If you haven't experienced America the Beautiful by rail yet, hop on an Amtrak ASAP for an eye-opening experience that could have you replacing planes as your preferred mode of travel indefinitely. Here are six reasons to book right now.
It's way cheaper than you think
I booked my first cross-country Amtrak trip last fall after reading an article about how travel expert and blogger Derek Low designed a trip of his own, originating in San Francisco and ending in New York City, for around $200. Impossible, I thought, so I reached out to ask if he could help me score a similar deal. He obliged, and for a $49 consulting fee he returned a reverse itinerary (New York to San Francisco) for just over $400. My trip wasn't as cheap as Low's because he traveled straight through on his ride and I was making a few stopovers in cities I wanted to explore (Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake) for a day or two, but it was still mind-bogglingly inexpensive. Low's trip totaled 71 consecutive hours on the train while my on-and-off experience lasted an amazing eight days.
The whole experience is relaxing from start to finish
Amtrak's sightseeing routes all are aboard the national rail carrier's Superliners, which consist of bilevel passenger cars plus dining, lounges and sleeping cars. I slept in my coach seat during the overnights I was on the train, but private roomettes are available. Just don't expect the same low-cost deal I'm describing if you're booking the latter. A sleeper car will easily put your trip over a grand, sometimes much more. Coach is quiet and perfectly comfortable for the budget traveler. No matter where you sleep, however, your trip will be relaxing from start to finish – because all you need to do is kick back and enjoy the ride.
The biggest advantage to rail travel is that there are no long security lines, TSA bag screenings, or costly bag fees like you have at the airport, so you're not stressed out before your vacation even begins.
After you're settled in your permanent seat, claim a spot in the Sightseer Lounge, which features floor-to-ceiling windows so you can watch your trip unfold right before your eyes. I spent every waking hour in this car drinking wine, making friends, and watching the most dramatic scenery glide by, complete with mountain views and wildlife sightings, including elk, bald eagles, moose, coyote, and more.
BYO food and drink to save even more money
The lack of pre-travel hassle is a major pro when traveling by rail but equally appreciated is Amtrak's BYO food and drink policy. I packed snacks and wine for days, which saved me a bundle on refreshments. I didn't have enough room in my bags to cover the full trip (and I didn't want to lug around that much weight either), but I got through at least two days without a spending a dime, money that adds up if you're buying food and booze on the train from the jump. It's also an opportunity to eat healthy-ish in the beginning, because once your home-packed provisions run out, your good-for-you snack options are extremely limited in the café car. Seated meals, on the other hand, are sufficiently healthy if you choose the healthy menu items. If you're city hopping on your trip, restock your private stash while you're off train and venture on full up.
You'll see parts of the country you can't see any other way
Cars, planes, boats, and other modes of transportation can get you places, but they can't access some of the most remote crevices of our beautiful country, like the hills and valleys of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains. East Coast and Midwest legs of an Amtrak cross-country are pretty, sure, but those views aren't in the same league as stunning scenes of snow-covered peaks, brilliant yellow aspens, winding rivers, slopes of never-ending forest, and myriad tunnels that still serve as individual feats of American engineering at its finest.
It's wildly romantic
What's more romantic than cuddling up in the cozy coach seats with your partner, one head on the other's shoulder, and falling asleep to the consistent drone of a moving locomotive after a full day of refreshments, sights and enjoyable conservation with other travelers? It doesn't get any better than that for me. Oh, and the sub-level bathrooms are large and unattended; you can figure out the rest.
This is all about the journey, not the destination
If you want to save the most money and stay on the train coast to coast, you won't regret it. These Superliner routes are designed specifically for sightseeing, and if all you do is ride the whole way, you'll be satisfied. This trip is about the journey, not the destination. You can get off along the way to stretch your legs and have a smoke break if needed (sometimes for longer stretches if there's a delay in service – the only time you'll look forward to this when traveling), then you'll hop back on and chug along. No money spent on rental cars, fuel, hotel rooms, expensive dinners and bar tabs, or activities. Your cross-country is all that rolled into one for the lowest fee that you make it.