Amtrak Across America, A First Experience

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner GlendaleTravel by train has always been my favorite form of travel, even if my first train was in 2013 in Canada with Via Rail. Even before that, it’s always been my dream. Because of that, travel by train in America has been one of my biggest dreams, ever! Since 2013, I have taken many trains across Europe including yes, a Long Island RR train ;).

With a working holiday visa approval in New Zealand, I decided that I won’t fly straight there, I might as well make many stops on the way there. One of these many stops, were cities across the US. From Greenville, South Carolina, I’ve got a long journey west, just like the good ol railroad days!

The Journey

New Orleans, Louisiana to Houston, Texas

New Orleans Houston Amtrak

New Orleans Houston Amtrak

Instead of taking the Amtrak Crescent to New Orleans, I instead flew to New Orleans. After enjoying 5 days in one of my favorite cities, I began one of my biggest dreams, arriving at the NOLA Amtrak station to hop on Amtrak train #1, the Sunset Limited bound for LA. Instead of taking the trip to Los Angeles, I caught the 9 hour ride to Houston where I have a high school friend.

GoPro Amtrak Sunset LimitedThe train left New Orleans around 9 am arriving in Houston at 6:30. That’s 9 hours on the rails. It’s a long trip but an incredible ride. The scenery was’t drop dead gorgeous but there is still something about seeing the earth go by on a train, in this case, the U.S.A. While I asked for a window seat (assigned a the station), I spent just about all of my time in the sightseer car, a car with large windows and seats set up in such a way to just lounge out, kick back, and take in the view all around you.

For food, the train does have a dining car with a full menu similar to 3 to 4 star restaurant. The prices aren’t too bad, but as a budget traveling backpacker, I not only brought some of my own food, but settled for simple bites at the cafe below the Sightseeer lounge. They have everything from fruit, to microwavable burgers and pizza. As well as $2 coffee!

Amtrak Sightseer

Amtrak Surfliner Coffee

US Desert Amtrak

After 9 hours on the rails, passing through some small and big towns between Louisiana and Texas, I finally arrived in Houston. For segment one of my cross American journey, it was an awesome start and extremely comfortable. My next segment is a long 2 day journey from Texas to California

San Antonio, Texas to Los Angeles, California

San Antonio to Los Angeles Amtrak

San Antonio to Los Angeles Amtrak

After spending a week in Houston and Austin, and a day stopover in San Antonio, I hopped back on the Sunset Limited bound for a long ride across the American Desert. Departure was at 2 am so it wasn’t difficult to conclude a long day of travel.

Making friends on Amtrak

Making friends on Amtrak

Alike my first train ride, much of the time spent was in the sightseer car, best place to kick back and watch the vast desert go by. This is also the right place to meet other people, especially being stuck on a train for so long. I befriended a girl from Alabama, and three guys from LA, goofing around and watching Netflix later on at night on their laptop.

The ride is 29 hours but is gorgeous if you love the sight of the vast desert. It rides along the southern border with Mexico in most parts and you even get to be a stones throw away from the fence in El Paso, a one hour stopover. While there are many stops along the way, the only additional stopover that is longer than 10 minutes is in Tuscon where I enjoyed the worst pizza ever.

US Mexico Border El Paso Amtrak
US Mexico Border El Paso Amtrak

After a long uncomfortable ride in coach and attempting to sleep in the sightseer car, I did finally make it to Los Angeles, to wrap up my east to west journey across America.

Final Leg: Glendale to San Luis Obispo

Pacific Surfliner Amtrak

While I technically ended my cross country journey in Los Angeles, my American journey by train actually ended north of Los Angeles. Using additional points, I booked a one way train ticket in Business class aboard the Pacific Surfliner, a route that delivers incredible and unique views of the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Surfliner AmtrakUnfortunately for me, the train ran an hour late which caused a domino effect of delays for the remainder of the trip. Which meant, I couldn’t enjoy the full sunset like I wished. However, the ride was insanely comfortable, coffee was free, and there was complimentary snacks in a snack box.

Cross Country by train

My experience across America by train was by far one hell of a memorable experience. And to think that the route I took is one of many. East to West along the southern border, along former route 66, across the northern states, North to south on Texas Eagle, Crescent from Big Apple to Big Easy, and up and down the west coast.

Amtrak across america

Cost / Amtrak Points

Travel by train can be rather inexpensive, if you can deal with the long haul in coach. From New Orleans to San Luis Obispo, California, the trip cost me $151. In points, I used 3,500 Amtrak points earned visa hotel booking signup, Rocketmiles. If you are willing to splurge on luxury and comfort for a long haul (which i recommend), you can pay for a room for a few hundred to a thousand, depending on the distance and route.

Take it slow

In conclusion, I think everyone should experience travel by train in the US at least once in their lifetime. Whether you are a foreigner or local. The reason why I chose train travel, is because I am so used to riding by car or taking a flight. Always, always, always in a rush. In my case, I have time, and time is something to embrace when traveling by train. Because America is not up to speed (no pun intended) on high speed rail (Excluding the northeast Acela train), travel is pretty slow, taking days to go across country. But that’s okay. Why, because that is how it was historically done.

Amtrak Journey


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