Have you ever sat parked on the interstate in holiday traffic wondering just exactly why you decided to burn your leave time (and your gas mileage) stuck in a confined space with tired, irritable children?
Having spent more holiday hours on I-95 that I'd rather not emotionally relive, and more time waiting on overbooked flights than I'd like to recall, I have often hoped for an easier method of transportation.
Since teleporting doesn't exist outside of Harry Potter and the SciFi channel, and the Jetson's flying cars have yet to come to fruition, I thought I'd try something a little out of the box this past holiday season.
I went by train.
Y'know those little pictures of trains that you see on interstate signs for Amtrak? That train. You probably don't even notice them until you're sitting between two exits for an hour at a time. I noticed the sign as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic en route from Virginia to Florida this past Christmas break. As my poor son sat crying in his carseat, I thought desperately about how I could possibly make the trip home better. Would we just burn more leave and wait until the holidays were completely over so that we could miss all traffic? Should we travel stealthily by night? It was then that I saw a sign--an Amtrak sign--and I was saved.
I found an auto train from Sanford, Florida, to Lorton, Virginia, that would take us and our car safely home in 17 hours.
...and it was awesome!
A valet took our car outside of the station, and we boarded in just a few short minutes. Amtrak offers a discount for military for coach seats (who doesn’t love discounts?), which is great, but unfortunately they don't offer that same discount for their sleeper cars. With a small baby, we chose the economy sleeper car, which featured just enough room for two people to sleep in bunks, provided that the baby slept on the bottom bunk with a parent. (Please consult safe co-sleeping manuals before attempting to sleep in this arrangement.) We shared a bathroom with several other sleeper cars, but you can pay (quite a bit) more to have a sink, a toilet, a shower, or all three in your sleeper car, as the sleeper cars vary substantially in size and cost.
We relaxed in our cabin, spent some time in a cafe-lounge car chatting with other passengers, took time to chat about our vacation, read and relaxed some more, went to dinner in a dining car where we enjoyed a three-course meal (included in price of a sleeper car), and then returned to our cabin which the porter had converted to sleeping arrangements while we ate. Before we lay down to sleep, we noticed the twinkling red lights on the highway. The post-holiday traffic looked busy as always, and as I drifted off to sleep, I felt grateful that we could escape it this time.
We woke in time to have breakfast delivered to our bedroom, and shortly after we arrived in Lorton, about 20 minutes from where we lived. The entire trip cost about $500; transporting the car cost just under $200. We arrived home refreshed and with a full day to prepare for a busy work week. That never usually happens after a trip to see the family.
I liked the train so much that after a recent trip to visit my sister in Seattle, I took a train all the way home to Virginia, and with my infant son, no less! On a side note, I shared some of my fun from Seattle in my post on Family Friendly Activities in Seattle for Your House Hunting Trip.
My entire family thought I had completely lost it. It's likely you're thinking the same thing right now, too. I received countless fretting texts from family members I usually never hear from who wanted to see if I:
a) was still alive.
b) had come to my senses yet and departed the train to take a flight home.
c) had truly traveled back to the 1850s...love the sarcasm, Dad.
Not only was I just fine, but I was relaxed and having a great time. I saw sights like Glacier National Park and the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. I chatted with National Park Service docents in the observation car. I took naps. I dined three times a day, and when my son was sleeping, the meals were delivered to my cabin. I saw farms and plains and parts of America that I would otherwise never have the opportunity to witness. I even wrote several of the blogs that you may have read on MilitaryByOwner over the past month!
As we progress on our PCS to Texas, I'm looking ahead to train trips to Big Bend and maybe even California. I can't wait!
Have you traveled by train? Would you consider it? If you have any questions about the logistics, feel free to ask them here, and I'd be happy to share any tips I can!
MilitaryByOwner staff writer Dawn Smith shares additional tips on military travel in her post 3 Big Reasons to Love Military Travel!
photo credit: Flickr user Cliff