There and Back Again: A (Somewhat) Unexpected Journey

For the pursuit of adventure and my love of not-so-modern things, I decided to take the train home from Portland to Minneapolis for winter break.  Bravely, I also booked a return ticket before knowing what I might be getting into.  This alone added up to about  seventy-two hours of time on the train.


But I did not stop there.

Missing Oliver after three weeks apart and idly checking the costs of various train journeys, I discovered that it costs only $80 to take the Coast Starlight from Portland to San Fransisco (and an extra 15% off with an Amtrak Student Advantage Card).  So I booked a ticket from Portland to San Fransisco and back and changed the time of my original Minneapolis-Portland ticket, and I went to California.  It was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve done in my eighteen years.

My total time on the train came to nearly 110 hours.  And almost every moment was pure bliss.  I had never taken a real train until December 14th, 2012, and you know what?


Amtrak is so fantastic, especially for college students like me who want to go exciting places without paying exuberant prices.  For anyone thinking of taking the train, I would highly recommend it.  The seats are large, reclining, and come equipped with a pair of outlets and outrageous amounts of legroom.  On the Empire Builder, which runs from Portland to Chicago, seats are not assigned and most passengers get two seats to themself because it’s not as popular a journey, which makes sleeping much easier.

On the Coast Starlight, which runs Seattle to Los Angeles, seats are assigned.  More likely than not, you will have a seat buddy, and sleeping becomes much more difficult.  However, I was always awake when the sun rose, and in my normal life I never get to see the sunrise, so I was thankful for that.

Most of my time I spent in the Sightseer Car, which is made primarily of windows and swively chairs for seeing sights.  I met many fascinating people sitting in the Sightseer Car, and anyone will if they are receptive to conversation.  However, I also spent large portions of time in effective solitude, journaling or taking photos.  It is very peaceful.

My primary word of advice to anyone thinking of taking the train is to bring your own food, and don’t neglect to pack sweets!  Your fellow passengers will love you if you share, and you will save $2.75 on the overpriced candy bar you won’t have to buy from the” Lounge Car” when your chocolate craving sets in.  And finally, never ever EVER eat in the Dining Car.  When my “Angus Burger” arrived, me and the other members of my table couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a hamburger or a veggie burger.  With the patty’s distinctive gray tinge, it didn’t appear to belong in either category.  Not a good sign.

The moral of the story is this: If you are willing to sacrifice a night or two of decent sleep, the experience is absolutely worth it, and if you are anything like me, you will miss the train the moment you step onto the platform.

Until next time,

Heather Milne

P.S. Due to the sheer volume of photographs I took on the train (we’re talking close to three thousand), it has taken me longer than anticipated to sort through them.  I will post photos from each leg of my journey as soon as I can, and if you have any questions about taking the train, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.


5 responses to “There and Back Again: A (Somewhat) Unexpected Journey

  1. Pingback: Riding the Empire Builder: Portland to Minneapolis | Eating Ant Bums·

  2. I really want to go on the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco – it crosses the Rockies and is supposed to be the most scenic ride in the USA. Good to know that you get more space on the long distance, less popular trains. It’s a long ride, and it sounds like I would actually get some sleep.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that too! Going through the Rockies in Colorado would be practically unbeatable for the views. I don’t know for certain about the Zephyr, but I think it’s a pretty good guess that you would have open seating on that one too.
      I’d say next time the opportunity presents itself, absolutely go for it! The train is such a unique and wonderful way to travel, and it’s a chance definitely worth taking.


  3. Pingback: The Way Back: Minneapolis to Portland by Train | Eating Ant Bums·

  4. Pingback: The Only Way to Travel: Portland to San Francisco by Train | Eating Ant Bums·

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