train ride next time I’m going somewhere…

  • http://www.facebook.com/thedonjohn John Robertson

    100% right on the money, as usual. Train travel is AWESOME! I’ve only done it once but it was cross country both ways (SF to SoCal to New Orleans to East Coast, then back through Chicago to SF) and I totally had a BLAST, met new people, played cards etc. Now that TSA wants to stick it’s virtual or non-virtual hands down my pants, maybe I’ll take another train ride next time I’m going somewhere…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1756905529 Renee Chambers

    OMG no more smoking cars?   Those were definitely the hangout spot.   Bring lots of beer $$$ too, its not cheap!   I have some wonderful memories of Amtrak from CA to Chicago…. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1756905529 Renee Chambers

    OMG no more smoking cars?   Those were definitely the hangout spot.   Bring lots of beer $$$ too, its not cheap!   I have some wonderful memories of Amtrak from CA to Chicago…. :)

  • Sofu_gan

    “And confusingly enough, we got stuck in traffic (freight train traffic) and were delayed about a half hour.”

    Er, no. Amtrak does not own many of the lines it uses, and therefore does quite often get stuck behind slower freight traffic.

  • Sofu_gan

    “And confusingly enough, we got stuck in traffic (freight train traffic) and were delayed about a half hour.”

    Er, no. Amtrak does not own many of the lines it uses, and therefore does quite often get stuck behind slower freight traffic.