You CAN train across the USA for $213, but you’ll lose your mind.
As a long-haul train enthusiast, here is the real scoop on traveling the USA.
As a train nerd, I was delighted to see someone promote Amtrak, America’s flaccid train system. You see, the more people travel long distance by train, the less likely Amtrak, our only interstate commuter rail system, will disappear from places outside the Northeast Corridor.
However, as an avid train rider, the click-bait title and suspect information in the essay got to me, gosh darnit. Folks need to know what long-haul train travel is really all about. I may not know a lot of things, but one thing I know is that you can’t ride across the USA for $213 without wanting to rip your eyes out and flinging them into the passing landscape.
I have yet to travel across the entire USA via train, but I regularly travel the 5800 miles roundtrip from Austin, TX, to Syracuse, NY (I’ve also taken a handful of other interstate train trips). The TX to NY trip takes a little over 48 hours each way, and I’ve traveled on it in full coach and in half-coach, half-sleeper car. The reason why I began forking over a little more dough to have a sleeper car is because on my one full-coach trip, staff had to prevent me from hurling myself out the emergency window. That’s not true, but I definitely thought about it. Actually, that’s not true either, but my point is I wanted to get off the mother f’ing train.
I mention this because if you bought the $213 ticket across America that Derek Low mentions, you’ll be sitting in coach for FOUR DAYS. Imagine being forced to sit in your recliner at home for 96 hours straight and instead of being able to call in delivery for your favorite pizza while snuggling up to your lover as you both watch a delightful cable drama about young people living in a big city, you eat microwaved hot dogs from the cafe and avoid trying to snuggle up with a random stranger who is sitting next to you. Listen, coach on Amtrak is actually quite nice, but you don’t want to do it for four days, even if you can walk around. You wouldn’t even want to sit in first class on an airplane for four days. Or Vegas. Coach on the train is like Vegas, including the whole “what happens here, stays here” slogan.
As Saul of Hearts reminded me, during non-holiday times, you can easily snag two seats next to each other in coach, but it’s still brutal. Size-wise, you’ll recall what it’s like sleeping in your mother’s womb, but without all the warmth and love.
Another thing you’ll want to do is GET OFF THE MOTHER F’ING TRAIN, and in order to do that, you either need to buy individual leg tickets OR Amtrak’s super economical 15, 30 or 45-day passes ($458, $689 and $899 respectively). The 15-day pass is what Low actually purchased. These passes allow you a certain amount of stops. I mean, what’s the point of going across country on the train if you can’t get off?! Unless you need to go straight to New York City, in which case you would have taken a plane.
If you don’t get off the train, by God, you’ll want a sleeper car. Trust me. Just being able to retreat to your cozy closet in private is much needed. Now, don’t hide out in your sleeper the entire time; the beautiful part of the train is that you meet many interesting people. But come nightfall, you’ll want to lie down in your sleeper bed versus sleeping semi-upright next to hundreds of strangers. Strangers are cool, but not when you’re trying to sleep. We sleep in our bed at home alone for a reason.
Now, a sleeper car is expensive. That’s why when I travel from Texas to New York, I get a sleeper for the longest leg (Austin to Chicago) and do coach for the shorter leg (Chicago to Syracuse). It’s still a little pricey, but if you buy far enough in advance AND use a AAA/military/student/senior discount the price will go down. Also, all your dining car meals are free with a sleeper. That’s about a $50-$70 savings per day. My argument is, if you’re bothering to traveling across America on train, you should save up and enjoy it (you’re definitely looking at well over $1,000 one way). Don’t skimp. You can do it affordably though, especially if you travel with friends or family.
I encourage every single person to take the train, but you should know what you’re getting into. Traveling multiple days on the train is exhausting and smelly. Even as a writer who enjoys unique and sometimes challenging situations and experiences (i.e. being weird and meeting weird people), I can tell you that it gets rough. I’ve talked to several folks on long-haul train trips who had no idea what they were getting into. Even my boyfriend reconsidered our union after I brought him along on a trip from Texas to New York (he flew back).
If you need any train advice or help, hit me up or follow my travel Instagram account. I know a lot of tips and tricks. I can’t stress enough how amazing train travel is. Please try it, but pay the extra dough to enjoy the experience.