Cross-Country Train Trip: Traveling Amtrak Across America

traveling amtrak

I’ve been on so many flights this past year that I have lost count of how many times I have been on an airplane. For someone who used to love flying, the thought about getting on a plane to head back to New York seemed pretty sickening. I’ve always loved trains, so I decided to take a look online and see whether or not a cross-country train trip was an option.

Amtrak hasn’t been known to have the finest reputation of late, and everyone I knew thought I was a little crazy when I mentioned that I would be taking the 2,414 miles on an outdated train. That was part of the reason I wanted to try it out, however. I was used to taking trains in Europe and enjoyed bringing a book along and taking my time to relax and love the journey.

I boarded in Whitefish, MT with more than just one book in my backpack (I had PLENTY of time to read—the trip took almost three days). I figured I would have a lot of time on my hands to simply do nothing, but found that wasn’t really the case. Occasionally I was bored, but overall it was kind of nice to have some time to myself and practical solitude—my two seatmates I had over the length of the trip barely talked to me at all.

The worst part was the leg in my home state of Montana. As the fourth biggest state, it almost took an entire day to cross alone. It was almost past ten o’clock by the time I reached North Dakota on Amtrak’s Empire Builder. I had already finished one book and had spent several hours staring out the window at the flat eastern Montana/North Dakota landscape, and was convinced that my seatmate was into credit card fraud as a career. (I could go into further detail about that but it could just be slight paranoia.)

It got better when I made the transfer in Chicago’s Union Station, had a hot dog, and had some time before boarding the much newer and nicer Longshore Limited. I slept most the way, read another book, and enjoyed a pretty decent hamburger.

It was late by the time I pulled into Penn Station, but I was surprised how rested I felt and how quickly three days had passed. I thought about whether I could consider taking the train again, and after teetering back and forth on my answer, I came to the conclusion that I would. For the expense, it was really quite cheap for a coach seat ($227), and you had none of the hassle of flying. Plus, I discovered that if you needed to change your departure date or cancel your reservation, it was easy to do and very inexpensive.

Would you consider taking a cross-country train trip?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


  1. William Johnson

    We traveled from Chicago to Reno. The trip was scenic but not as comfortable as I hoped. Food was fair at best. I caught a terrible cold during the journey. I don’t think I’d do it again.

    1. Alex Schnee

      Hi Bill,

      Traveling while sick is never fun. Especially on a train journey like that. Hope you’ve had some better journeys since then!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *