After taking my first overnight train ride, I have to say I am in love with train travel. I decided to do a comparison on how the trip might have gone had I taken an airplane or driven to Utopia, Texas, from Indianapolis.
For pricing comparison I used a seven-day period in January to make it far enough in advance to get better rates.
Roundtrip airfare between Indianapolis and San Antonio, Texas, is around $400 for regular seating. The flights ranged from six to eight hours depending on the layover. I could not find a direct flight. If you factor in two hours prior to the flight and an hour getting out, getting your checked luggage and obtaining a rental car, then your day is shot.
Traveling by air is uncomfortable. My hips just don’t fit comfortably in those seats and being in the middle seat of a three-seat row is exceedingly cramped. Then you have security; the rush and hassle of taking off shoes, unpacking electronics, repacking electronics, getting pulled out for a random search, uncomfortable lounge chairs, etc.
The meals (when they do serve them) are not very good. At least I have never had anything very tasty. On most flights I was lucky to get a beverage and a small bag of peanuts. Moving on an airplane is also difficult. Either the seat belt sign is on or there is just nowhere to go. Instead you are sitting in a tiny, cramped seat for five or six hours.
If you have to get somewhere as quickly as possible, then an airplane is the way to go, but it is definitely not the most comfortable choice.
In this scenario I would also need to rent a vehicle for the two-hour drive from San Antonio to Utopia ; a minimum of $222 for a week, plus the gas.
According to MapQuest it is a 19-hour 30-minute drive between Indianapolis and Utopia, Texas. It is 1,244 miles one way. Even if you only stopped for restroom breaks and to fill up the car you will need to add a couple of more hours in there. I used $2.25 a gallon for my gas cost and came up with $112 or $224 for the roundtrip. Plus, you would need at least one night in a motel each way or two or three very dedicated drivers and the ability to sleep in a car.
So, at minimum $350 for gas and a hotel for the round trip. This does not include meals. Let’s say we add in $60 a day for food and drinks; that brings our round trip total to $470. This does not include wear and tear and adding 2,488 miles to a vehicle.
I do love driving. I enjoy the scenery and I like the ability to control my speed, what I want to stop and see, etc. But, if I was trying to get to Utopia and actually have time to spend in Utopia then I would have to drive without making lots of stops along the way.
I would of course have my own vehicle, so there would be no rental fees involved once I arrived at my destination.
If I took the train I could get a round trip ticket between Indianapolis and San Marcos, Texas, for $431 for a roomette. If I wanted to stay in the coach section, I could get a coach seat roundtrip for $137. The trip is 29 hours. I would need to rent the car to get from San Marcos to Utopia, so I have my $222 for the week’s rental.
If you book a roomette all meals are included.
The only thing you have to pay for is alcohol. All non-alcoholic drinks are included with the meals. I ate nine of
my meals on the train. The food was awesome. I had steak and baked potato one night; scramble
d eggs and bacon for breakfa
st, a hamburger for lunch, etc. The menu isn’t very deep, but there are generally three to seven choices depending on what meal you are eating. Dessert included
a chocolate torte, cheese cake or ice cream. There were limited vegetarian option. If you had serious dietary restrictions you would probably not be able to enjoy the dining car.
If you travel via coach you could bring your own food or you could eat either in the dining car or in the snack car. If you paid for the meals in the dining car it would get expensive. The steak option was $24. If I had paid for each of my meals on the train they would have ranged from $12 for breakfast up to $30 for dinner. I probably would have spent $150 or more eating during the 29-hour train trip if meals had not been included. That would make about $300 for food for the roundtrip. If I subtract that $300 from my $431, that makes my actual sleeping car only $131 for the round trip. What a deal.
The coach seats on the train are fabulous and exceedingly comfortable.
You could certainly travel that way and sleep. You wouldn’t have any privacy, but because the seating is roomy; it is still far more comfortable than falling asleep on an airplane.
The roomettes are cramped for two people (but perfect for one). If you share a roomette
then you need to enjoy the company of the person with whom you are traveling. There are larger rooms on the train, but I did not price them for this post. For the roomette, you sit facing the other person and there is about one foot of space between your knees. In the evening, a train attendant comes by and shoves the two bottom chairs together to form a bed and then drops a bunk down from the ceiling to form the second bed. Even with a bad knee, I was able to get to the top bunk. I had a hard time maneuvering, but it was doable. I much preferred sleeping in the bottom bunk. There was more room and I could look out the window as I fell asleep.
While you might be somewhat cramped in the roomette with a friend, there is so much room on the train that you don’t have to be in one place. I spent very little time in my roomette. During part of my trip one of the coach cars was empty. I spent several hours stretched out in the coach car with all of my electronic equipment spread around me and plugged in to various outlets. I also spent hours and hours in the observation car. I had lots of room and electrical outlets. I could look at the passing scenery, listen to my music via headphones or write. If I wanted company, most of the people in the observation car were friendly and open to conversation. Talking to strangers on a train is a tradition after all.
I could walk all over the train if I needed to move around and at least every two hours (and generally more often) the station stop was long enough so you could get off the train and walk around either the station or the immediate area. Station stops ranged from 10 minutes to 45 minutes.
There were no luggage checks on the train. I never had to take off my shoes or unpack my laptop bag. When we got on the train in San Marcos, the attendant asked for one of our party’s driver’s license. That was their random check.
Most people who know me well also know that restrooms are important to me. My rating of the restrooms between the airplane, plane and driving would probably be a wash. The train restrooms may rate a little lower than the airplane and some gas stations. The restrooms on the train are very small. I also think Amtrak may need to invest in more cleaning staff and some air fresheners in the bathrooms. But, overall they were certainly better than a tree in the woods.
If you travel in the largest rooms you have a private bathroom. The car with the roomettes had one bathroom on the floor of the rooms and then two more bathrooms on the floor below us, which is also where the shower was located.
I would definitely now choose train travel over any other form of travel if it were an option. Obviously, an airplane will get you someplace faster and train travel is not going to be convenient to many locations. But, if it is an option, I highly recommend it.