The Merits Of Train Travel: From Los Angeles To Seattle

As I write this, I am sitting in a plush red chair disdainfully dealing with spotty wifi and the occasional bump and twist. It’s a little too chilly in here for my cold blood, and I haven’t changed out of these clothes since 6AM yesterday, but despite all of this I am happier than I’ve ever been when it comes to transportation. I’m about twenty-four hours into a thirty-five hour train ride that’s been floating me down the coast from Vancouver, BC to LA. Although I can’t honestly say that this ride has been extremely comfortable or relaxing, I can say that it’s been jaw-droppingly beautiful, productive, and less chaotic than any other mode of travel I’ve ever taken. Well, maybe except for a cruise ship. 

This is my first time ever taking a train long distance. Sure, I’ve ridden the Bart, the Tube, and now the Skytrain, but long distance train rides through the American countryside are a whole different beast. This is no hop-on, hop-off type of transport. The Amtrak Coast Starlight  is slow and lumbering, clean, and very large. From the inside, it looks like an airplane that drank Alice’s growth potion and expanded one foot in all directions. In my rail car (which was upgraded to business class after we learned that nobody ever traveled coach for 35 hours), there are only about 28 chairs per section, divided out into sets of two. The chairs are huge, cushioned, and recline quite a bit. There is a foot rest that extends out from below and even I, being the tall 5’10 woman that I am, can stretch my legs and just touch the chair in front of me. 

Leg space is one of my biggest pet peeves on airplanes. You can’t sleep with your legs pretzeled underneath your neighbors chair and straining to reach the aisle, all while smacking your forehead on the pullout tray so your neck doesn’t cramp in the morning. I know from experience. In our case, Andrew and I each got our own row of two chairs to sprawl out on late at night. Not surprisingly, many people don’t stay on the train for this long, so it was easy to score some empty seats. I slept like a baby the first night - although from traveler to traveler - make sure to bring a pillow and a blanket. My thin jacket didn’t combat the harsh AC that these things pump out. Sadly enough, neither did my cute bear socks I picked up at the Richmond Night Market.  

On top of being more spacious than an airplane, the train is actually quite soothing compared to air travel. There are no billion-decibel jet engines to pop your eardrums, and the soft swaying of the tracks through tall waning trees is something of a lullaby. You can also leave your seat at any time - no seatbelts required! There is a dining car where you can make reservations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and on top of that there is a huge glass-paned viewing cart so you can get the best view of California’s foggy coastline or Oregon’s bushy, healthy pines. 

I must say, train food is nothing to drool over. It bears a stark resemblance to plane food, but is plated in an appealing fashion and priced accordingly. What a dream! (Hope you can sense sarcasm). Instead of eating every meal out, Andrew and I packed an entirely separate bag of snacks like bagels, healthy chips, juice, oreos, applesauce, and fruit snacks. It wasn’t the most nutritious option, but it saved us a pretty penny. If you book business class you are awarded a six dollar certificate to be spent anywhere onboard, which convinced us to eat in the dining cart one night. Despite the price ($12-16 per entree), it was a very rewarding experience. You are paired with other travelers who made a reservation at the same time. Thanks to community seating, we met two lovely ladies, one who was taking the train to the starting point for her solo cycle up the coast! We also met a gentleman from Australia who conducted trains for a living, but was in the area for a wedding - who would’ve guessed. People are so awesome.

But here is where I really get to convince you to take the train. It is a perfect place to work, to ponder, to rest, to explore, and to see the world pass by right outside your window. I busted out articles, movies, drawings, podcasts, books, and naps like no other on this trip. I sat in the viewing car and stared out at the vast farmland, industrial plants, city skylines, abandoned cabins, foggy mountains, and bustling streets. I didn’t feel stressed or rushed, and wasn’t distracted by the hassle of driving so I could really appreciate the view. I truly enjoyed being on ground level and experiencing the west coast like I never have before. Andrew and I were fascinated by the tiny tunnels we would barrel into, the busy beaches we skated past, and the unique people taking the train with us - committing to such a long, tumultuous journey ahead. All in all, it really felt different and rugged to take the train. I felt like a real adventurer, catching the bus at 11PM to roll into Vancouver, having our passports checked in the pitch blackness and soft rain. We snuck a kiss as the sun rose above us the next morning, and I felt like our journey had really begun. 


Tips:

  • Ask questions. The trains can be tricky to figure out and everything in the station is fast paced, but we met only friendly people who were more than willing to help. 
  • Pack light. Carry on can be somewhat of a pain, especially on small connecting trains or buses. 
  • Blankets and pillows, like I mentioned earlier. Very important!
  • Bring a toothbrush and deodorant in your carry on. I think that’s self explanatory. 
  • Ask for the oceanside view.
  • Keep your tickets handy and plan ahead. 
  • Maybe listen to The Passenger by Iggy Pop to set the mood, or anything by the Kinks to get that Darjeeling Unlimited feel. That’s certainly what I was searching for!

Thank you so much for reading all about the ups and downs of train travel. We'd love to hear from you! What's your favorite means of transportation? Have you traveled by train long distance before? Let us know in the comments below!