If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw that I recently took a trip to Chicago. One of my business partners mentioned a training she was attending and I realized I was free that day and jumped at the chance to finally meet her in person after knowing each other from the internet for so many years (and going into business together!). It was a quick trip – out and back in the same day. I was trying to keep the trip as inexpensive as possible, so it was great not having to pay for a hotel. I found a flight out on Southwest for about $90, but couldn’t find a flight back in the time frame I needed for less than $300.
I’ve taken the Amtrak train before, and I knew that the Pittsburgh-Chicago routes (in either direction) are overnight rides, so I looked up times to see if I could make that work. I’ve actually had a goal for a while to take a multi-day train trip, so I figured this might be an excellent trial run to see if I *actually* want to take a train trip that long, or if it’s way less glamorous than it sounds.
There are usually a few different options on Amtrak:
–Coach: This is the most basic option. It usually includes an unreserved seat, though you can reserve a specific seat on some routes
–Business Class: This included a reserved seat in a dedicated business class car, and all meals, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages are included. This is a great option for…you guessed it…business travelers. I’ve taken Business Class to Philadelphia before and found it was a great way to get work done. The car wasn’t crowded and was pretty quiet.
–Roomette: This is a tiny reserved cabin that seats/sleeps 1-2 people. Meals/snacks/drinks are included. More on this in a moment.
–Room/Family Cabin: These are larger reserved cabins that have more beds/space. They’re good for anywhere from 1-6 people, depending on the cabin you choose. Meals/snacks/drinks are included.
I selected a Roomette for my trip back from Chicago and the ticket was $190. It included two chairs that fold down into a bed, and there’s an additional bunk that folds down from above. There’s a small closet, fold-out tables for both chairs, and a small shelf for storing luggage. Larger luggage can be stored on the racks in the car. The Roomette was a perfect option for 1 traveler. It would be feasible for 2 people, but would actually be pretty crowded (particularly for a trip longer than a night or so).
There were bathrooms in the car, and showers as well. I didn’t use the showers but towels (and bed linens) are all provided for your use.
As I mentioned, meals are included. I boarded the train around 6:00pm for a 6:40 departure. A car attendant came around and asked when I’d like my bed made up (turn-down service is also included!) and what time I’d like to be seated for dinner. I was pretty tired from my early morning flight, so I opted for a 7:00 dinner seating (the first available) and asked to have my bed made up at 7:30 so it would be ready when I returned from dinner. He also let me know that he’d knock on my cabin door about 30 minutes before my arrival in Pittsburgh, since they observe quiet hours overnight and don’t make announcements over the PA system (except for emergencies, of course).
Dinner was a 3-course affair. I was seated with two men who were also traveling alone and we had a great conversation about train travel. One of them had texted a former student of his who lives along the train tracks and he flashed his porch lights as we passed by haha. I started with a salad and then ordered the surf & turf option (go big or go home, right?!). The steak was decent for being prepared on a moving train and the crab cake was pretty good as well. I finished with a chocolate raspberry tart that was delicious! I also had a half-bottle of wine (they sell wine by the single-serving bottle or half-bottle). Wine was not included, but was very reasonably priced.
You can also order food to go and take it back to your seat/cabin. There’s also a snack/lounge car and if I had still been on the train when breakfast service started, that would have been included in my ticket as well.
I returned to my roomette to find my bed all ready to go! I used the restroom to change into sweats (my jammies for the night!) and got ready for bed. There are curtains on both sides of the roomette that velcro closed to keep the light out. There’s a nightlight if you need it, but I found that the light from under the crack in the cabin door was sufficient.
The noise level in the cabin, especially once I had the door closed, was actually pretty minimal. Though there was only one other couple traveling in my car that night, so perhaps it might be louder if the car was full. I do recommend bringing a pair of ear plugs though as the train horn can be annoying (especially if it’s not a sound you’re used to hearing in your sleep. If you live near a train track, you probably don’t need them haha!)
When traveling by train in the future, I will bring my own pillow, or at the very least, my own pillow case. The sheets were adequate, but kind of itchy for my taste. I will also bring Static Guard or dryer sheets. The blankets were wrapped in plastic and were VERY static-y. I didn’t plan on using the showers (and didn’t), but obviously I’ll bring shower shoes for future trips.
I didn’t know this beforehand, but Business Class and Sleeper Car accommodations also include lounge access at the train station. In Chicago, there was a nice lounge with showers, luggage storage (perfect if you needed a place to stow bags while you explore the city!) and snacks and drinks. You check in with the attendant there and they’ll alert you when it’s time to board and direct you to the right track. I wasn’t there in enough time to really check out the lounge, but now I know for the future!
There is wifi on the trains, but it can be spotty at times, so don’t bank on this. I pretty much went straight to bed, but in the future I’d make sure my iPad is stocked with downloaded books, movies, tv shows, etc. There are outlets in the cabin to charge devices (there are outlets at your seats in the regular cars as well!).
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and learned so much for my future, longer trips. A friend of mine took the train from Chicago to San Francisco in December, and I got some great tips from him as well! He really enjoyed the experience and got some stunning photos of the scenery he saw along the way.
While it takes longer to get to your destination, train travel is probably one of the least stressful ways to travel. You’re not stuck in traffic, delayed at the airport with crappy food options (shaking my fist at you, LaGuardia!) and you get to relax and take in the scenery!
It goes without saying you should enroll in Amtrak’s rewards program if you’re going to travel via train. Never let those points go uncollected! They also have a great magazine that I recommend as well (though I LOVE airline magazines so maybe this is just my thing).
I’m looking forward to my next train trip!
Has anyone else taken the train before? What was your experience like? Do you have additional tips? Share them in the comments!