Who doesn’t love trains, I know I do unless I’m at a train crossing waiting for one to go by then I hate them I also hate Thomas the Tank Engine, not sure why but I’ve never been a fan of that happy train car.
Now that I’ve sold the motorcycle I’ve taken to the rails, not jumping trains which would be cool, instead I bought a ticket on the Amtrak Empire Builder line. The train goes from Portland, OR to Chicago, IL, a 2200 mile journey that takes 46 hours or in my case 52 because of delays. To prepare I searched google for tips on what to bring didn’t find much and I completely forgot to ask Afor who frequently travels from Denver to Iowa to visit family. I determined that I need food for two days and booze since beer is impractical to bring unless you have an aluminum growler which I learned about from my train friend Josh.
Boarding at Vancouver, Washington I found myself in the last coach car in a section with some fun characters and like many of my journeys I was so amped up that I may have overdone it on the first night. My pal Sarah and I both had 750s of liquor and we were ready to drink. In the observation car we made friends with other passengers and shared our booze since it’s $7 for a tiny bottle we were pretty popular. In Spokane, WA we had our first train stop with a break to get out and get some fresh air so we quickly wandered over to the bar across the street, got a beer, a shot and Sarah knocked out a quick rendition of “I Feel Lucky” at karaoke, this was just the train adventure I was hoping for. We hustled back to the station and got on the train just as the doors were closing. Back on the trails we chatted in the observation car until almost 3AM before making our way back to our seats.
Waking up on the first morning I didn’t feel so hot and I paid for the previous nights fun with mild hangover all day but it was worth it and I just napped all day to feel better. After we passed through Glacier National park the scenery became much less grand but still beautiful. Slowly my friends departed in towns I’ve never heard of like Malta, MT and Mynot, ND, until there were just a few familiar faces that were traveling on to Chicago including the amazing train staff. Midway through I got a new seatmate who woke me up to claim ber spot. She was very nice girl who’s name I did not get let me watch Project X with her which was kinda funny to watch with a stranger because it’s a movie filled with drugs, partying and boobs. Later in the trip I got to chatting with Josh who had biked from Austin Texas to Portland. I thought I was cool for doing my ride to Portland on a motorcycle, Jake was a bad ass for doing it on a bike.
The whole pace of the trip was refreshing but 52 hours was a little excessive without access to a shower. I loved my days full of watching the scenery, chatting with other train passengers and pestering the train staff with questions.
Flip’s Pro Tips for Amtrak Train Travel
- Bring food, bring a cooler of food because there is a big space for luggage on the first floor along with plenty of overhead storage space. The cafe car staff was nice enough to provide hot water for my Cup O’Soup but they provide no access to the microwave so keep that in mind when packing food. Along with food utensils are covered on the train but it was nice having a double walled cup to keep my beverage cold so that I was not making constant runs to the cafe car for ice.
- Bring booze or an aluminum growler of beer like my wise friend Josh. If you make friends with the cafe crew member you can have an endless supply of ice and cups. The official rule is that alcohol is not permitted unless you have a private sleeper cabin, we were spotted a few times and the staff just told us to keep it out of sight and behave ourselves.
- Bring a full size pillow, I got a cheap one for about $5.50 and it was worth every penny. Also bring a blanket or some warm clothes because it can get cold at night. Earplugs are good to have incase you’re near a snorer. Ooh and bring an eye mask or in my case a bandana because no one closes their window shades and the sun comes up damn early.
- In my experience booking tickets it seems not to matter if you book a day before or a month before the price will be the same but you do run the chance of the train selling out if you wait too long.
- Bring plenty of entertainment. I dropped the ball on this one but it would be worth your while to bring a laptop and some DVDs or with movies loaded on it, and don’t worry there are two power outlets at each seat.
- Arriving to the train station there are no TSA style checkpoints to go through so you can wait until the last-minute to arrive and it is probably a good idea to check if the train is on time.
- Lastly be nice to your crew, it’s a good policy and it may help you to get some special treatment along the way.