Firsthand account: Traveling by Amtrak


Getty Images

Columnist Janyce-Monique Johnson reflects on her two-day travel from Texas via Amtrak.

By Janyce-Monique Johnson, Columnist

At the end of last semester, I decided to travel to El Paso, Texas, to visit my best friends. I moved to Illinois from Texas at the beginning of 2020, so I hadn’t seen my friends since then. I took a plane to El Paso, where I enjoyed my time reminiscing on the memories I made there and catching up with my friends. When it was time to leave, one of my friends dropped me off at the train station so I could take the Amtrak back to Chicago.

When I got to the train, I was assigned a train car and a seat number. I found my seat and put my bags in front of me and in the overhead bin. When we left the station, I decided to travel to the dining car to read a book and relax. The dining car was by far the best place to be on the train because it was made of huge windows where you could see the cities and land surrounding us. 

I made friends while sitting in the dining car. One woman told me that she regularly takes the train all over the country and writes articles online for money while working on her novel. I thought, “I want to be like her.” One man told me about his writing aspirations, and both of them were interested to hear about the writing I was working on. 

I didn’t have a lot of traveling money, and the food prices on the train were outrageous, so I was prepared to survive on the snacks I brought. However, strangers onboard shared their food with me.

At the time, I didn’t have phone service, and I thought the train would have Wi-Fi, but it didn’t, so I was disconnected from the digital world for two days. It was bliss. I loved hearing the stories of these strangers and being unplugged from the world. 

I spent the entire first day and night in the dining car playing cards, talking, and enjoying the company of the people I met. The train split up in the morning, so most of the people I met had left. I spent the second day watching movies, writing and relaxing.

So many people overlook Amtrak as a mode of transportation, but it was one of my favorite ways to travel. It is way less cramped than taking the bus, and you have a lot more space to move around than you do on planes. It is also way better for seeing the country.