The best kept secret of Amtrak

The developing chemicals were slightly dodgy. Well, that and Illinois in winter is always a bit bleak looking.

I prefer to travel by train. It’s just a far better way to see the country. Part of it is being a process person, but it may surprise you that a great part of “flyover country” is actually a pretty interesting place. I’ll wax poetic in a future post. In a  few weeks we are taking a little trip up the mountains on the train, and after all, this is a post about gear.

So many people actively come up with reasons to not ride the train. Primarily, they see travel as an inconvenience. It’s time spent doing nothing important, just getting from point A to point B. Process people like myself find this school of thought to be puzzling. If an experience is not pleasant, why have it at all? Then they complain about the cost. True, in some cases, it would be cheaper to fly. But since that involves being groped, squeezed in to a tin can with far too many other people, and then forced to pay additional cash for incredibly bad food, it’s not much of a bargain for what the experience is. But being able to afford travel is a practical thing.

shoot-50I have a very important piece of gear in my pocket that allows me to take train trips across the country for a very attractive price. Free.

I’ve been very, very happy with Amtrak’s Guest Rewards Program. You could say they’re behind the times in a good way – they give the sort of customer service you used to get. They haven’t been anything other than helpful, pleasant, and concerned. They even took great care of me in extremis, and helped me find the best way to get back home during a trying time.

The best part is the rewards card. We have good fortune in that our landlord accepts the card as payment, which allows us to rack up points by just paying our rent. Our big cycle tour this year is planned with Amtrak as transport. We’ll pack our bikes up in boxes at the station, then retrieve them when we get off. The fee for this is $25, including the price of the box. We’ll travel from Denver to Pittsburg PA to start the ride. Once we finish in Washington DC, we will pedal ourselves to the train station and reverse the process. Total travel cost will be nothing. Just cashing in reward points. It’s going to allow us many more nights in B and B beds instead of camping while on the trail.

Every year, we will be able to take a ride on Amtrak by just cashing in our points. We’ll be able to as far as San Francisco, Portland OR, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Saint Louis, or New Orleans for nothing additional out-of-pocket. Plus we’ll ride in the sleeper. It’s horribly spoiling. You get a bed to sleep in. True, it is a bit small, but it does the job nicely and is far better than sleeping sitting up. Meals are included in the ticket. There is something about eating a steak at 80 miles an hour that makes it taste that much better. On some trains, you even have access to private lounge cars. The people you meet are interesting. Great stories waiting to happen. I’ve gotten to know more visitors from other countries on Amtrak than anywhere else.

shoot-48As I mentioned, meals are included in the ticket. The only thing you will have to pay for is wine at dinner and any snack food or beer you want. Do me a favor, though. If you follow my lead and start traveling for free, tip your service people well. Wait staff in the diner count on tips. Your Sleeping Car Attendant doesn’t get much sleep when on the job. Take good care of them. It will cost you little in the grand scheme of things and will make someone’s day a little brighter.

Sign up for the program, and start travelling on Amtrak. It’s time well spent, experiencing your journey and getting to know your country.

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