**This post originally appeared on my personal blog.**
In order to get to Indiana, I decided to try something different; I took the train. The longest train ride I have had prior to this would be taking the South Shore into Chicago. Not really a “long distance” ride. This time, I got on the train in Flagstaff and rode it to Chicago where I switched to the South Shore. I got on the train at 4:45 AM Flag time (2:45 AM Central) on Sunday morning, and arrived in Chicago at 3:15 PM on Monday. So, around 36 hours total on the train. I was riding in coach, which has a few distinct differences from the other options.
When you ride in coach, you are essentially riding in a seat that is like a much nicer airline seat. The seats are larger than a plane, and they recline farther and have a little foot rest thing you can flip up. They do have a tray table in the seat back in front of you. The seats are in pairs with one aisle. It’s not the most comfortable sleep I’ve had, but it certainly was doable and not totally awful. You are allowed two carry on bags, and there is ample overhead space for them. If you’re short like I am, there is plenty of room to put one of your bags at your feet.
Unlike a plane, you are welcome to move about the train as much as you please. There is a viewing car that has more and larger windows than the passenger car. You can go sit there for hours and watch the countryside. By far my favorite view on my particular train was northern New Mexico. I didn’t expect it to look like it did. I tend to think that New Mexico looks like what I saw when driving across 40, but it is so much more varied than that.
If you get hungry, you can visit the Café car for a snack or the dining car for a meal. The café car is more like a nice snack bar. You can get some chips, but you could also get some ramen. The dining car is actual meals, but, of course, it costs more than the snacks. I averaged $12 for breakfast and lunch, but dinner starts at $16. What’s fun about the dining car is that you get seated with other people because they need to put four people to every table if possible since the car is small. Thus, at meal times you can sit and meet new people, find out where they are going, and enjoy Somme decent food together. I met a mother/son pair that were going from LA to Boston where her some was going back to college, a retired couple that was going home after visiting their kids and grandkids, and a woman and her daughter that were moving across the country. Breakfast and lunch are come any time while the car is open, but dinner is reservation only. The dining car staff will come through the train asking who is interested in dinner and give you a set time to come to the car.
Riding in coach wasn’t bad, but next time I would definitely get a sleeper or a roomette. Those rooms allow some privacy as well as a more secure feeling when leaving your belongings at your seat. Plus, all your meals are included if you have one of those cars. You can even have your meals delivered to your room if you like (though why would you? Then you’d miss out on meeting new people).
All-in-all it was a kind of neat experience, though it did get boring at some points (I did not pack enough reading material). The crowd I traveled with had mostly gotten on at the start of the ride in LA, so there were a few interesting things about traveling coach with LA people. I decided by the end of the trip that they didn’t really understand how public transportation works and that is probably why they didn’t understand why certain things needed to be done in certain ways. It was also fun to watch them be amazed as the train got into Chicago and they looked at how large all the buildings were. Several of them were taking pictures of random apartment buildings because they thought those were so big. I wish I could have seen them get out into the town at Union Station.
I’m excited for the trip back to Flag on the train. I think it will be a cool experience to see what kind of people I end up with going the other way, and seeing everything from a different perspective (the stops will be the same, but it will be a different time of day). I would suggest traveling by train at least once just to see what it is like. It’s certainly an interesting way to see the country!