I’m one of those insufferable people who thinks train travel is ‘magical’.
Yes, I want to take the Trans-Siberian.
Yes, I once had a very unpleasant food-poisoning experience on a train in India (but that hasn’t changed my feelings one bit).
So when I popped out to LA for a spontaneous meet up with Alex
, it made ‘perfect sense’ that I end my trip with a 23-hour train ride to Portland. Was there any particular reason for me to go to Portland? No.
Unless by ‘reason’ you mean ‘want to.’
The Coast Starlight Train
is a particularly well-equipped, nicely-maintained Amtrak train that runs daily from L.A. to Seattle. For $114 I got a one-way ticket from L.A. to Portland and the honor of sleeping in a (large, reclining, lots-of-leg-space-having) chair.
And, yes, at the risk of being predictable, it was fairly magical.
It’s lovely to slip through parts of the city that are far from the freeway, peering into people’s backyards, watching men take smoke breaks outside a factory, watching as the graffiti turns into suburbs. I loved passing through little farming towns at sunset, imagining what it would be like to grow up there and clickity clacking through super remote parts of Cascade mountains, while eating a black bean burger in the dining car and chatting with a nice couple from London.
Because the main intention of my trip was getting everything I needed into a carry-on and wearing L.A.-worthy clothes, I was not, perhaps, as prepared for my train adventure as I could have been. Be ye not so stupid as me.
Tips to make your overnight train ride (even more) awesome
1. Bring a pillow and blanket
Sleeper cars are car-razy expensive and the seats on Amtrak are reasonably comfortable. However, you’re not going to receive one of those sweet little packs that airlines sometimes hand out. So bring your best real-sized pillow, a fleece blanket, an eye mask, and ear plugs.
2. Pack a picnic
You can buy your meals on the train and you should buy at least one – it’s fun! But the quality of the meal for the price is a bit ‘meh.’ Over the course of 23 hours I had one real meal and a lot of Doritos and yogurt. Not my best work. So pack a bag of fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks.
3. Put your ever-loving phone away
Amtrak famously does not have wifi but if you’ve got a data plan, you can access the web on the less-remote parts of the trip. But how about you don’t? That’s not what we’re here for.
4. Make friends!
I had some great conversations on my trip and met a pile of fascinating people. A 24-year-old WWOOFer
(we discussed OKCupid at length), a pair of elderly British sisters, an 11-year-old boy who was visiting his mom for the summer, a 50-something couple who worked in education. When you eat in the dining car, you’ll be seated with strangers and, weird as it sounds, IT IS SO FUN.
5. Try to sit with another lady
If you’re traveling by yourself, know that there is no dividing armrest between the seats and come night time, it’s a bit awkward to be sleeping so close to an unknown dude. When I first boarded the train, I was seated next to a guy who was also going all the way to Portland. When the conductor took our tickets and realized we weren’t traveling together, she swapped our seats so I could sit next to another woman, which I really appreciated.
6. Dress and pack appropriately
If I’d been more on top of my game, I would have worn my go-to travel outfit (ballet flats, leggings, knit skirt, t-shirt, cardigan, big scarf) and packed my favorite travel stuff (makeup wipes, podcasts, book). Instead, I slept in jeans, wearing makeup. Gross. But you’re smarter than that, right?
Have you ever taken a really long train trip? Where? And share your train-specific travel tips with us!