- I took a 52-hour Amtrak train ride from Chicago to Emeryville, California, for the first time.
- The ride didn’t seem as long as I expected, and I didn’t feel too lonely, even as a solo traveler.
- The food options were impressive, and eating with strangers wasn’t that awkward.
As an avid air traveler, I didn’t know what to expect when I booked a 52-hour cross-country train ride from Chicago to Emeryville, California.
Here are 12 things about traveling on Amtrak’s California Zephyr that surprised me the most:
Even though I traveled solo, I didn’t feel lonely
Solo travel can get lonely at times, and I naturally found more solitude — which I love — when I was in my roomette.
That said, I was still nervous I didn’t bring enough to do and that I’d feel isolated, but I was wrong.
Plus, when in doubt, just go sleep. I took more naps on the train than I have in a while and felt well-rested the entire time.
I didn’t miss Wi-Fi
People tell me one of the biggest reasons they don’t take Amtrak is the lack of Wi-Fi, but I took it as a welcome challenge for a social-media detox.
Even though I brought my portable hotspot, I didn’t even think about using it and was happier enjoying the ride.
Eating with strangers was less awkward than I thought
Talking to strangers in the observation car was one thing, but the thought of eating in front of them was more daunting.
By the second or third meal, though, I gave myself talking points and it got easier.
I felt nauseous waking up on the 2nd day
I don’t normally get motion sickness, but I felt a bit nauseous waking up on the second day headed toward the Rocky Mountains.
Thankfully, due to research prior to the trip, I packed some Dramamine and sea-nausea-relief bands, which hit a pressure point on my wrist that remedied the unpleasant feeling.
The food was better than I expected
Before the ride, I didn’t have high hopes for the food, but instead, I found a variety of options, even as a pescetarian.
The three-course dinners with a complimentary alcoholic beverage were my favorite. Plus I got to mix and match most of my options.
I had some trouble sleeping
As someone who can fall asleep anywhere, the first night on the train was surprisingly rough.
I slept on the bottom bunk, and the ride felt bumpy. I woke up a few times but eventually rested.
Thankfully, the next night was a much smoother sleeping experience.
I didn’t feel the fear of missing out while enjoying the views
I love to hike and thought I would feel like I was missing out on experiences since the train doesn’t stop as it passes through the scenery and mountains, but I was wrong.
Even though some parts are accessible via hiking, a lot are not, so riding through the mountains gave me a different perspective.
I had to make dinner reservations
Eating dinner was a very organized experience.
Unlike for breakfast and lunch, the dining-car attendant came around and told sleeper-car travelers which meal times were available.
Depending on which sleeper car the attendant visited first, you’d have an earlier or later dinner time — around 5:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., respectively.
The roomette was smaller than I anticipated
I can say that booking a roomette was the best investment on this trip since it made the ride more comfortable.
However, I was surprised by how small I felt in the roomette. I’m only 5’1″ and didn’t feel like I had much space to spare. I thought it would be a little bigger.
Sleeper-car and coach travelers were separated
I didn’t realize there was a divide between sleeper-car and coach passengers, but travelers in coach were not allowed in the dining car.
The only time I interacted with coach passengers was in the observation car. Even then, it seemed as if we had our own sides of the train.
I didn’t even think to walk toward the side of the observation car closest to coach.
The ride was truly as scenic as promised
The videos and photos I saw of the train ride gave me a sneak peek of my adventures, but it was different to appreciate it in person.
I loved riding through the mountains and hopping between both sides of the observation car to catch the views.
I got such a panoramic view of the mountains, greenery, and rocks surrounding us. It made me feel like I was in a 3D movie.
52 hours didn’t feel that long after all
A delay on the third day added extra time, and that’s when I felt the most restless.
But between sleeping, writing, talking to people, and reading, this journey was so smooth. Bringing things to do was key.