In the grand scheme of things, airplane travel is still a fairly new form of transportation. Glamorized by Frank Sinatra, who sang “Come fly with me!” and conjuring visions of voluptuous Pan Am flight attendants, airplanes are seen as the epitome of technological advancement and convenience culture. You can have breakfast in New York and be in London by teatime! And in your few hours in the air, you can be served a nice cocktail or have coffee and the paper delivered to you by an overly pleasant flight attendant.
As a child I used to admire this photograph of my grandmother from the early 1960s—she is standing in front of a small passenger airplane in her Sunday best, wearing high heels and carrying a hatbox. Flying looked so glamorous to me and I was dying to experience it. Cue my disappointment when I made my first flight to Disney World when I was eleven—waking up at dawn to drive to the airport, spending hours hungry in baggage check and security, being satiated with tiny cans of Pringles and bottled water, and suffering from painful popping ears the entire flight. We touched down in Orlando and I declared that air travel was not for me.
So when I made the decision to move across the country two years ago, I did my research and found that there was another way to travel–older, undervalued, and perhaps more historically glamorous than airplanes. Trains! I enjoyed my six-day train ride from New York City to Portland so much that I have compiled a list of reasons why train travel is infinitely cooler than air travel.
Getting There Is Half The Fun
Train travel is a time luxury. I have traveled from New York City to Portland, Oregon by plane and by train. The plane ride took a little under six hours; the train ride took six days. While travel is often about getting to your destination as quickly as possible, train travel offers the kind of rush-free environment where getting there is half the fun. Rather than being shuffled through air travel procedures like a herd of stressed cattle for a few hours, train travel offers time to relax, daydream, and actually enjoy the journey you are taking.
Travel Like A Hobo, Save Money
Train travel takes longer than air travel by far, but it gives back in affordability. If you book far enough in advance, trains can slice your travel expenses in half. On my trip to Oregon, I was moving most of my belongings with me—I checked two large suitcases and carried on three bags at no extra cost. Another thing that saved me money was that I was not traveling in a sleeper car with a real bed and a shower — I did it all in coach. I packed a pillow and blanket and slept in my upright seat. I packed a small carry-on with bread, peanut butter, and trail mix and made most of my meals to save money. I washed my hair and took bird-baths in the bathroom sink. It all felt like such an adventure.
Get To Know Your Neighbors
Because they are land bound, trains are generally bigger and roomier than airplanes. This lessens the irritability of travelers who are used to being shoved next to the world’s weirdest stranger on an airplane and creates a better sense of camaraderie. During my six-day train ride, passengers came and went, but many were doing the full trip across the country with me. We got to talking and learning about each other’s lives. It is fascinating how stories are exposed so much more freely in the leisurely days on trains than in the rushed hours on planes. One night of my train journey, I dined with a businessman and father of six from Montana, a twenty-something Danish snowboarder on an extended search for the world’s best mountain, and a middle-aged Christian homemaker from Southern Oregon. You can’t make this stuff up.
Get To Know The Land
Even if you’re lucky enough to get a window seat on an airplane, the view is often an endless checkerboard of green farmland, gray cities, and blue bodies of water. You board a plane in one geographic climate and get off it in a completely new one, but while you’re in the air you completely miss the transition! One of my favorite things about my journey across the country was that I was actually able to see it. Though most of our stops were only long enough for a leg-stretching cigarette break, the train’s large windows offered me glimpses of everything we passed: South Dakota’s hilly reservations, Montana’s endless snowy plains, Idaho’s steep Rocky Mountains and a Moose bathing in its icy cold streams. I saw tiny towns fenced in on a few acres surrounded by flatlands that went on for days. For a girl who had never left the East Coast before, these sights were unbelievable.
If you can afford to spend a few extra days traveling on your next trip, consider using trains rather than airplanes. It adds a new level of adventure to whatever kind of journey you might be taking.
Have you ever traveled by train? Do you want to? Share your stories with us in the comments!
Written by Brenna McCaffrey