North American Rail Pass

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

Once upon a time, I had a very good idea. It was 1998, and my 50th birthday was coming up. I wanted to do something special for this birthday… not a party, something more unusual and exciting. I love traveling by train, and a friend had alerted me to a fantastic deal provided by a North American Rail Pass. An article in the Mpls. Star Tribune read: “The 30-day pass, providing unlimited travel and unlimited stopovers, will cost…. $645… for travel between June 1 and Oct. 15…”

After getting the OK from Husband – “May I have the month of July off, Dear?” (son Joel was 17)  –  I started planning. I knew from previous experience that I could sleep in coach, sort of, for a night or two at most. I decided to travel the perimeter of the country, as friends/sister lived at several points thereon.  Turned out I could schedule myself for a couple of days/nights on the train to get to the next destination, and then stay X # of days with someone. It allowed me to see almost everyone I wanted to, within the 31 days. (Because I stayed eight days in the SF Bay Area, I unfortunately had to skip NYC.)

The Rail Pass required travel in both the US (Amtrak), and Canada (Via); although it felt silly, I flew to Winnipeg to launch on July 1 (Canada Day!), then traveled on Via across the plains and Canadian Rockies, arriving in Vancouver at 8:55 a.m. on July 3. At the time, this was the one link where no train was available, and I took the motor coach, Greyhound, from Vancouver to Seattle, where I found a hotel for one night and a nice Japanese restaurant (it being the one stop where I knew no one nearby).

The rest of the itinerary looked like this:

      • Seattle –> Oakland:  One night on southbound Coast Starlight.  Spent eight days with sister et al.
      • Oakland –> Los Angeles:   One day on southbound Coast Starlight.  Transferred to …
      • LA –> Deming, NM: One night on eastbound Eagle.  Spent four days with high school friend.
      • Deming –>Jacksonville, FL:  Two nights on eastbound Sunset Limited.  Transferred to …
      • Jacksonville –> Charleston SC:  One half day on northbound Silver Meteor:  – spend 3 days with childhood friend.   (Note: In 1998, there were still trains between New Orleans and Jacksonville, not shown on the current map.)
      • Charleston –> Washington DC:  One night on northbound Silver Meteor.  Transferred to …
      • DC –> Indianapolis:  One night on westbound Cardinal: spend two days with grad school friend.
      • Indy –> Chicago:  One half day motor coach: (better timing than Amtrak’s Cardinal for last leg of trip):
      • Chicago –> St. Paul:  One half day on westbound Empire Builder:

I got to see breathtaking, sometimes close-up views of:  the Canadian Rockies, chartreuse canola fields in bloom, a Seattle suburb full of blue hydrangeas, cliffs along the California coast, Arizona desert cacti, southern live oaks and Spanish moss in Florida, a sweet little streams with a footbridge in West Virginia, a duck on moss covered pilings in the Chicago River, cattle facing a classic red barn with a sign posted: “Prepare to Meet Thy God”.

Train stations, some outstanding like the ones in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, El Paso, Texas and Union Station in Chicago.

Then I boarded the Empire Builder for the last few hours to St. Paul. Husband met me at 10:59 p.m., at the St. Paul station on, appropriately enough, Transfer Road – I was ready to be home.

Imagine you have an entire month to be spirited away somewhere. Everything for which you are responsible will be taken care of, and money is no object. Where would you go?

62 thoughts on “North American Rail Pass”

  1. Morning all. Wow, BirR – this is an amazing story.

    I’m not sure I can pin down what I would do with a month, my responsibilities covered and money no object. I’d love to visit every country in Europe (by train would be fun too) but I’d also love to hike the Pacific Coast Trail (although not by myself). And the idea of safari-ing in several different camps in South Africa is highly appealing. And I’d like to visit all the cities along the Great Wall of China. I guess I’d better have more than one month off!

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  2. Coincidentally and/or ironically, I’ve spent the last couple days contemplating a train trip from Winnipeg to Vancouver, dropping down to Seattle to visit friends and taking Amtrak back to Grand Forks. Hadn’t thought about a more round about trip….but. hmmm….also talking with a cousin about a trip to Maine to board a schooner. But…possibilities are popping into my head as I write. I could continue from Seattle to San Francisco to visit friends, then to Denver to visit more friends and back home. Hmmmm….you’ve got me thinking, BiR….thanks!

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  3. I am looking forward to hosting the book club tomorrow. It will start at the usual time which is 2 PM. Our home is located a few blocks from the 50th street light rail station at 5031 41st Ave. S.

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    1. ˚ I so wish that I could participate and gather with all of you, but my driving is almost dangerous. I’ve come to avoid freeways other than the ten minutes from here to Ridgedale, and I always – I mean always – get lost going to places I’ve not been before. Finally, I don’t think any of you live anywhere close to the western burbs 😦

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  4. If I could go away on a one month trip I would start by visiting my friend in Bulgaria and then travel across Asia by train to China. That is the first route I can think of that would allow me to see a major part of the world on a month long trip. I think there is a way to travel by train following the historic route of the Silk Road.

    There are many other parts of the world I would like to visit. I am guessing that a train trip from Europe to China across Asia might be one of the best ways for me to see major part of the world having one month available for travel. How about taking a year long trip to see the world traveling to as many of the world’s major destinations as would possible in that amount of time?

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  5. i loved my traveling days and have a thought that the idea lif would allow for and factor in a week of travel every month.
    i have always wanted to do the canadian rockies in the train but then again every tie i have been in a train i have been frustrated that i couldnt stop and just hang out for a while.
    the places that stick in my memory the most are the spot at the top of the one way mountain road in jasper provincial park at celestine lake, the mountains of montana in glacier and on beartooth pass from redlodge to yellowstone, the train ride from lucern switzerland to milan was the most breathtaking thing of beauty ever even though it was gray and stormy out the window. i need to do that ride again lake como for a cup of coffee is wonderful but i suppose there are a hundred places to have coffee where sucking up earths beauty is all that is required to achieve nirvana, i put a cool map o the european continant over the last 1200 years on my facebbok page a couple days ago showing all the changes in europe china russia over the last 1000 years and it would be fun to go and see all the spots that are blipping on that map as to the changes they have seen/. all the action ws around italy for a while then it switched to the england france area then to germany and turkey and meanwhile look what cooking in china mongolia russia and i never think about the nordic places although i would love to go there.
    i think if someone gave me a month today it would be used in the summer in the rockies. canadian and the montana to colorado run through the west. i just love it. something cleansing and renewing about seeing the mountain streams and the sun reaching into the canyons and ravines that warms my soul. banff and all those ice cream cone mountain tops around corner after corner just wow me out. maybe i can find a way soon. thanks bir for the mental break on a 50 degree february day in a quickly thawing minnesota position getting ready for the day. i love the train and loved the trip i too with my daughter from florence to venice vienna prauuge budapest inverness lucerrn milan a few years back. it was wonderful and memorable and i hope to be able to do it again sometime soon

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  6. The Grand Tour. London to Rome
    “Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.” NYT

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  7. What a nice contribution today, BiR. Great writing and photos.

    I’d probably choose to spend a month in Ireland, especially in the Irish countryside. I’m told the Irish are probably more enthusiastic about Americans than citizens of any other country. For one thing, we haven’t gotten around to invading the Emerald Isle yet. (You might be surprised to learn how many places we have invaded. Always for a good reason, of course!)

    I used to dream of moseying around on back roads in Ireland researching my Irish family roots. When I did some genealogy research, however, I learned that my forefathers lived in England, not Ireland. Instead of being the oppressed my Grooms ancestors were the cruel oppressors.

    My second choice would be spending a month getting to know my new home state. Oregon is amazing.

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    1. i have mentioned before the trip i took to ireland with my first wife. it was a quickie trip because we initilaay had planned on going to eruope but that was the summer we bombed khadaffi and the danger involved in being an american traveling had her concerned (im oblivious to thaat stuff) so we kept an eye on it and the chernoble blew up and made all the salad i was going to eat in my vegetarian trip to germany and austria glow in the dark so we swithced to uk because time magazine said it was safe. we had the entire place to ourselves. i am irish as anything else and when people ased if i was going to do the heredity search i said i wasnt interested. the irish folks we met didnt allow me to be indifferent about my heratage. they care lots and knew exactly where all my relatives had come from the grimes the hines the jones’ on my dads side and the herbison on the maternal side. the mothers side was in the ulster part where the english gentrified the area. the rest are from kerry dingle and cork which were some of my favorite areas. i fell in love with ireland and know i can go back anytime and feel at home. its a very cordial place. i would encourage travel to rurl side of the island rather than dublin. ireland sucks at cities but has great countryside. fly in on air lingus to limerick/shannon where the music of ireland is strong. the people ,the culture the place is made for hanging out. kind of the opposite of germany.
      oregon is magic. the coast the middle of the state the east side are all delightful. it seems to be the opposite of seatle. instead of rush rush its more laid back. go for it steve. you took the subaru so youd be mobile. go get mobile. enjoy the summer. its right around the corner. ill bet liam could plot out an agenda with/for you.

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  8. Northern Canada. Trace the routes and visit the sites of all those idiot British explorers seeking the obviously pointless Northwest Passage. Somebody should put up the song. For us, if Sandy can go, it’s dance recital day in Morgan.

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  9. Right now I would say we could easily do a month doing college tours. As it is, I am struggling to get 3 clear days in a row to get to Chicago….

    Would love to head north and get into Canada asap, then drive across to the Maritimes and spend the rest if the time there. Trouble is, I would then have to come back.

    I have done the bit from Detroit to Buffalo (so much lovlier than the US side).

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    1. airline tickets roundtrip to chicago even round trip are crazy if you do it right. if you can do spirit without a bag it can be 60 roundtrip with trains form ohare and midway maybe the three can be done in one or two

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  10. I harbor fantasies of taking the Trans-Siberian railroad (or at least its route) from China into Russia, with plenty of time at both ends and stops in between. Mongolia would be cool to see. St. Petersburg, Moscow, Beijing, Siberia itself…would be fun if I could start somewhere south of Beijing (at least Shanghai, possibly Hong Kong) then travel north through China, up through Mongolia, into Russia and eventually find my way to Finland. If could extend another two weeks, I could swing through the parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway that constitute what was called Lapland up in the Arctic Circle (and home of the Sami), then travel south through Norway to Oslo and then home.

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  11. Where to begin………….

    In no particular order, I’d love to have a month in Australia, revisiting the Outback and Great Barrier Reef, spending more time in Sydney, and then taking the train across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth and up to Broome……….or

    Start in Ecuador, to the Galapagos, on to Easter Island, Pitcairn Island, French Polynesia, Tonga, and Fiji……..or

    A month in Alaska, exploring by ship and land………or

    Exploring Ireland, Scotland, England, Norway, Sweden, and Finland…….or

    Visiting as many U.S. National Parks as possible – especially the ones in the Southwest. This one might actually be at the top of the list.

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  12. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Four of the greatest golf courses in the country, state-of-the-art practice facilities, staff that devote 100% of their time to give golfers the best golf experience ever. Plus the views of the Pacific Ocean ain’t chopped liver, either. I would play until my hands began bleeding, then bandage them up and go out for a quick round on their spectacular, 13-hole par-3 course. 😉

    Chris in Owatonna

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  13. The only long trip I’ve ever made was driving with my brother to Oregon, then flying home. I felt so brave, and will cherish this memory forever.

    Barbara – your story was delightful and caused me to ooze with envy. I’ve fantasized my whole life about seeing things I’ll likely never see now. I’m anxious about traveling anywhere alone, but I’d take off in an hours if someone wanted to be travel companions!!

    I’d love to go to Australia and hold a Kuola bear and see all the strange wildlife there. Other than this, I have a HS friend who’s been a missionary in Kenya for 30 years who’s invited me to visit, but that’s $1500 round trip and tens of hundreds of hours in a plane.

    Currently, I’m trying to get up the nerve to fly to Phoenix where half a dozen HS classmates winter, my oldest granddaughter, and my best friend, Greg, all live. There’s the issue of getting to and from the airport (cab fee: $100), then how I’d scoot from one place to another to see all these people.

    I’ll most likely just stay here in the security of my cottage for the time left to me.

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  14. What a great trip. Thanks for sharing that BiR.

    I don’t know if I could manage being away for a month. Just seems like too long.
    We’re planning a week in Charleston in June. My niece and husband own a bunch of condo’s. We’re planning a few days on a houseboat (moored) and a few in a condo downtown. (Farming-wise and schedule-wise, July and August is easier. And then I realized I hate the weather down there late summer. So we moved it to June… and I’m hoping for a good spring here to get my farming done.)

    I wanted to drive and make it a trip to a cousin in Mississippi, then a few days in Jamestown Virginia before Charleston and then meander back. But we can’t get enough days off work.
    So there’s my month vacation; just meandering here and there.

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    1. driving adds 24 hours each way. if you have two drivers it can be done non stop. having a car makes it a better trip. i always think while im sitting in an airport with all the pre screening get here early pain in the buut stuff involved these day that the drive is only 1/2 a day longer and the payoff is worth the stiff back. the scenery is a favorite part of getting to new places.
      ill bet if you called in sick for the extra day it took they wouldnt fire you. if they did you could hold them for ransome and go to work as an independant contractor and double the rate

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  15. Anybody else remember the car commercial that was a serial with people driving from the Arctic to Terra del Fuego?

    That really captured my imagination.

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  16. I would do the circle tour of Lake Superior. Ever since I heard of that, back when I was 10 or 11, it sounded so cool. Superior is such a wonderful lake, I would not get tired of it even if I took 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, or a year, to make my way around it.

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  17. Just back to our sojourn to Brookings and Sioux Falls to do our family therapy workshop. In May we are flying to Hamburg, taking the train to Bremen, and hope to look up relatives in Verden and Neddenaverbergen, Germany, both places near to Bremen. Most of my mother’s family came from that area and we will see where they lived. From there we go to Amsterdam, then take the train/chunnel to London, then Cambridge where my father hung out as a young air corpsman. He gave me a photo of the Romsey Town Labour Club from 1943 that he had signed by the Lord Mayor of Cambridge, Dad was an honorary member of the club. From there we take the train to Glascow, then to Oban Scotland, then to Liverpool, then the ferry to Dublin, then home. Husband’s family came from Glasow, and we hope to see where they lived. We have the addresses. Son and daughter in law are with us on the first leg of our trip. They fly home from London and then daughter joins us for the last leg of the trip.

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  18. We are back from Brookings. I am pretty tired. This Europe trip is husband’s gift to himself and us to celebrate his retirement two years ago.

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    1. rest up

      when i did the uk and ireland i took a 5 week vacation and first wife was a travel guide junkie
      it was exhausting
      we saw every damn thing ever mentioned in s fodors or the other one
      it wa a wonderful trip but we were up and rolling from 5 am til midnight every day
      saw everything but i think your list of plzces sern in 21 days sounds similar

      playing bells will pale in comparison

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