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Train Travel for Writers

You. Yeah you, with the pen. If you like writing, and haven’t yet been introduced to the wonderful world of Amtrak, here’s everything you need to know. (FYI, this is for America only. You Europeans have a whole different world of public transport.)

First of all, if you’re imagining an airplane-like situation, forget it. For long trips, Amtrak will put you on one of the double decker trains, and they’re wonderfully designed. The seats have more legroom than you know what to do with (and that means a LOT, coming from a long-legged family). There are leg rests, foot rests, arm rests, the seats are wide, they actually recline pretty far back, and I’d say it’s rare that you end up with a seat mate, but it’s not even a big deal if you do. You’re not crammed together, and it’s not uncomfortable.

And if you don’t like your luxury chair, there’s no fasten seatbelts sign – you’re pretty much free to move about the cabin at all times. I mean, there’s a lounge car where you can hang out at tables and play cards. There’s a dining car where you can be seated with strangers for a sit down meal. There’s a café car for all your coffee and snacking requirements. There’s an observation car with massive windows and comfy chairs to watch the scenery go by. There are four to five bathrooms in EVERY train car, so you’ll never encounter a line. Ever. And the train makes stops sometimes so you can get out, go for a walk, stretch, smoke, whatever.

And the scenery! Oh my gosh, the scenery! I’m writing this post right now, traveling through the mountains in Montana. Nature has always been my drug of choice, and it’s inspiring me to write, to get out and see more of the world, to possibly pack everything up and move to Montana… Every time I look up from my writing, it’s to a new view of the beauty I sometimes forget exists. I’ve been watching the sun rise over snow-capped mountains, following the most beautifully clear glacial rivers through the canyons, we passed a couple herds of elk, and eventually we watched the sun set again.

Now let’s talk money for a moment. I’m as frugal as anyone, and I’m telling you this is something you can afford. Just book your tickets more than a month beforehand to get the lowest fare, and try to get a destination with no transfers, somewhere along the main Amtrak routes. Then bring your own food and water, and do NOT underestimate how much you’ll eat in a day. If you don’t bring enough, you’ll be paying $2.00 for a bottle of water and significantly more for food. Also, don’t pay for the sleeper car. Yes, it’s a little more comfortable, but not enough to justify $200-$300 extra. Like I said, the seats are deluxe and they recline. DO bring a blanket. DO NOT pay for the sleeper car.

This trip I’m on now is Seattle to North Dakota and back. It was $125 each way if you booked far enough ahead, and twenty-six hours each way. That’s fifty-two hours of writing and watching the world go by. I can imagine that sounds like torture to some, but I’m coming to the last 12 hours, and I kind of wish I had another week of it.


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