Travel The USA by Train – For Under $200

Travel / Monday, October 27th, 2014


Little Facts

Travelling between: Chicago, Illinois & Emeryville, California.

Total Miles: 2,438 miles travelling through 7 states.

States Travelled: Illinois – Iowa – Nebraska – Colorado – Utah – Nevada – California.

Journey Duration: approx 52 hours.

Best time of year: Personal preference, though late summer/fall is a beautiful time to go.

Why Travel the USA by Train?

Driving route 66 is iconic, the roads themselves see thousands of people flock to the states to grace it’s historical route. Although this may be to some people, the only way to see the ‘Real America’, this cross country train journey, takes you on a whole new adventure.

I’ve done Amtrak’s the ‘California Zephyr’ twice now and wouldn’t hesitate to step onboard again. I’ve always wanted to travel the USA by train and it’s such a cheap way to delve deeper into a derelict world and watch the landscapes change from deserts, lakes, mountains and rivers.
You can do all of this while sipping a beer or 10, which unless you’re a rebel who dreams of being pulled over by the state police, is something you can’t do while driving route 66.


There are a few things to point out here though, the journey itself is non-stop, with just enough time at some stops to have a cigarette or to take some fresh air. This may be a deal breaker for some, seeing as you are only seeing places through the trains windows.

If you are wanting to hop on and off then you can either buy separate train tickets for each leg, or even better, you can buy a 15 day rail pass, allowing you to stop off at the places that really get your toes tapping.

The train itself has sleeper cars (more expensive) but if you fancy splashing out then this package also includes dinner in the trains onboard restaurant. I though, opted for the cheaper option and this was just fine. The seats reclined just enough to be comfortable and the leg space is apt.

You also have an observatory car, with tall windows, enabling you to see more of what’s going on around you.

So for just less than $200 you can travel from California to Illinois. So why not make your next cross country adventure with Amtrak.


Things to take on the trip;-

  • If you drink alcohol, pre buy some before you board the train. With a small glass of wine being $7 and a small can of beer costing $6, you will end up spending a fortune!

  • Snacks! Take as many snacks as possible, even cup noodles (they will give you free hot water). Just anything to get you by without paying the prices on the train for food.

  • Baby wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, spare change of clothes or just anything to freshen up with!

  • If you play an instrument, bring it along! People enjoy a jam session in the observation coach!

  • Pillow and a blanket! It can get cold at night and it can be nice and cosy to wrap up and watch the scenery go by.

  • Books, music, a journal, puzzles or just anything to occupy yourself with. There is no Wi-Fi and a lot of the time, no phone signal either. There are plenty of great people to talk to though, so make sure you get socialising!

  • A decent camera! I broke my camera and so only had my cheap Wal-Mart phone to use to take pictures. It was a shame because there is so much to photograph on this trip!

For a more in depth and poetic explanation, check out my other blog post



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