Quantcast

Help on planning 7,440 miles cross-country

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

daybeers

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
772
Location
HFD
Hi all! My friend and I have started planning for trip exploring the USA in July 2019 (we'll come up with a fun name at some point)! I have been making an Excel spreadsheet for planning purposes, so I thought it would just be easiest to post it below instead of typing it all out again. Anyway, I was hoping if you more experienced long-distance travelers can give some advice. Unfortunately we are going to slum it in coach the whole way because we're in our 20s and would rather spend the money in the respective cities and other accommodations. So, a few questions:

1). Obviously the 30 day/12 segment Rail Pass is the best value for our itinerary. I know you can take city buses instead of the Thruway Buses getting to and from San Francisco, so if we could do another stop or two if we want. Are there any other stops other than the ones we have where we should get off? My friend and I really don't know much about the cities in between the route we made, especially the majority of the southern part of the country. Are there any National Parks close to any of the routes worth going to? My friend is really into American history, including military history. He wanted to stop in Toccoa, GA to see Camp Toccoaa, but I'm not sure if that's feasible. Obviously I'm into trains and I always seek out cool public transportation in cities, and I'm not sure if this is relevant, but I'm also into computers (I'm studying Computer Science). Are there any museums or particular sights we should go to? Places to eat? One thing I wanted to do was hopefully see Eric Siegel's gigantic O scale layout in Atlanta.

2). Any specific recommendations for what to do in each city? Are there any places we should spend more time in, and maybe less in others?

3). Is there an easier way to get from San Antonio to New Orleans? It's really too bad the Sunset Limited only runs thrice weekly. We would rather not fly, but would also rather spend a little less time in San Antonio and get to stay three nights in NOLA. Is it worth it to go up to Austin or Dallas if we're already going to be flying that direction? San Antonio->Dallas->New Orleans is about $125 on American Airlines.

4). Any tips for slumming it in coach for 7,440 miles over four weeks? I'm guessing a travel pillow, eyemask, and earplugs would be good to start with? I'm a heavy sleeper, but this will be a long time. Foodwise, we'd like to bring our own food somehow, maybe stock up at each city or something? Bring a cooler of some sort maybe? The dining car is great but expensive. Superliner upper vs lower level: I know sway can be more pronounced on the upper level, but I'm willing to deal with that if it means getting a better view.

5). I haven't yet taken the time to see how many points this trip would cost. I have about 50,000 points currently, most from the AGR World Card bonus last year. You can't buy a Rail Pass with points, correct? I know my grandfather has quite a few points also and he is always offering them, but I'm not sure how many he has.

6). The leg from Denver to Emeryville is the longest section, followed closely by Los Angeles to San Antonio. Amtrak is doing its weekly Sunday website maintenance now meaning I can't check sleeper prices, but is there any section where a sleeper would be really necessary? As far as I know, Business Class is only available on the Coast Starlight, the Carolinian, and the Northeast Regional. I know the Carolinian usually uses Amfleet Is, so like the Regionals, it's usually not worth the extra cost. On the Starlight, are the seats leather like the 2x1 Amfleet split cafe cars, and is the only BC section on the lower level of one of the Superliner car? I feel the leather seats would be nice but I'd like to be on the upper level.

7). Any tips for finding cheap housing? I've never used airbnb before, but have heard mostly good things. We'll have someone to stay with in (at least) Chicago and Los Angeles.

image.png

Thank you all in advance!
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Shanghai

Conductor
Joined
Feb 4, 2008
Messages
3,885
Location
Florida
Looks like you have planned well for a most interesting trip.

Being in coach, I hope your fellow riders will be respectful

and courteous people.  I don't know if your train trips must

be consecutive days, but if not, you may want to consider

what we do when traveling to San Francisco.  We take

the train from Florida to Chicago (2 nights)then spend one night

in a hotel, then the following day resume our to Emeryville (2 nights).

It breaks the trip and one can sleep in a real bed and eat different

foods.  I hope you have a great trip and the air conditioning on the

train works properly!!
 

tricia

Conductor
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,139
Location
Spring Creek, NC
My friend is really into American history, including military history. He wanted to stop in Toccoa, GA to see Camp Toccoaa, but I'm not sure if that's feasible.
You'd need to rent a car to do this, and I don't know if there's any option for that in Toccoa. There's not much "there" there in Toccoa, and Amtrak's calling times are very early AM southbound and very late (often an hour or more later than scheduled) northbound. There are a couple of mom-and-pop motels a short walk from the station.
 

cpotisch

Conductor
Joined
Sep 2, 2017
Messages
7,511
Location
Brooklyn, NY
6). The leg from Denver to Emeryville is the longest section, followed closely by Los Angeles to San Antonio. Amtrak is doing its weekly Sunday website maintenance now meaning I can't check sleeper prices, but is there any section where a sleeper would be really necessary? As far as I know, Business Class is only available on the Coast Starlight, the Carolinian, and the Northeast Regional. I know the Carolinian usually uses Amfleet Is, so like the Regionals, it's usually not worth the extra cost. On the Starlight, are the seats leather like the 2x1 Amfleet split cafe cars, and is the only BC section on the lower level of one of the Superliner car? I feel the leather seats would be nice but I'd like to be on the upper level.
Business Class is also available on the LSL, which uses a 2x1 Amfleet I Business/Cafe car. If you can afford it, that might be a good choice because you get a lot more space, a bit more privacy, and complimentary drinks. I haven't personally tried it out but I hear good things. Business Class on the Starlight is its own dedicated car, and it's supposed to have leather seating, however apparently it's pretty common to just have regular seats. So all you get over coach is a free bottle of water, $6 voucher for the cafe car or diner, and a good chance at leather seating (which I don't really care for anyway). I really would not recommend it. Now it really depends on your budget, but if you can swing it, I would highly recommend a roomette DEN-EMY and/or LAX-SAS. I think that one or two good nights of sleep for the long portions will really be welcome on a trip like this. But of course, if you can't afford it, you can't afford it, in which case make sure you bring earplugs, a pillow, and a blanket.
 

benale

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 11, 2006
Messages
356
Coach the entire trip is tough. Keep checking roomette prices. A roomette for part of your trip is a good break and meals are included.
 

benale

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 11, 2006
Messages
356
Sometimes unsold roomettes will go to low bucket a day before your trip. I did a rail pass last year and grabbed great roomette prices at the last minute for sections of my trip.
 

daybeers

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
772
Location
HFD
Looks like you have planned well for a most interesting trip.

Being in coach, I hope your fellow riders will be respectful

and courteous people.  I don't know if your train trips must

be consecutive days, but if not, you may want to consider

what we do when traveling to San Francisco.  We take

the train from Florida to Chicago (2 nights)then spend one night

in a hotel, then the following day resume our to Emeryville (2 nights).

It breaks the trip and one can sleep in a real bed and eat different

foods.  I hope you have a great trip and the air conditioning on the

train works properly!!
Thanks Shanghai! Yes, that's why we're planning on staying one night in Chicago and three in Denver.

You'd need to rent a car to do this, and I don't know if there's any option for that in Toccoa. There's not much "there" there in Toccoa, and Amtrak's calling times are very early AM southbound and very late (often an hour or more later than scheduled) northbound. There are a couple of mom-and-pop motels a short walk from the station.
Yeah, I was afraid of that, so that's probably axed.

Business Class is also available on the LSL, which uses a 2x1 Amfleet I Business/Cafe car. If you can afford it, that might be a good choice because you get a lot more space, a bit more privacy, and complimentary drinks. I haven't personally tried it out but I hear good things. Business Class on the Starlight is its own dedicated car, and it's supposed to have leather seating, however apparently it's pretty common to just have regular seats. So all you get over coach is a free bottle of water, $6 voucher for the cafe car or diner, and a good chance at leather seating (which I don't really care for anyway). I really would not recommend it. Now it really depends on your budget, but if you can swing it, I would highly recommend a roomette DEN-EMY and/or LAX-SAS. I think that one or two good nights of sleep for the long portions will really be welcome on a trip like this. But of course, if you can't afford it, you can't afford it, in which case make sure you bring earplugs, a pillow, and a blanket.
Right, I forgot to mention BC on the LSL. It's $59 for 19 hours 27 minutes, so we need to weigh if that's worth it. I've taken it ALB-SPG before when they were doing track work in Albany and the Boston section was entirely separate, and really the only upside was the seats. Yes, it's a bit quieter, but I really don't care about the drinks. I don't remember if there were unlimited or if they just gave you a $6 coupon for the cafe.

Coach the entire trip is tough. Keep checking roomette prices. A roomette for part of your trip is a good break and meals are included.
Will do!
 

keelhauled

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 3, 2014
Messages
863
Location
Camorr
So I guess it's the exact same drink situation as the sleepers?
Sounds right.  I have only traveled on an LD train once in the past few years, so I am not sure on all the various service models.  Probably it depends more on the attitude of the crew on whatever train.
 

ehbowen

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2011
Messages
2,384
Location
Houston, Texas
I don't get much opportunity to travel in BC. In BC on the NE Regional in 2012 I received a complimentary hot tea and all the refills I asked for all the way from Washington to NYC. Contrariwise, in BC on the Cascades in 2014 and 2016 all we got were the coupons for the Bistro and a somewhat more comfortable seat. And, of course, priority deboarding in Vancouver on the northbound leg, which was in and of itself worth the cost for the upgrade.
 

F900ElCapitan

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
383
As for other things/parks to see or do, you will be close to Rocky Mountain National Park in CO, it is absolutely beautiful and Granby is the closest stop. You will also be near Arches NP, but there isn’t a very good stop for it.  Glenwood Springs is a nice place with the hot springs, rafting, plenty of hotels, and good restaurants. There is also good bus service from Glenwood up to Aspen with some fun towns in between the two. Then on the Coast Starlight, Monterey (there’s a connection from Salinas) is a great place and the aquarium is world famous. Also, Santa Barbara is very pretty, nice beaches, has a fun downtown very close to the station, and great food. 

The really cool thing about riding the train and traveling in general is nearly every stop will have at least something cool to see and enjoy. You just have to look harder at some places to find it  

This sounds like a great trip! The wife and I are planning something similar next year, just from Fort Worth, TX. I have our itinerary posted here,



I second trying to swing a roomette on one or two of your longer legs, I think you’ll enjoy having the privacy for sleeping and meals included, not to mention access to a shower. 
 
Last edited by a moderator:

lordsigma

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Sep 15, 2017
Messages
964
Sounds like a fun trip. I'm hoping to do something similar in the next couple years.
 

JRR

OBS Chief
Joined
Jul 17, 2017
Messages
926
You'd need to rent a car to do this, and I don't know if there's any option for that in Toccoa. There's not much "there" there in Toccoa, and Amtrak's calling times are very early AM southbound and very late (often an hour or more later than scheduled) northbound. There are a couple of mom-and-pop motels a short walk from the station.
 
I have never done it, but have researched while considering it and rental cars are available in Toccoa and while in that area, you should take a little trip into the mountain areas of Georgia: Helen, Hiawassee, etc.
 

bratkinson

OBS Chief
Joined
Aug 7, 2004
Messages
834
Location
QB 101
As far as spending a night in a strange city goes,  my method is to find the lowest price that's easily accessible by public transit from the train station...ideally light rail or subway.  I start with a simple Google for 'hotels in xxx' and see what pops up.  Invariably one of the many .com hotel/fly sites pops up with a good comparison around town.  A couple of Google maps with the address of the train station is a great help as well as when enlarged enough, the hotels start to be displayed.  Then I go to the AGR web site and book the hotel through there to get the points.

Chicago is the rail capitol of the world!  Whether you spend your day there railfanning, sight seeing, or simply riding commuter trains and subways and the "L", it's a fantastic place for all of the above!   Over the years, I've managed to ride all of the subway/L routes end to end, and all but 2 of the commuter routes end to end.  It's a great way to see ALL of the city!

Since you're spending time in the San Francisco area, there's always the 'usual' tourist places, but if you're like me, it's more like ride all the commute (no 'r' out there!) trains you can squeeze in on routes your Amtrak trains don't cover.  I'm a traction fan, so spending the day riding streetcars in San Francisco would be a perfect day for me.  BART, too.  The 2 days you have planned in Los Angeles could also be spent riding commuter trains, even down to San Diego and back.  I did that a couple years ago between train #3 and #2/422.  You could spend a couple days each at SFO and LAX seeing all the tourist places, too.

SAS to NOL?  It looks like the Sunset Ltd  is the best choice, especially if you would like to see the territory, not from 30,000 feet.  Of course, in NOL, you have to go to Basin St, just for the music and food.  Riding the street car (one line ends at the station!) is a great way to see the town as well!

WAS?  Over the years, I think I spent 20-25 partial-day layovers between trains doing the Smithsonian, the monuments, etc.  The good news is most of the sites are within walking distance from Union Station, or only a stop or two on the subway (changing at Metro Center, IIRC).  I haven't tried it, but I think you could ride all the Metro lines end to end during daylight hours.  These days, my Metro joyrides are one line at a time before I catch #148 back to WNL. 

One of the things I've discovered through the years of spending anywhere from 2-3 hours to a full day or two railfanning a town without a car is to lay out the schedule of sites/trips you would like to do.  Also plan for a delayed Amtrak train arrival, delayed commuter train, missed connections, etc.  Always have a Plan B, and even a Plan C or D where something(s) gets 'cut out' for that trip.  There's always next year, or the year after, to get the cut out parts and more places you didn't see the first time you were there.  I've even planned to eat lunch at some specific restaurant in Chicago and again in Philadelphia, but in both cases, I missed the bus from the "L"/subway to the restaurant and had to wait 20-25 minutes until the next one.  That put everything after that back and caused me to take a different commuter train with a shorter round trip time before having to be back at the station to catch the train home (448 and 148, respectively).  It pays to have the appropriate timetables in printed form for quick 'on the fly' changes of plans.  I always plan to arrive a minimum of 90 minutes ahead of time back at the Amtrak train station to catch my train home or to the next town.  The commuter train to Union Station could be delayed, etc, and my train home leave without me.  I've had that  happen three times in over 40 years of riding Amtrak (all were my fault, not a late commuter, etc) and believe me, 'scrambling' to figure something out after it's too late is not pleasant and is always costly!  I even flew to Omaha to 'catch' my bedroom on #6 after missing it in Denver one time!  One footnote, too...thinking a taxi cab would 'save the day' could even be worse.  You may be familiar enough with New York City traffic and getting nowhere fast, even during non-rush hour!  Other large cities have the same problems, too! 

As mentioned by other respondents, pillows, blankets, blinders and ear plugs are a requirement.  I 'discovered' what I think is the perfect combination of all 4 at Amazon in one item:  Shameless 'plug' for what I think is a great pillow/blanket!  The blanket 'case' is actually the inflatable pillow with fuzzy stuff on one side.  I use 3 of them while riding in roomettes, and use the inflatable pillows (and others, if needed) to stuff down the gap between the armrest and wall in coach/business class.  Note that the 2-1 business class seating in the 'split' cafe/BC cars have unusually large gaps to the wall (3" on the '2' side, 5" on the '1' side).

Plan your trip carefully.  Be ready to change it 'on the fly' if needed.  But most of all, have a great time!
 
Last edited by a moderator:

tonijustine

Train Attendant
Joined
May 3, 2017
Messages
75
It looks like you have good tips about riding Amtrak.  I am here to help with your other question about what to see along the route.  If you really want to see military history, you have a couple of great opportunities to experience Civil War history along this route.   Forgive me for linking to my own blog (shameless self promotion and all), but it just so happens this question hits two of my specialties...Civil War history and rail travel.

Atlanta, where you already have a layover, and Petersburg, Richmond and Fredericksburg along the route of the Carolinian are all great places to stop.  More details are here in this post: Civil War Scout--History By Rail Part 1

Petersburg has the very compelling story about a mine explosion gone wrong:   Civil War Scout--The Saddest Affair I Have Ever Witnessed
 

tonijustine

Train Attendant
Joined
May 3, 2017
Messages
75
Oh, and though this isn't my specialty, I understand that the National WWII Museum in New Orleans is fabulous.
 

cpotisch

Conductor
Joined
Sep 2, 2017
Messages
7,511
Location
Brooklyn, NY
Definitely plan to spend at least three or four days in San Fran. I love riding the cable cars and streetcars, I love the food, I love to take in the views of the bay, I love to walk around the wharf and laugh at all the seals that live on the pier, visit the Exploratorium, etc. It definitely can be pricey, but in my opinion, if there's any city on your list to dedicate multiple days to, it's Sa Francisco.
 

daybeers

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
772
Location
HFD
Thank you all for your fantastic advice! I have edited my spreadsheet and have updated the original post accordingly.

I guess the only options for getting from San Antonio to New Orleans besides the Sunset Limited are flying to Dallas and then NOLA which is about 3.5 hours on American or another one of the big ones, really cramming it on Frontier for a lower price nonstop but having to pay for a carry-on bag, or taking an 2 bus rides, stopping in Houston, totaling 11 hours. Oof. So, we will try to work the schedule so we can take the SL, but that will be tough. I've done some changing around and if we moved the trip up two days or so, we could make it work. Otherwise, would it be worth it to take the Texas Eagle up to Austin or Dallas for a day? The other option would be to not stop and go straight LAX-NOL, but I think it would be nice to stop somewhere along the way. The frustration of planning this will have me writing to Amtrak about making the SL (and Cardinal) daily! ^_^

Does anyone have any experience bringing food along for multiple days in coach?

I lived in D.C. for about two years, so we're mostly set on sightseeing activities there, but if anyone has some ideas for off the beaten path sort of places, please let me know!

So far, it's looking like we might have to use city buses to get in and out of San Francisco because after updating the spreadsheet, the number of segments stands at 14, and we are getting the 30 day/12 segment pass. Any advice on that?

Also, hope you don't mind if I rant a bit about the Rail Pass "segments". I think it's ridiculous that a two- or nine-mile bus ride or a 26- or 36-mile Springfield Shuttle ride counts the same against you as a 2,000+ mile continuous train trip! That will always be beyond me, especially considering that sometimes Regionals go all the way to Springfield and you don't need a Shuttle connection. It's also not really my fault that there aren't any tracks that go to San Francisco! Ugh.

/rant
 

anumberone

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 8, 2015
Messages
1,988
Location
Los Angeles
There's a few do's and don't's about traveling in a public domain and I'd like to suggest you keep your phrase    "just slumming" on the down low when riding in coach. It may create a few awkward occasions.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

F900ElCapitan

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
383
If making the SL work from SAS-NOL is too much, don’t forget about Southwest, they also have nonstops, cheap fares, free bags, and plenty of room in coach. As for a day trip to the north of SAS, AUS would be the only real and fun option with lots to see and do. The DFW area would require an overnight due to the TE schedules. But, if you are going to overnight and want to go to the DFW area, I’d pick FTW. it has a fun downtown, great zoo, the area west of downtown is also great and it’s all connected by city bus. Dallas has a good light rail system, but it also has a large homeless population and outside of the sixth floor (re JFK shooting) it’s much harder to just pop in and find something to do, so if you want to go that way, have a plan. 

As for food, I’ve seen people bring food, and from what I’ve read here, just don’t plan for anything you’d have to heat up because there aren’t any microwaves that you can use. 

With the segments, I know you’re on a tight budget, but just pick a couple of the cheapest segments and pay for those out of pocket. With this mega adventure, I think in the end, you’ll appreciate having the itinerary that you want. You’re going to make a memory of a lifetime, enjoy. 
 

ehbowen

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2011
Messages
2,384
Location
Houston, Texas
For Fort Worth I'd suggest you take a look at the Stockyards district. You'd need transportation from and back to the Amtrak station (it's a couple miles north; the Fort Worth money men wanted to keep the stink at arm's length), but once you're there you'll find the district quite walkable with a lot to do. The Stockyards hotel was quite nice when I stayed there, but there's a high-rise chain inn just down the street offering a cheaper price. Billy Bob's nightclub is there as well if you're ready to OD on Country & Western.
 

cpotisch

Conductor
Joined
Sep 2, 2017
Messages
7,511
Location
Brooklyn, NY
The Sunset is a really nice train with wonderful staff and some pretty great views west of San Antonio, so I think that if you can at all make the schedule work, DEFINITELY go for it. But of course, being thrice-weekly you'd have to spend at least two days in San Antonio if you want to spend any actual time there. I honestly don't think you should schedule time in San Antonio since that puts your trip at 14 segments and you can still walk around during the Sunset's several hour layover there (albeit in the middle of the night), but if you're dead set on spending time there, that's your prerogative. 
 

v v

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Dec 4, 2012
Messages
1,310
Location
UK / France
There's a few do's and don't's about traveling in a public domain and I'd like to suggest you keep your phrase    "just slumming" on the down low when riding in coach. It may create a few awkward occasions.
F900ElCapitan    I'm sure you didn't intend to be disrespectful but anumberone's advice is spot on. You are intending to travel coach too and no one knows why others do.

Just a couple of opinions on your great adventure. If you do as planned above it will be tough on you physically and mentally, but what an achievement it will be. I think that stamina will be what you'll need and a sense of humour.

I would take the 2nd part of the Zephyr in sleeper and the first part of the Sunset too. The scenery is stunning for both of those sections, and to view it while in the diner 3 times a day adds a big something to those trips and sets you up for what comes next.

We liked Austin when we were there earlier this year, and the forum's Bob Dylan is a really helpful resident expert on the city, oh, and a very nice man too.. That may give you a little extra interest while visiting San Antonio, I'm sure there's lots of Greyhound buses between the two cities.

Whatever you do just go with what's around you. We find it's the people you meet more than the sights that make for a great trip and it certainly looks like a trip of a lifetime.

Bonne Chance!
 

F900ElCapitan

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
383
F900ElCapitan    I'm sure you didn't intend to be disrespectful but anumberone's advice is spot on. You are intending to travel coach too and no one knows why others do.
v v huh? I didn’t speak to or about anumberone’s post, nor did I say anything about what his post addresses...?
 
Top