Five Reasons Why Taking the Train in the States Isn’t Crazy. So Stop Looking at Me So Funny

February 3, 2013

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When I recently decided to take the train from Buffalo to Washington, DC, and then back again to Buffalo from New York City, I didn’t really think it was an odd choice.

Well, not any odder than all the other choices I’ve made in my life. Which probably isn’t saying much. As I’ve made some odd choices, okay.

Besides, I took trains all around Asia. And I didn’t even die once.

And, well, TRAINS, you guys. I mean, who doesn’t love a train?

But when you tell people in the States that you’ve opted to take a fifteen-hour train trip instead of a one-hour plane ride because, hey, it will save you at least thirty dollars and it’s a TRAIN, they will look at you kind of funny.

Like, even more funny than they usually look at you.

And, let’s just say, that they usually look at you pretty funny.

In the end, I was really happy I opted to take the train rather than fly. And I would totally do it again if I needed to get somewhere, and I had, you know, an entire day or five to kill.

Because thirty dollars is thirty dollars, okay.

AND, well, TRAINS, you guys.

Five Reasons Why Taking the Train in the States Isn’t Crazy. So Stop Looking at Me So Funny.

1. You can bring unlimited liquids! And questionable hand luggage!
I don’t really care about the metal detectors and luggage screening at the airport.

I don’t even mind the TSA pat-downs.

And when they tell me to take off my shoes, I do without so much as an annoyed sigh. Even though I’m pretty sure that walking on an airport floor without shoes is exactly how tapeworms are spread.

But I do go a little bit bananas over the whole liquid restriction thing on planes.

You guys, I drink a lot of fluids on a regular basis. Like, A LOT. I’m like the opposite of a camel. Whatever that might be. So those rinky, dink, half-full plastic cups of water that they give you on the plane just don’t cut it for me.

Plus, I’m ridiculous when it comes to toiletries.

I’m sure other people can survive with two teaspoons of lotion and conditioner each during a one-week trip, but, let me tell you, I cannot.

Lest you forget, I am a full-sized girl.

I need my full-sized toiletries.

With the train, I got to hop on board with as much liquid as my heart desired, and, trust me, my heart desired a lot of liquids. Including a huge water bottle and bag full of toiletry bottles, each one the size of a three-month-old baby.

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This is how I roll.

I even brought my lunch bag with me, which I’m sure I would never be able to carry on to a plane because it looks like this:

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And, yet, nobody pulled me over to conduct a full-body cavity search because of it.

Yay!

 2. You can pick your own seat!

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Every time I get on a plane, I have this daydream that I will sit next to some tall, dashing stranger.

We will strike up a conversation and discover that we both happen to love cheese and cats and that crunchy sound that fall leaves make when you step on them.

He will find me charming despite my ability to finish every single morsel of my airplane meal no matter how disgusting it looks.

Yes, I ate all of that. No, I don't know what any of that was.

Yes, I ate all of that. No, I don’t know what any of that was.

And we’ll live happily ever after.

At least until we have to get off the plane.

Sadly, this has yet to happen.

You know why?

Because airline companies make really crappy matchmakers. And fate is kind of a big, fat jerk.

But on the train you get to sit pretty much wherever you want. If you see a tall, dashing stranger sitting all by himself, you can just go sit next to him. Just like that! Screw fate! And seat assignments!

I was so planning on doing just that when I spotted a certain attractive stranger on the train home from New York. But I’m a total weenie when it comes to boys. So I freaked out and sat two seats in front of him. Which made conversation kind of impossible. That and the fact that I was sitting next to some woman with a hacking cough.

But next time, you guys, I swear.

I will totally sit next to the cute guy.

Or, at least, one seat in front of him. You know, baby steps, people.

3. You have a lot of time! To do stuff! Or not do stuff! You decide!
Haven’t you always wished that you had like fifteen hours to just relax?

Or read that book you’ve always meant to read?

Or watch the scenery pass by?

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Oooo, scenery.

Or moon over photos of lemurs?

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Ooo, lemury.

Or think about how that guy two seats behind you would totally fall in love with you if only you could just get the nerve to talk to him? But how are you going to talk to him if there are two seats between you, and this woman keeps on hacking up a lung next to you, and OMIGOD WHY IS ROMANCE SO HARD???

Ahem.

On the train you have that time!

In fact, I had even more time than I originally expected because both my train leaving Buffalo and the one returning to Buffalo were delayed by a few hours.

The first train was delayed due to weather.

The second train was delayed due to something the conductor referred to as a “minor derailment.” Which did sound kind of distressing at the time.

But a lot less distressing than “minor crash landing.” So I guess we can rack that up as another perk of train travel.

Plus, how cute would that be if I had talked to the guy, and we had fallen in love, and then later when we got married, and people asked us how we met, we could say, “Oh, we met during a minor derailment.”

TOTALLY CUTE, RIGHT?

Ahem.

And, unlike, taking a plane where a two or three-hour delay would mean doubling your travel time, with the train a couple hours delay wasn’t such a big deal.

Because, whatever, I was already going to be on the train for the whole day. What were another two or three hours?

Just more time to moon over lemur pictures!

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Hello there, handsome.

And more time to plan my wedding.

Ha, ha, totally kidding.

Kind of.

Ahem.

4. There’s wifi. Kind of.
You guys there was wifi on the train.

Yep, WIFI!

ON THE TRAIN!

How does that even work?

Granted, it wasn’t very consistent wifi. In fact, it hardly ever worked.

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The few times that I got it to work, I’d have just enough seconds to update my Facebook status with something like, “OMIGOD, WIFI ON THE TRAIN, YOU GUYS!!!!” before it would conk out and stop working.

But still! WIFI ON THE TRAIN!

I’m telling you that defies physics.

Or geography.

Or whatever it has to defy.

5. Two words: Dining Car

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If there are two words in the English language that sound more glamorous together, I don’t really know what they are.

I always imagine a dining car to be full of fancy, old timey people wearing fedoras and drinking brandy and smoking cigarettes in those long cigarette-holder-thingies.

Of course the actual dining car was nothing like that.

It wasn’t even as classy as the dining car on the Chinese fast train where all the seats had doilies on them. You know stuff is classy when there are doilies on the seats.

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Ooo, doilies. Classy.

But there was a super fancy menu with super fancy things like booze.

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Ooo, booze. Classy.

And something called an “artisan sandwich.”

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Ooo, artisans. Even more classy.

You know stuff is classy when there are artisans making your sandwich.

So how about it? What mode of transportation do you prefer? Have you ever taken a train in the States? How was it?
 
P.S. Speaking of trains and people looking at you funny, now’s your chance to sign up for 2013 Ultimate Train Challenge! Starting in May, the challenge consists of traveling from Saigon to Lisbon (or the other way around). In just 31 days! On, you guessed it, TRAINS!

Yes, it is just as crazy-pants and awesome as it sounds.

Go to the website for more details and to sign up. And if you use the affiliate code ST13UTC in the “referral” section of the sign-up page, you can get a $30 discount. Because, hey, thirty dollars is thirty dollars, you guys!

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I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On February 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm Rebecca said:

    Agreed. Taking the train from NYC to Providence this weekend. Comfy seats and plenty of reading time. Plus, you always meet someone…interesting.

  2. On February 3, 2013 at 1:39 pm Mikeachim said:

    You had me at the word “train”.

    Seriously, all the points you mentioned, emboldened, underlined and squared. Maybe the feeling of freedom on a train is partly psychological. I’m someone who hates flying, so it’s almost *totally* psychological in my case. But really, trains unlock so much. I find myself able to work on them, to disappear into a manuscript, into making notes, or reading a book. I find myself much more able to make small-talk, which since I’m English translates as “I occasionally say hello to people and then make a run for it”. And trains are fascinating, fascinating machines.

    Here’s what I want to do: score a Writer In Residence gig on a single train, for, say, 3-4 days, or a week. To follow that train. To talk to people on it, collect its stories, pick the brains of staff and public alike, and write about where that train came from and where it’s going (in every sense).

    And first, I intend to experiment with the idea under (sorry for this) my own steam.

    Trains rock.

    And anyone who says otherwise is a liar.
    Mikeachim recently posted..Why Do 95% Of Bloggers Give Up?

  3. On February 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm ConfusedJulia said:

    I love train travel. And I actually took my first US train ride last month from Chicago to St. Louis. Many Americans had told me how poor the state of the public transport system is in the country compared to a lot of the rest of the world, so I was surprised to find comfy seats, a buffet car and..most surprising of all…free wifi. The wifi was the most reliable I’ve had all year on public transport travelling the world!
    ConfusedJulia recently posted..48 Hours In Brussels

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:31 pm Sally said:

      I think this was the first time I’d ever seen free wifi on public transport ever (or the first time I cared — since I actually had wireless devices with me). I wasn’t expecting to have wifi on the train, so I was kind of looking forward to having a full day of being unplugged & wifi-free. That, obviously, didn’t happen!

  4. On February 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm Jeff @ Go Travelzing said:

    I love train travel especially in Europe but have not taken the train in the U.S. in the long time. There are very limited options here in the west side of the country. The Northeast is much more train friendly.
    Jeff @ Go Travelzing recently posted..The Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona

  5. On February 3, 2013 at 4:53 pm Mzuri said:

    I love trains. Even virtual trains. Do you know you can ride on a virtual Trans-Siberian train trip and choose to have War and Peace read to you (in Russian) or listen to Russian radio or just listen to the soothing sounds of the wheel rumble? All the while looking out the window? Love it. http://ru-train.appspot.com/en

    You’ll have to provide your own vodka.
    Mzuri recently posted..Magic Between Two Mountain Ranges

  6. On February 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm ChinaMatt said:

    I like trains, but the ones in the US need to be improved. You were definitely on a better line that I had on my trip to Montreal. I really don’t understand how a 6 hour drive can turn into a 12 hour train trip (and it cost about the same as driving). If trains were a little cheaper and faster, I’d take them for more trips.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..Chewing on Air

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:29 pm Sally said:

      Yeah, I do wish they were cheaper. I did end up saving quite a bit by taking the train rather than flying especially since I was traveling over the holidays, but it still isn’t that much cheaper than flying.

  7. On February 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm Pat Welz said:

    I’ve started taking the MARC commuter rail from my area to DC when I want to spend the day instead of driving in awful rush hour traffic. I can catch a snooze or read for a few hours. Nice and relaxing.

    It’s also tons of fun to watch the dynamic of daily riders. They all have their circle of friends and are cool with the conductors. I guarantee if they didn’t have to drive home from the train station they’d be passing flasks around on Fridays.
    Pat Welz recently posted..Exact Change

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:28 pm Sally said:

      I really wish I could to take the train to work here — sadly Buffalo doesn’t have the best public transportation system. But I just HATE driving to and from work — especially in rush hour. I’d much rather be people-watching on the train!

  8. On February 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm Priya said:

    Ha ha, people are already looking at me like I’m crazy for considering a 45 hour train ride from Chicago to Portland. I am, however, considering a flight. I haven’t made a decision yet. I did take a really long train ride from Chicago to Louisiana once, and it was awful. but maybe because I wasn’t in the right mindset.

    Your cute boy story reminds me of a something that happened to me on the train a couple weeks ago. It turns out he was married though. Your guy sitting two seats behind you may have been married. Or, he probably saw you and was all “I hope that curly head cutie sits next to me.” You missed your chance, Sally. Could have been his been his baby mama.
    Priya recently posted..Just Another Post Complaining, Chicago Style

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm Sally said:

      Errm, I don’t know if I’m ready to be anybody’s baby mama. I can’t even take care of my cat all that well! So it’s probably for the best I chickened out.
      You should take the train to Portland! Even if you hate it, just imagine the blog posts you will be able to write!

  9. On February 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm Penguinlady said:

    I have taken the train from Syracuse to Detroit, and it was fantastic (including the time the Canadian leg broke down and they put me in a CAB across that bit of Canada). I would take trains relative short distances and wish they would improve it more. What they really need is a line between LA and Las Vegas. Could you imagine the debauchery on that line?

  10. On February 3, 2013 at 10:16 pm Angela said:

    Train travel is the best. It beats every other form of transport. Our goal is to never ever fly when travelling and take train when available. So far so good.
    Angela recently posted..Inspiration on Sale: China’s Skate Shops

  11. On February 4, 2013 at 2:13 am cosmoHalllitan said:

    I took Amtrak once from NYC to DC because I thought it would be fun and fancy. Just my luck, the tracks got struck by lightening during a freak storm and all the control lights stopped working. So what should have taken four hours ended up taking nine and the dining car ran out of everything. To make matters worse, the DC metro had closed by the time we got in so I had to spring for a crazy expensive taxi. Me and Amtrak aren’t friends. Glad your experience was much less stressful!
    cosmoHalllitan recently posted..A Brief Introduction to Hunan Cuisine

  12. On February 4, 2013 at 11:46 am Carmel said:

    I have taken the train quite a few times between Portland and Seattle. I have the worst luck with that damn train. Part of the reason I wouldn’t risk taking a train that far in this country is that I’ve heard of like 10 hour delays on the one from California to the NW. My friend ended up being on the train for 24 hours for what was supposed to be a 14 hour ride. It’s just kinda ridiculously slow and inefficient. We also have lots of mudslides in the winter and when that covers the tracks, they just end up sticking everyone on buses. Not so glamorous. If it was a LOT cheaper to take the train, I might consider it, but it’s usually just as expensive. No thanks.

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:23 pm Sally said:

      Luckily for me, I managed to save quite a bit by training it — especially on my trip to DC. The train tickets weren’t cheap, but the airplane tickets were crazy expensive as I was going there right before New Year’s & I waited way too long to book my ticket.
      I almost took a bus there because those tickets were much, much cheaper — but luckily they sold out before I bought one. I don’t think I could have handled a full day on the bus — I did a few 6-hour bus rides and that was plenty for me.

  13. On February 4, 2013 at 2:26 pm Andrew said:

    I’ve been up and down the East coast on the trains as well as the Seattle to Vancouver run. The trains are pretty good north of DC into NYC and the Seattle run was nice. The south, though, can be painful. The stations are often in crappy parts of town and the tracks are not owned by Amtrak so it is very possible that a coal train ahead can block passengers for many hours.

    I really hated flight enough to take these trains and while I am glad I did, I don’t know if I would do those runs again. Europe has spoiled me for excellent train travel. I usually end up meeting nicer people on the European trains too. Oo, and there is a better bar.

    I think I would try the cross country ones at some point though.
    Andrew recently posted..Searching for my Missing Creativity and Dealing with Exhaustion

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm Sally said:

      Yes, I’ve definitely been spoiled by Asian trains — especially fast trains in China & Japan. I was surprised by how slow the trains were in the States!

  14. On February 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm Rose said:

    I love trains! I love them so much that I take the scenic train from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid once a year, even though it just goes to LP and back, and takes twice as long as if you drove, and is pretty screechy when going around curves, and smells a little.

    The best train ride I ever took was from Fairbanks to Anchorage. So awesome!

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:19 pm Sally said:

      I saw the Adirondack Scenic Train when I went through Utica. I’m going to come visit you so I can go on it! And, now, you just made me very jealous of your Alaska train trip. Show off.

  15. On February 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm Deb said:

    I think everyone should have to take a train trip in their lifetime. The last time we did it was 10 years ago and we went from Chicago to New Orleans. The tickets were dirt cheap and we spent the extra money on a suite at the Roosevelt Hotel.

    You got to see beautiful parts of the country, eat good food and meet a selection of humanity that you may not have come across otherwise.

    Another revelation was seeing how people live in the small towns throughout Mississippi. You forget that people live with so little when you’re from the Urban side of life.

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:18 pm Sally said:

      Good point. Even though I was just traveling in New York State for most of my trip, it was interesting to me to see how rural most of the state looks… and I grew up here!

  16. On February 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm Ham said:

    I took a train from NC to Charleston SC and then down to Savannah Ga. LOVED it because it combines the best of flying and driving! It’s a moving recliner with Wifi and awesome scenery. And the fact there is no security and typically very little delay is GREAT!

    • On February 4, 2013 at 10:17 pm Sally said:

      Well, I can’t say I was so lucky on the delay front. But, it didn’t really matter, as I wasn’t in a hurry. And, yes, I was a big fan of actually being able to recline without someone behind me kicking me the whole time!

  17. On February 5, 2013 at 12:24 am Deb.d said:

    love your lunch bag! i love to travel on the train. here in n.j., it’sthe most convenient way to get into n.y.c. i’ve also taken the train from santa fe,n.m. to n.y.c and a couple of times from washington, d.c. to nyc and from fairbanks alaska to denali. i like watching the scenery roll by outside the window and that you can walk around. i live within a block of the railroad station and used to take the train alone to visit my grandparents about 20 miles away. my grandson has the same fascination for trains that i have. plus, the engineer always waves back when i wave at him from the station. yeah traveling! deb

  18. On February 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm Naomi said:

    have to say I’ve had more luck picking up a fella on a plane than a train, so sometimes the airlines get it right!
    Naomi recently posted..My love hate relationship with Facebook

    • On February 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm Sally said:

      Hmm… I think the airlines I use don’t know my tastes in mind. Maybe I should write that in as a special request next time I fly. “Aisle seat. And next to tall, dashing, single stranger, please!”

  19. On February 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm Ross said:

    A train just opened here that I could take to work but it will take 2 to 3 times longer than driving and it costs more than gas would cost me. I’ll at least give it a try once when it warms up. I may still have to walk a mile or two (or maybe I’ll take my bike).
    Ross recently posted..Indifference and the meaning of life

  20. On February 6, 2013 at 8:10 am kami said:

    I’ve always chosen and will choose train travel over every other way of transport, no matter where! Not only for the reasons you’ve mentioned but also there’s something romantic and bohemian in the train travel and it makes you meet local people easily!
    kami recently posted..a guide to sleeping at the airport

    • On February 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm Sally said:

      Yes, totally agree with the romanticness of it all. I love how the conductors still say “All aboard.” Makes me feel like I’m in some old-timey movie!

  21. On February 6, 2013 at 9:11 pm Jeremy Branham said:

    I absolutely love train travel. However, you live in the one part of the US where train travel is viable. Big cities in the northeast and mid atlantic make train travel possible. Go to the South, Midwest, or West coast and you’re screwed. A train from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes about 8 hours – you have to get off the train and take a bus the last two hours into LA. You can drive there much faster and cheaper than the train.

    With that said, I am all for train travel in the US. However, outside of the region you mention it isn’t a very good option in most other parts of the country.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Assassination of JFK: reliving history at The Sixth Floor Museum

  22. On February 6, 2013 at 9:16 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    High five! I know how you feel being a transportation weirdo myself with the whole car-free living thing.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..I finally went to a futbol match in Argentina

  23. On February 6, 2013 at 9:18 pm Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    Ooh, trains! I think I’ll be riding a grand total of one train in the USA this year, for about an hour – Boston to Providence. Possibly Charleston to Savannah, but the price is kinda crazy, so maybe a good ole’ bus.

    Trains here in Korea are amazing and I love them. In the UK…yeah, it’s cheaper for me to fly to Amsterdam and back from my nearest airport than it is for me to embark on a 3 hour train journey to London. UK trains are ridiculous.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Cheonan: Same Day, Different City

    • On February 7, 2013 at 6:33 pm Sally said:

      Yeah, sadly trains are kind of crazy expensive in the States — especially with all the cheap bus (eww) tickets and air ticket sales. It’s really only economical if you wait until the last minute to book tickets and there are no bus tickets available anymore and the air tickets are totally ridiculous. I know this from experience. :)

  24. On February 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm Anita said:

    I love your post! I’m Swiss and as Swiss citizen you have no choice than to love the train system. As I was visiting the US I absolutely wanted to take the train from NYC to Washington DC. Noboday could understand my motivation but I really loved the trip. So yes, go for trains :-)
    Anita recently posted..Wieso sich Fremdgehen manchmal lohnt

    • On February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm Sally said:

      Glad you enjoyed your train ride! I was kind of shocked when I was on the NYC-DC part of my ride to discover how many awesome cities were on that route. I lived in DC for 2 years but never took that train. I think if I lived there now, I would always be on it!

  25. On February 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans said:

    You’re making me consider riding the train in the U.S. more often. I’ve taken the train from Montreal to Quebec and I’ve taken the train from L.A. to Santa Barbara years ago. But I usually just fly because it’s faster. But as you said, train rides give you time to enjoy the scenery at a slower pace. Nice post!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Rio’s Favelas

  26. On March 5, 2013 at 12:27 am Ceri said:

    I’m so with you on loving trains. <3 My favourite mode of transportation for sure. Love love LOVE them. And I'll definitely be taking a few when I eventually get round to exploring the United States.
    Ceri recently posted..Scenes from the Museo de Arte Moderno

  27. On March 6, 2013 at 3:24 am Andrea said:

    I have to say that given the airport shenanigans one has to endure these days in a US airport, train definitely sounds appealing. Though reports from friends who have made train journeys make them a little less appealing (mostly delays and seriously long travel times). But hey, I don’t know from experience! Will keep it in mind next time we’re planning a journey in the States.

    • On March 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm Sally said:

      For some reason I didn’t really mind the delays and long travel times… I think because I already knew the travel time was going to be long, so what’s another hour or two? Plus, it wasn’t the BUS. So I was happy about that!

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