Travels by Amtrak!

Guys! Guys!

I’ve just come home from a Big Travel Adventure and I am in love with train travel and I will now tell you all about it! This post will be about my journey, not my destination — for that you will need to wait for another day.

Background: my disabilities have made travel uncomfortable/impossible for years. I can’t walk far or fast; I can’t carry anything heavy; I am easily fatigued and need to spend lots of time lying down; I require supplemental oxygen; I have an insane amount of medication to take every day, a medication pump to refill every three days, and lots of vital medical supplies that I need to have handy all the time.

I’m an extreme introvert and slightly claustrophobic. I’m also tall, thin, and bony. :)

Air travel is a nightmare for me, between the stressful time-wasting unpleasant airport experience, the humiliating security theater process, the dry, thinned-out air, and the feeling of being trapped in a tin can with no way to move about or unfold myself from a painfully uncomfortable seat. Driving long distances is just impossible.

But I have discovered the wonders of long-distance train travel and I am in loooooooveeeeee with Amtrak!

Here’s the story of my journey.

I traveled by Amtrak’s “Coast Starlight” train from my home in the SF Bay Area to visit my son and his family in Vancouver Washington. On the northbound trip, I bought a regular Amtrak coach ticket ($94). The seats are wide and very comfortable, there’s tons of legroom, and they recline quite a bit. It’s easy to keep your carry-ons close by, as there is plenty of space by your feet, an overhead bin, and some sturdy shelving for anything that won’t fit in the overhead bin. You’re allowed two carry-ons and two “personal items” with you, and you can check four more suitcases, I think, though two carry-ons are all I need plus my small portable oxygen concentrator and my purse.

In coach, there are two big seats on each side of the aisle. There’s no armrest between seats, so if you’re lucky enough to have no seatmate you could curl up across both seats to sleep. There are two power outlets for every pair of seats. I kept my oxygen machine plugged in, and my seatmate and I shared my long iphone charging cable.

Sleep was possible. Not great for a side-sleeper like me, but possible. I slept well enough that I felt ok the next day. I had all my meds, snacks, books, and knitting handy.

I was very lucky that my seatmate wasn’t chatty, but if you are sociable, you’ll find lots of friendly happy travelers just waiting to make friends with you!

Although I asked for and was promised help managing my luggage and getting from the station to the train and vice versa, it was all quite disorganized and there was a lot of waiting about for someone in an electric cart to come get me. Other passengers were kind enough to carry my luggage up and down the stairs to my upper-floor seat, thank goodness.

I boarded my train on a Monday evening and arrived in Portland (the stop closest to Henry’s house) the next afternoon. I ate lunch in the dining car which was a thrill! Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer!

I spent most of my time just looking out the window at the beautiful mountain scenery and the day flew by.

For the return journey, hoping for better sleep and more help, I splurged on a “roomette” ($259), which is a teeny-tiny room with two big cushy seats facing each other, a huge window, and a sliding door (with window and curtain) to the aisle. The seats convert to a comfortable bed, and there’s a pull-down bunk for the second person, if two are traveling together. If you’re just one person, like me, there won’t be a stranger sharing your roomette. Just you. If you are traveling as a couple, the cost is not doubled — the roomette is one charge, and the actual travel ticket is another charge. So in my case it could probably be broken down to something like $165 for the roomette plus $94 for the travel ticket, so for two people it would have been $165 + $94 + $94. Make sense?

In a roomette there are lights, temperature controls, and ONE electrical outlet — next time I will pack a splitter!

It was a cozy little heaven. It was private and comfy, and I could partly recline my seat and put my feet up on the other one. People in sleeper cars are automatically traveling First Class, so there was MUCH more help for me! A Red Cap carried my luggage right to my roomette. I kept my bag full of oxygen stuff, meds, sleep needs, and amusements in my roomette and my other bag (clothes, shoes, spare meds) on the luggage shelf in my sleeper car.

The bathrooms in coach were perfectly adequate, but the sleeper car bathrooms were a couple notches nicer and there’s even a shower compartment for longer journeys!

Coach passengers must pay for their dining car meals (the food is quite good but pricey) but when you travel First Class all your meals are included — entree, drink, and dessert. There are maybe five or six choices per meal, including a vegetarian/vegan option if that’s your thing. I had a nice fresh salad for my lunch and salmon for dinner, with green beans and a baked potato. And flourless chocolate cake for dessert, which I took back to my roomette for a before-bed snack. Omg it was amazing.

Breakfast is a free-for-all, but they take reservations for lunch and dinner. If you’re in a sleeper car you get first dibs. :) A conductor comes along, asks when you’d like to eat, and gives you a slip of paper with your reservation time on it. On my northbound coach journey the train was PACKED so we filthy coach passengers were really last on the list — but I still got my lunch at around 12:45. :)

Here’s an amazing, wonderful, unexpected thing about train travel: it’s quiet. Or maybe not quiet, exactly, because you can hear some comfortable train-ish rattling and rumbling some of the time, and the far-off train whistle, but there’s no constant roar or hum or whine. All cars are quiet zones between 10pm and 6am, so even in coach it was very peaceful — and even when people were having conversations in the daytime, they weren’t shouting to be heard so it wasn’t annoying! In my roomette I heard only the right-and-proper clickity-clacking and the infrequent station stop announcements. I have EXTREME sensitivity to background noise so this low noise level was a huge benefit.

I slept very well in my roomette. I woke up a few times when the train was extra-rumbley or went briskly around corners, but I was very comfortable all night and felt well-rested when I woke up.

Also! After my train trips, I arrived at my destinations feeling cheerful and refreshed. When I fly, I arrive feeling exhausted and miserable.

Take the train, people. Take the train. Take the train while Amtrak is still operating, and write to your congressperson to support Amtrak’s continued existence, which I hear is on shaky ground. If you are disabled and need assistance, I do recommend that you splurge on a roomette if you possibly can. If you must travel by coach, find a conductor well before your stop and ask him or her to radio ahead for a Red Cap to assist you. (Even if you have already been promised that someone will be there to help you.)

Train travel is slower and more expensive than flying and driving but my goodness it’s so much more FUN! I literally looked out my window all day — mountains, forests, rivers, the backsides of tiny towns, the industrial zones of cities… there’s always something to see.

Since I found out that I have a very short amount of life remaining, my family and friends have asked if there’s anything I especially want to do in the time I have left. Up to now, I only wanted to stay home and be comfortable — but now I want to travel the country by train!

There are no great 1940s songs about Amtrak, so this will have to do:

(Fun fact: I am distantly related to the Atchisons of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railway)

Category: Blog 8 comments »

8 Responses to “Travels by Amtrak!”

  1. Kathy

    Wow, that splurge for the return trip sounds like it was *well* worth it. What a great trip; I’m so glad it worked out so well for you!

  2. Brenda Hamilton

    I’m so glad you have discovered the joys of train travel. I have distinct memories of riding the rails across the country in my own little cozy roomette I hope you get to do some more train traveling before life is done.

  3. Catharine

    I’m delighted that you’ve found a comfortable and fun way to travel! I hope you’re able to take many more journeys. :)

  4. Natalie

    Your description of your travel time just got me hooked. Unfortunately traveling by train in Germany is a bit different because it is not that comfortable as you described it. There is only little room for all your stuff and you sit in two rows along the wagon. Not much privacy or quietness.
    But… I dreamed such a long time of traveling by train through USA or Canada because of the wild and beautiful and breathtaking landscapes and views. And after your report I feel deeply attracted to it. I can imagine it so well, thank you so much! I hope that you will have lots and lots of road trips by train the next time.
    Traveling is such fun, you meet people with interesting stories very often. And having that special connection with them while traveling together. It’s so touching and joyful.

    Wish you plenty of time to discover whatever you want to see and experience. Blessings, Natalie

  5. Amy

    I’m very happy for you that you were able to travel and to travel so relatively comfortably!

  6. Walter Seeley

    Sorry about the off topic comments. THANK YOU for being a Librivox volunteer. I am a 39 year old truck driver who has a lot of time to listen. I loved listening to you read This ISland Of Ours and This Country Of Ours. My sixteen year old hostory loving daughter loves to listen to you read as she falls asleep. Thank you so much for your time.

  7. kara

    Hi Walter, I’m delighted to get comments from listeners and I’m so happy that you and your family enjoy my recordings :)

  8. marie

    I am glad you have found a new and enjoyable way of travelling. It sounds ideal.

    I found your blog actually to thank you for your wonderful rendition of Heidi. Thank you so much!

    You have a lovely reading voice and I am enjoying very much listening to a story that I didn’t get around to reading as a child. Some of the children’s books from past times are actually just as enjoyable for adults. Having found your blog I then had a look at earlier posts and you have now introduced me to Duolingo (now having a go at French) and also The History of English Podcast. So a triple thank you! I only discovered your readings last week and already you have expanded my listening and learning experience. Many thanks from somewhere cold and rainy in England.


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