Travel has changed in the last 20 years, no matter how you choose to go away from home. Flying used to be an elegant means of getting from here to there. That’s no longer true. Crowded conditions along with the body explorations performed by the stoic members of the TSA. Do you like to road trip? So do we, but driving isn’t as peaceful and inexpensive as it once was because of high-speed interstates and fuel prices nearly four dollars a gallon. So, as Gildshire pondered the next major vacation trip on our agenda, we considered train travel. Some would say it’s about time. More than a few people say that a train trip is something everyone should do once.
Here are two ideas for train vacations that are affordable. These are both North American journeys, but you can find some good deals on European train travel, as well.
For overnight train travel through North America, we have just one option, so Amtrak it is. They have four options for trips that last two nights.
The California Zephyr (pictured right) runs from Chicago to Emeryville, California, which is about a half hour from San Francisco. The Empire Builder operates between Portland, OR. (or Seattle), and Chicago. The Amtrak Southwest Chief runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. The Amtrak Sunset Limited runs on the L.A. to New Orleans line.
All good choices, but Gildshire prefers the Zephyr. It’s the best for daytime scenery, with mostly-daylight travel through both the Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas, whether you are going east to west or vice versa. This trip runs every day and lasts just about 52 hours.
(We chose our “daylight hours” very carefully and on purpose. Seattle-Whitefish, MT is gorgeous most of the way. However, you leave Seattle in the late afternoon and arrive in Whitefish at about 7:30 am.)
While there is an art to choosing the least expensive airfare, such artistry is not necessary with Amtrak. Purchase your ticket as soon as you can! The best fares you will find get snatched up early since Amtrak sets them based on seat availability. Gildshire researched a trip leaving from Emeryville, January 5, 2019. A ride with a seat during the day and a roomette (that’s a sleeping compartment) came to $714.00. If you plan on leaving much before January, you’ll pay as much as double that number. The roomette is a bunk bed arrangement. That means you or your traveling companion must still be nimble. The tiny room has a sink, and the shower is at the end of the car. The fare includes all of your meals aboard the train.
Amtrak offers a few senior discounts, but they aren’t much, and they are only available for travelers who choose the seat-only travel option. Gildshire can’t recommend the base rate, because of comfort issues, but if the travel budget is EXTREMELY tight and you are able to sleep in a regular train seat for a couple of nights…
For travel across the Provinces of Canada, VIA Rail’s “Canadian” (pictured below) is your only real choice. It is rated the #1 train ride in this hemisphere.
The Canadian runs twice a week from mid-autumn to mid-spring and three times a week from early May through the middle of September. The trip lasts three nights and totals 82 hours. Money Examiners recommends riding west to east, as that direction gives you more daylight hours through the Canadian Rockies. The sleeping compartments on VIA Rail are larger and better-appointed than their Amtrak equivalents. The fare we found for a trip leaving January 8, was $862 U.S. dollars. VIA Rail sleeping compartment passengers also comped meals, just like on Amtrak. Unlike with Amtrak, though, discounted tickets can sometimes be secured on trips that are leaving in the next few days, if you are a gambling sort.
The Canadian offers a limited number of “Prestige” cabins. These include a double bed, along with a shower-equipped private washroom. There are no discounts for Prestige cabins. At the current exchange rate, they are priced at $6,400 in United States dollars.
Do you hear the distant whistle? It’s your train, friend. Enjoy the trip, and we’ll be in the station waiting when you return.