Traveling Across the United States via Amtrak: from Sacramento to Washington D.C.

Last quarter, I received an acceptance letter from the University of California Washington Program (UCDC). The program is offered to UC students; it comprises of ten weeks of study in a particular course and an internship to gain hands-on professional experience. I’ve always wanted to join the program, and since it was my last year at UC Davis, I decided to give it a shot and spend ten weeks in D.C. Most students choose to travel on airplane and arrive to D.C within hours, however, I decided to take a rather different, longer, route.

I traveled via Amtrak, yes, the classic passenger railroad train brand we see at many metropolitan cities in the United States. I began my journey in California and hopped on the California Zephyr to Chicago, Illinois. Traveling on train had been on my bucket list for a while, and now I can finally say I’ve done it. I met people from all walks of life on the Zephyr, especially elders who have the time to travel across the country, and honestly, just have fun. There were a lot Amish people too; very interesting because I had never interacted with them before. Anyhow, the scenery when crossing California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and eventually, Illinois, was fascinating. The views were especially most visible when I moved to the Slight Sheer Lounge, a sitting area with large windows where travelers can enjoy the view. The Book Cliffs in Utah and Colorado were astounding. The Rocky Mountains and Colorado River were too.

There were a few stops along the way; however, the train only stopped for a few minutes before heading off to its next location. I thus did not have enough time to explore different cities, yet the scenery overall was well worth it. When it came to breakfast, dinner, and lunch, there’s a callout for people to get on a list and eat some good food; I certainly was hungry most of the time. (I never thought of bringing with me some snacks because I didn’t think I could, but yes you can and it is cheaper that way, way cheaper — I spent way too much on food while on my time there. However, the Italian sandwich I bought at the Union Station in Denver, Colorado, was incredible — you must try it!) Sitting arrangement is randomized because of limited spacing so I sat with random people from Colorado and Australia. Overall, the train was comfortable with the coach seats having much more legroom than those on the airplane. Rooms or sleeping cabins are available though they are expensive costing upwards of $600 to $700 dollars. My ticket was $197.20 with a student discount aside from over $100 dollars I spent on food.

I arrived to Chicago at around 12:30 p.m., and so I thought — it was actually 2:30 p.m., I will get back to this in just a second. Upon getting off the train, I immediately went to check-in my luggage so that I could explore the city. Never had I been in Chicago, Illinois, and from my first experience, the city was vibrant with plenty of tourists all over the main streets, and especially the famous so-called bean, or Cloud Gate. I first stopped at the bean and took some pictures before going to downtown to walk around and grab some lunch. The Lyft driver that had dropped me off next to the bean recommended Portillo’s Hot Dogs, and so I visited the restaurant and was amaze at the quality of hot dogs with fries, and a drink. The hot dog was very good, and cheap too. I then left the restaurant to walk some more and decided to stop by a Target to buy some snacks since I was not going to spend more money on food on the train. Yet when I left Target for another restaurant, I realized it was getting way too dark for being 5:00 p.m. I hence decided to ask a stranger for the time, and yes, it was 7:00 p.m. My smartphone was not so smart and did not update the time automatically, meaning that I was still running Cali time — I did enjoy Chicago though!

I had therefore missed my second train, the Capitol Limited, I was supposed to hop on to before 6:40 p.m. when it was set for departure. Quickly after realizing I had missed it, I jumped into a taxi and headed for the Metro Station in Chicago. I arrived around 7:20 p.m., and you bet, the train had already departed. I immediately sought to get on another train but they were all sold out, and so my only option was to ride the Greyhound from Chicago to Washington D.C. free of charge after showing my Amtrak ticket. I then had to wait at the Greyhound station for about two hours before departing to D.C. at 11:45 p.m. The experience was quite different, to say the least. There were multiple stops, and the bus was not that comfortable. Moreover, there was no food on the bus and so I unsurprisingly starved a little, albeit I did spend less money on food. I slept most of the time on the bus, and after a long and unexpected bus ride, I arrived tired and three days without having showered to D.C. at around 5:30 p.m. The experience was phenomenal, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. You should consider it.

Lastly, while securing my Greyhound bus ride I learned that Trump’s blueprint budget to Congress threatens Amtrak’s long-distance routes such as the one I took from California to Chicago on the California Zephyr. It is therefore prudent to stay vigilant and demand to your representatives that services such as Amtrak be kept running because they not only provide jobs but also allow for Americans to travel freely across the states whenever we see fit.

To learn more about the UC Washington Program visit them here.

You can visit Amtrak here and book your travel.

To learn more about Trump’s attack on Amtrak check out this piece on Chicago’s Tribune.