Flying is no longer elegant, due to the crowded conditions and the personal space invasion performed by the Transportation Security Administration, aka the TSA. Driving is no longer peaceful and inexpensive because of 80 mph interstates and gas approaching four bucks a gallon. So, as Money Examiners pondered our next major trip, we considered the train. It makes sense because anyone who has done it will tell you that everyone should take train trips to save money and enjoy travel at least once.
Here are a couple of ideas for train tips that you can probably afford if you plan a bit. These are North American trips, but there are some deals out there on train travel through Europe, as well.
For overnight travel in North America we have but one option. Amtrak it is, and they have four trips that take two nights.
The Amtrak California Zephyr (picture above) runs between Emeryville (which is in the Bay Area) and Chicago. The Amtrak Empire Builder runs between Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, and Chicago. The Southwest Chief runs from Chicago to Los Angeles and vice versa. The Sunset Limited travels the New Orleans to L.A. line. Of those four, Money Examiners likes the California Zephyr. It is the most daytime scenic, with largely-daylight travel in the Colorado Rockies and through the California Sierra Nevadas, no matter which direction you are traveling. The trip operates seven days a week and lasts about 52 hours.
(We carefully chose “daylight hours” as our criteria. Seattle to Whitefish, Montana is gorgeous much of the way. But, you leave at 4:40 pm and arrive in Whitefish at 7:21 am.)
The best fares go early as Amtrak determines them by passenger compartment availability. Money Examiners ran a test trip leaving January 5. A roomette (sleeping compartment) was $714.00. The fares on trips getting underway in less than two months can be almost twice that price. The sleeping compartment has a bunk bed, meaning at least one of you is still nimble. The room includes a washstand, but the shower is placed at the car’s end. The best part about this fare is that it is all-inclusive of your meals. Amtrak does offer senior discounts, but they are minimal, and only for a base rail rate. We don’t recommend it, but if your budget is REALLY tight and you can sleep in your train seat for two nights…
If you want to travel across Canada, VIA Rail’s “The Canadian” is your best choice. It is the #1 train excursion in the Western Hemisphere.
The Canadian runs twice a week from mid-autumn to mid-spring and three times a week from early May through the middle of September. The trip lasts three nights and totals 82 hours. Money Examiners recommends riding west to east, as that direction gives you more daylight hours through the Canadian Rockies. The sleeping compartments on VIA Rail are larger and better-appointed than their Amtrak equivalents. The fare we found for a trip leaving January 8, was $862 U.S. dollars. VIA Rail sleeping compartment passengers also comped meals, just like on Amtrak. Unlike with Amtrak, though, discounted tickets can sometimes be secured on trips that are leaving in the next few days, if you are a gambling sort.
The Canadian offers a limited number of “Prestige” cabins. These include a double bed, along with a shower-equipped private washroom. No discounts for these. At the current exchange rate, they are priced at $6,400 in United States dollars.
Do you hear the distant whistle? It’s your train, friend. Enjoy the trip. We’ll be in the station waiting when you return.