America by Train – Solo Travel Adventures
Summer is fast approaching. With no way to be sure which countries will be open for summer vacations, Americans are largely planning domestic travel for 2021. National and state parks are at the top of everyone’s list with families partial to road trips. However, for solo travelers, safety concerns and practical challenges, like changing a tire, can make long drives alone less attractive.
In my college days, I was ready to “See America” overland. Not having a car and with only a student’s budget, I headed out for five weeks alone on an open-ended bus trip with only an overnight bag. With no plan, I slept on the bus at night and went sightseeing by day wherever the bus ended up at sunrise. I covered 3,000+ miles from Washington, DC to Los Angeles without battling rush hour traffic, searching for legal parking and hearing my GPS shout “recalculating” every time I was lost..
While I am really glad that I had an early start on seeing all 50 states, I would not choose a bus trip except for short day trips. The biggest challenges were:
- Trying to sleep as the bus swayed from side to side
- Tiring of fast food meals at bus stops
- Being concerned about safety concerns as a female solo traveler
- Not having the option to stretch my legs
- Adjusting to limited bathroom facilities
In 2021, with the pandemic still a concern, buses do not offer an opportunity for social distancing. As a result, train travel this summer offers a timely solution to restart US travel. (For information on the status of the COVID-19 recommendations, see the CDC.gov.)
Why give up the independence of a road trip for a solo train journey?
Europeans have long favored train travel, especially with their historically high gas prices. However, distances there are shorter, and extensive railroad networks exist in almost every country of the European Union.
Here are the top advantages of train travel over road trips this summer:
- Letting someone else take care of everything. 2020-2021 has been a year of lockdowns and “DYI’s”. We have all run our course from “Be your own barber” to “Do your own home repairs”. Train travel journey means someone else has to take care of transportation, meals and daily logistics.
- For those traveling alone, especially those of us female solo travelers, personal safety is an issue. Getting lost or having a car breakdown in a remote area can be dangerous.
- The US national passenger rail service, Amtrak, has both daily service between cities and major coast-to-coast routes.
- Amtrak is offering “roomettes” on select long-haul service. Traveling in a roomette provides both privacy and built-in social distancing during the pandemic. Having once luxuriated in my own solo roomette traveling from Chicago to Washington, DC, I highly recommend it. These private sleeper cars have access to both a private shower and bathroom. Added amenities include: turndown service, priority boarding, assistance with bags, complimentary meals onboard and in major stations lounge access.
- Pricing can be competitive when compared with gas prices, parking rates, tolls, overnight lodging, wear and tear on your car or rental costs and meals.
Option One: “Gal or Guy Getaways” – Living the High Life:
If you have cabin fever and are ready for a short, nearby mini-vacation, consider:
- Taking a New York City Theatre Weekend
- Walking Boston’s Freedom Trail
- Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, doing some shopping (or window shopping) along the Magnificent Mile
- Enjoying lower summer rates at an Arizona spa
- Riding horses at a dude ranch.
- Strolling along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
- Joining a vineyards tour and wine tasting in Napa Valley.
Option Two: Explore America’s Northernmost Route:
- Start in New York City or Washington, DC.
- Head out to Chicago.
- Have a country stopover at a dairy farm in Wisconsin. ON my cross-country trip, I arrived in Racine, just in time to see a new calf born that day.
- Journey onward through the Badlands with a stop at Rapid City, South Dakota for a tour of nearby Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Motorcycle enthusiasts will want to check out the annual summer Sturgis rally.
- Continue on to Montana and Glacier National Park.
- Arrive in Seattle and board an Alaska cruise to take advantage of summer 2021 specials with no single supplement. Top Solo Travel Destination-Alaska | Solo Trekker 4 U
Option Three: Discover the US via the Middle Route Coast-to-Coast:
This was the route I took in my own US overland tour. I quickly learned that Chicago was only one-third of the way cross-country. It was easy to see how vast the western states were in contrast to the Eastern seaboard.
These are stops along the way I recommend:
- As noted above, Chicago can’t be missed.
- Saint Louis with 3 million residents has much to see starting with the Arch. If you are claustrophobic, you may opt instead for the Mississippi River Boat Tour.
- Denver was one of the highlights of my journey westward albeit having arrived at dawn. I found myself on a self-guided tour of the state capitol as the cleaning crew finished up for the start of a new day. In ski season, Denver is also the connection point for trains to Winter Park.
- Rivaling my visit to Denver was my stop in Salt Lake. Surrounded by vast mountains, it has a unique history in the American West and well worth an overnight stop. To swim in the Salt Lake, there are easy day tours from downtown.
- Ending in San Francisco, I was thrilled at my first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, an array of museums to visit, a stroll down the “the crookedest street in the world”, trolley cars to jump off and on and unique brightly painted Victorian homes to view on self-guided walking tours.
Option 4: Discover America on the Southern Route:
A few of the highlights en route to Los Angeles include:
- New Orleans is much more than the Mardi Gras. There is early American history everywhere from the Louisiana Purchase to the War of 1812 and unique architecture both in the French Quarter and the Garden District. While the city is known for jazz and world-class cuisine, it offers adventures for all ages from ghost tours to bayou expeditions to take selfies with alligators (Not too close!)
- San Antonio is rich with Texas history from the Alamo to still-standing early Spanish missions and for 21st-century visitors the picturesque San Antonio River Walk. The city’s official tourist site also includes under “Local Adventures”, a “Girls Getaway”?!
- Santa Fe is known for its colonial architecture, such as the Basilica Church of St. Francis Assisi and lively local culture and art works, best known of which are in the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. However, there are five national parks or monuments nearby making it possible to combine a cultural and historic tour with a more active vacation hiking.
Option Five: National Parks:
For hiking, wildlife sightings and in some cases, white water rafting, the national and state parks are hard to beat. Some of the most famous are accessible through a combination of rail and private tours.
Here is our list of those not to miss:
Utah: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion
Arizona/Nevada: Grand Canyon
Montana: Glacier National Park