It was the day, March 15th, 2018. I packed my bags, said goodbye to my mom, and headed to Union Station where in four days, I endured a long 4-day train ride from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. with nothing but $50 in my pocket (ok, ok…my wallet).
Before I go on, I will warn you this story/diary is quite long so feel free to skim it. But if you want the full experience from my perspective, I recommend reading the whole story. Anyways, enjoy the story Little Nuggets 😄
My Travel Diaries
Before I boarded the train, I mentioned before that I was carrying three heavy bags and a bicycle. You can imagine how much of a workout I got just by carrying these all across the train station. It was a nightmare.
After I got my actual train ticket from the ticket office, a lone guy offered to help carry some of my bags to which I’m extremely grateful for. We got to chat and he offered me some snacks to munch on.
Twenty minutes past six, the train finally arrives and the lone guy, Solo, finally helped me put my bicycle aboard the train. We chatted for many hours and kept ourselves entertained throughout the train ride. Plus, we both met another passenger whom we call O.G. and he offered us free alcohol on the house. It was an incredible first day!
The next thing I know, as I look out the window, the train was already in Barstow. Then Needles. Then Flagstaff. It felt as if time flew by so quickly and even before I knew it, I was no longer at home anymore.
The next day, I woke up before sunrise, feeling almost hazy due to the lack of sleep. I headed over to the tiny, compact bathroom to wash my face, not realizing I possibly lost my shea butter lotion, soap and chapstick in the train forever.
I was still recovering from a terrible flu since Monday so I was anxious for a short break outside the train. I met a woman, Kim, and we chatted for a bit. I told her I heading to Washington D.C. and she told me she was heading to Wichita, KS to visit her son. Out of the kindness of her heart, she gave me vitamins, Emergen-C packets, snacks and medicines.
Later, I cruised around the lounge car area and relaxed for a bit, enjoying the sights and sceneries around me. Sitting at a table across from me was an elderly woman. She and I briefly talked about our lives. She told me she’s headed to Albuquerque since she is visiting her family there. Turns out, she’s well-known in Barstow that she has her own mural within her own community.
Later on, I taught her how to play Blackjack and she was an expert at this game. She told me she hasn’t played any card games as a youth, but for some reason, she enjoyed playing Blackjack with me. I invited Solo to play Blackjack up until their last stop.
I was sad once the train arrived in Albuquerque, NM, but I had plenty of time to look like an idiot as I checked every bathroom, looking for my shea butter lotion, soap and chapstick. I even asked a family sitting on a table I sat two hours earlier if I could snoop under the bench and look for my personal belongings. They were okay with that, but still, I looked like a fool.
I wasn’t really worried about the shea butter lotion or the soap. I was worried about losing the chapstick since I had really chapped lips and the possibly of getting infected with a cold sore really bothered me.
Thankfully, the cafe worker announced the lost and found items. Sadly, there was no word on whether or not they found my belongings. As I walked back down to the lounge car, a woman named Dean stopped and invited me to play card games with her dad, Ronnie, and a random stranger, John. I happily obliged.
We played UNO for a few hours before they were ready to get some sleep. I briefly chatted with a guy named John and he told me he got sick of watching movies. So what did I do? I offered him one of my crossword puzzles.
During the evening, Kim invited me over for dinner at the dining car. I ordered vegetarian pasta and she ordered garden salad and Norwegian salmon. The food was almost $20 and mediocre to say the least.
After dinner, I headed back over to the lounge car and met up with John sitting on a lone table. He was finishing up one of the crossword puzzles and I had to help him find some of the hidden words. It was a great way to pass the time.
Somewhere around 11pm, I made a list of places he should see in South Korea (since he’s never been outside of country before). I even taught him Korean alphabet and words and as I was doing that, a random stranger came up to us. He told us he could speak Korean a bit and was willing to teach John how to get the pronounciation right.
Turns out, this stranger’s name is Jules and he’s from Nice, France. He, too, gave me recommendations on what to see/do in France other than touristy stuff like Eiffel Tower or The Louvre.
After our conversation, we each said our goodnights and headed for bed.
The next morning, I was feeling even more drowsy than ever before. I woke up to a scratchy throat and that feeling of disgust after not showering for more than 3 days. I met up with Jules and we played Exploding Kittens, Blackjack and Poker to pass the time. Occassionally, John stepped in to play some of the games.
Around 1pm, the train finally arrived in Chicago, IL. I happily got off the train, making sure to retrieve my belongings including my bicycle.
Jules helped carry most of my belongings as the bags were too heavy. We both headed over to the French Market and ordered European-style sandwiches at a place called Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine. And I gotta say, the sandwiches were 100x better than last night’s dinner. The sandwich was flavorful, mildly spicy, and the raclette cheese was a great addition to the meal.
Afterwards, Jules walked me back to the Chicago Union Station and we said our goodbyes. From then on, I was solo for the rest of the train ride.
Today was the last day. I was feeling pretty ecstatic since the days always felt longer. Plus, I was feeling bloated from sitting all day and reading my book.
Soon enough, the train whizzed through Pennsylvannia, West Virginia, and Maryland.
Despite the long boredom, I was able to enjoy the whole scenery from the snowfall in Pennsylvannia to a small town in Maryland.
Twenty-minutes past Maryland, the train finally arrived in Washington D.C. Thus, this ends my long 4-day journey from the West Coast to the East Coast.
Tips for a Better Amtrak Experience
Some people that took Amtrak know that long-distance train can be such a drag. So I’m going to share with you some tips which can help enhance your Amtrak travel experience.
Tip #1: Bring games. Lots and lots of games. And if you’re travelling solo, be sure to make some friends and invite them to play games with you.
Tip #2: Bring a book. Trust me. There’s no WiFi aboard the train unless you booked first class. A simple book will keep you entertained until you reach your destination.
Tip #3: Bring your own food. You heard me. BRING … YOUR … OWN … FOOD … PERIOD. The cafe is a cheaper option, but honestly, their portions are tiny so the food won’t fill you up.
The dining car is VERY EXPENSIVE unless you’re willing to pay more for actual dinner, I recommend bringing dehydrated meals (i.e. ramen, oatmeal, etc.), snacks or granola bars, and cold foods (i.e. sandwich, fruits, salad, etc.).
Now you may be wondering, how do I heat up the dehydrated foods? Simple. Just ask the cafe employee for a free hot water refill.
For the drinks, I recommend being a bit more careful. A female conductor caught a guy sneaking alcohol. So what did she do? She dumped all of the guy’s alcohol down the drain 😢
Tip #4: If you’re worried about hygience, bring baby wipes. Like I stated before, if you didn’t book first class which does offer a shower room, you’ll be stuck for hours even days without shower. To best freshen yourself up, baby wipes is the perfect option to feeling cleaner.
If you’re worried about greasy or oily hair, try tying your hair in a bun. It’ll get most of the oil from your hair off your face. If that option doesn’t work for you, you can dry shampoo your hair as a plan B.
And obviously, there are bathrooms on the coach passenger car so you can brush your teeth and wash your face if you have to.
Tip #5: If you’re claustrophobic and hate tight spaces, I recommend sleeping in the lounge car. It allows the comfort of allowing you to sleep on your back. Sometimes it’s not all too comfortable so bring a pillow and blanket. Plus, you’ll wake up to a beautiful sunrise (trust me, it’s gorgeous 😍).
Tip #6: Get some fresh air. Trust me. Sitting in the train all day is no fun so why not step outside and enjoy the environment for a few minutes before departure.
Whenever the conductor announces an upcoming smoke break stop, that’s a cue to get the hell out of the train and take in the fresh or polluted air (depending) or stretch your legs.
Well, that’s it. I hope these personal stories and tips helped give you a general idea of riding an Amtrak train. Let me know if you have any questions or comments and I will be more than happy to help.