A Frugal Way to Travel Across the USA For $213
Trains are a pretty great way to travel . Think about it: You can sleep, eat and lounge pretty comfortably in them, and even pretend to be living in the Gilded Age while sitting in your personal cabin and twirling your mustache, or sipping some tea.
Travelling often costs an obscene amount. But the 3,400 mile trip from San Francisco to New York need only cost you $213. Now THAT is cheap. This colossal journey will take you through 11 different states, four different time zones, and see both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
The train, California Zephyr begins its journey running alongside the serene waters of the San Francisco Bay Area for some magnificent coastal views. From Sacramento, the train climbs into the Sierra Nevada. Then, the landscape turns into a vast, barren desert. If you weren't paying attention, it would be easy to think you were in the Sahara Desert.
Crossing into Nevada, the train calls at Reno, the Biggest Little City in the World. Overnight, the train crosses from Nevada into Utah and a new time zone, one hour forward. The journey between Utah and Colorado undoubtedly offers the best scenery.
Then onto the Rocky Mountains, the train snakes for hours through beautiful Colorado canyons, trailing the path of the Colorado River. Eventually appearing from the Rockies onto the Great Plains, it approaches Denver. Next on to Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. The California Zephyr completes its journey at Chicago's Union Station.
The Lake Shore Limited takes you the rest of the way to New York, travelling through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, before entering New York State. The train finally pulls into New York Penn Station, ending the journey on the east coast of the United States.
However, there are a few things to bear in mind before embarking on a trip like this. Sometimes, really cheap travel can be a bit like making a deal with the devil. You will have to be prepared to relinquish your personal space for the duration. For almost four days—including (at least) three nights— you will be surrounded by strangers whose personal hygiene level might leave a lot to be desired. Travelers will use their seat as couch, dining room and bed. With no showers available, some passengers will make an effort to clean themselves up but some just won't bother, leaving it until they get to their destination. And leaving you to inhale their aroma!
Also, remember that buying food on board a train is one of the most efficient ways to drain a wallet. Prices are comparable with Disney and the food ranges from surprisingly good to pretty bland. And, needless to say, alcohol prices are enough to drive you to drink!
The Wi-Fi may be sketchy, thereby cutting off communication with the outside world.
If you really fancy taking this train trip, there are other options to consider. You could split the trip into eight different train rides over 15 days. This would double the cost at over $400.
Or, if you choose a more lavish, first class, or privatized cabin, expect the prices to run significantly higher at over $1000. Of course, with the price jump comes some coveted amenities such as complimentary beverages, seating in a dedicated car, and access to the Amtrak lounge in Chicago. Also, the much desired shower access.
For travelers who are willing to sacrifice both comfort and time, cross-country Amtrak could be the way to go. However, for those who are sticklers for things like on-time arrivals, public hygiene and personal sanity, flights from San Francisco to New York are roughly the same price.