My love affair with trains started as a young boy when I would regularly stay overnight at my grandparents home in Willow Springs (a suburb of Chicago). There was a train track about 150 yards from their home. Many people might consider this a nuisance, but I don't remember anyone complaining. In fact, I was always thrilled to hear a train pass by. Day or night, I just loved that sound. To this day, I immediately recall those wonderful memories of my time with my grandparents every time I hear the sound of a train. A quick video below of what it looked like inside the train.
My Christmas Gift This Year Was An Amtrak Train Trip
I had never been on an Amtrak train, but had talked about 'taking that trip someday' for many years. My wife surprised me with an overnight trip from Palatka, FL to Winter Park, FL. This was only about a 90 minute ride, but it was a wonderful idea and I loved it. Winter Park is known for its dozens of sidewalk cafes and gift shops. It is also quite the place to visit around Christmas, as they go out of their way with decorations and lighting.
I was surprised at how clean and roomy the train was. The reclining seats were enormous, and a 120 volt receptacle was even provided for me to charge my gadgets on the way. There was even a food car with a variety of snacks, bottled water, and coffee (no, it was not free). Most people don't know that you can actually bring your own food on the train, and I saw many people doing so. The view from the train was spectacular. The 'back country' perspective you have from a train window is picturesque and nothing like you will see through the windshield of your car.
We only bought our tickets a couple of days in advance, so we probably would have gotten a much better deal with more of an advance purchase. Our total cost for the roundtrip train fare (2 tickets) was $95 (with our AAA discount). This was really not a bad deal at all for a last minute purchase. The reaction I got from my Facebook friends was interesting. Many of my friends that live nearby were not even aware that we had train service available in the area. Others from around the country commented on how wonderful a mini vacation idea this was. Overall, I would have to conclude that Amtrak appears to be a travel option most people don't even consider. The picture below is of us going out to dinner in Winter Park that evening after changing into our dinner attire.
Comparing The Train To Flying
Although our trip was a short one, I could not help but continually compare every aspect of it to flying. Wow, what a difference. We drove right up to the train station and parked our car about 100 feet from where we boarded the train. No strip search, no big line to wait in, no metal detectors, we just got on the train. My wife and I just could not believe how different this was from flying. Although I mentioned this earlier, I have to comment again on how big the seats were! Also, I could get up and walk around any time I wanted. There were about 20 people boarding on the way home (see video below), but only 3 of us getting on in Palatka.
I also really enjoyed getting to meet and talk with a wide variety of people traveling alongside us. Some were doing short trips or day trips like us, while others were headed thousands of miles away. I should also add that my fellow passengers struck me as no different than those I would be on a flight with (destroying the myth that traveling by train is somehow limited to kooks, hippies, and street people). I will also tell you that the train ride for me was an adventure and experience in and of itself. Only on international flights have I ever found the journey to be enjoyable and more than a means to an end. Short video below of the food car.
Ways To Save Money When Traveling By Train
I used to give credence to the criticism about train travel costing as much as air travel - Why take the train for that price when you can fly? Even for the same exact cost I would opt for the train rather than flying (time permitting). My train rides were short, but it was the perfect environment for me to do some writing. I am actually considering using a cross country train trip as a personal writing retreat. No, don't lock me up in a cabin with a lake view, just send me on a long train trip with my laptop computer.
Top 7 Ways To Save Money On Amtrak
1. Join the Amtrak Rewards Program (works like frequent flier miles)
2. Purchase your tickets 14 days or more in advance
3. Take advantage of discounts (AAA, military, student, senior, and more)
4. Get on the Amtrak e Mail list to be alerted of special fares
5. Follow Amtrak on Twitter and Facebook for even more deals
6. Consider grabbing a rail pass for discounted multi-trip travel over 15, 30, or even 45 days
7. Click on the 'deals' tab on the Amtrak site for a number of ways to save money, including smart fares and vacation packages.
Planning My Next Amtrak Trip
I am having a lot of fun planning our next Amtrak trip. We are going to visit Savannah, Georgia (about a 4 hour train ride). I am simultaneously shopping for a deal on the train tickets and using Groupon to lock in a low cost hotel (and some fun activities too).
Have you ever travelled on Amtrak? Use the comments section below to share your own story.
Helping you make the most of God's money!