The Pros and Cons of taking an Overnight Train

So this was a post I wrote long ago, while I was taking a train across the U.S., specifically on my 46-hour journey from Chicago to Seattle.  Enjoy!

I was originally going to write a post on why trains are so much better than planes, especially for cross country travel.  Throughout my 46-hour train ride, however, the idea slowly changed to a pro con list, because while there are a lot of positives, the negatives started rearing their ugly head a few hours in.

That being said, I am currently writing this post sitting cross legged over two seats, drinking coffee, and watching North Dakota pass me by.  So I really can’t complain too much.

Pros:

  • A ridiculous amount of Leg room.

No seriously. I can stretch out, fit probably my suitcase at my feet and still have room to spare.  I never have legroom on flights. I am tall. I need leg room.

  • The food

The Amtrak trains that I have been on have both a dining car and a café car. I have tried the herbed chicken, and the vegetarian pasta, and both were surprisingly good.  The chicken was cooked perfectly and seasoned great.  It also came with mashed potatoes, which I am always a sucker for.  The pasta had a great cheese sauce, and I ate every bite.  They also did a cool thing where they brought in food from a restaurant in Montana as an option one night.

The Café car varies per train, but in mine they had candy, coffee, wine, pizza, pretzels, burgers, wine, chocolate, cinnamon rolls, and wine.  Did I mention the wine?  I had the pizza for lunch two days in a row, which is essentially just Digornos frozen pizza heated up in the microwave, but its decent.  The wine is godsend.  They also have beer and mixed drinks, if for some insane reason wine isn’t your thing.

  • The view

Okay yes, a lot of what I am seeing is cornfields. Or just fields. But I have seen a lot of cows, horses, random rivers and ponds, and at one point, fields and fields of sunflowers.  It’s a view of our country that I have never seen before, and I really enjoy seeing places I never would have otherwise.

  • The people

Most people on the train are people who don’t like flying, or want to take their time, or some other reason.  I really don’t actually know, because honestly, flying is so much more efficient. I can only speak for my reason (take my time) and the people who I sat with for dinner, a lovely couple from Minnesota, where the woman didn’t fly but wanted to travel.  It is cool that for dinner, if you choose to eat in the dining car, you sit with strangers and learn their story.

  • The observation room

Honestly, I have no idea if that is what it’s called. In my head it’s the viewing room, but both sound kind of pretentious so I’ll just explain what it is.  It is basically a big car with windows stretching from the top of the ceiling to basically the bottom, with chairs facing the windows.  It is also conveniently above/next to the café car, so I would get my wine coffee and watch the views, listening to my audiobook and watching the fields go by.

Cons:

  • The lack of sleep

Okay, this one may just be me.  I am a light sleeper, and I just could not get comfortable in these damn chairs.  Maybe I just have too much room to move around.  My seat neighbors didn’t seem to have as much trouble, given the number of snores I heard, but I just cannot sleep here.

  • The food

Okay yes, this one was also a pro. But I just can’t get over the way that Amtrak cooked their vegetables, both with my chicken and in the pasta.  Blanching vegetables will never be an acceptable way to cook them, in my opinion. The only vegetable that is acceptable to boil is a potato. In salt. Because salt potatoes are awesome. Anything else is not okay.  Turning vegetables into indistinct, flavorless lumps, that probably don’t even retain their nutritional value, is not acceptable.  It’s just not good. I like flavor.  I like vegetables.  Please don’t turn my damn vegetables into flavorless lumps.  Even salt could not save them.  I still ate them, but I did it quickly and without pleasure.  Vegetables are good. Don’t ruin them by boiling them to oblivion.  Ugh.

  • The lack of Wi-Fi.

This doesn’t even need any explanation. But seriously. 46 hours, no Wi-Fi, barely any service. Cornfields are starting to look real exciting by hour 29.

Overall, training across the country was a unique experience, and I am glad that I did it.  I saw bears, drank maybe too much wine, and listened to countless audiobooks. I’m not sure it’s something I would do again, at least not in that capacity, but I definitely rank trains as one of the better ways to travel.

 

 

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