The Best Train Trips Have a Purpose.

One of the keys to putting together a really worthwhile train trip, or making a good one even better, is to travel with several specific objectives … or even a theme. For instance, next month I’ll be taking Amtrak from the West Cost to Washington, DC, for NARP’s annual Spring meeting. OK … fine. But rather than just settle for a good long cross-country train trip, I started looking for additional reasons for the trip. What specific trains should I take? And where could I stop along the way to make the trip even more interesting and enjoyable?

First of all, I decided on the Southwest Chief to get me from Los Angeles to Chicago. From there, I had two obvious choices: I could take either the Capitol Limited or the Cardinal to Washington. The Cardinal is one of my favorite trains and is also, I think, one of the most scenic of all the eastern trains.

OK so where could I stop along the Cardinal’s route? Somewhere I’ve never been before … some place to see or to visit that would be interesting. The answer popped right up: Monticello … Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, which just happens to be one of the major stops on the Cardinal’s route. Perfect!

What about the return trip from Washington to the West Coast? I had already decided to return by way of New Orleans and that means taking the Sunset Limited from there back to Los Angeles. Is there another site of historical significance that would make in interesting stop? A-ha! San Antonio … home of the Alamo. Never been there … sounds interesting … let’s do it!

And so I’ve added a couple of interesting stops that should add immeasurably to the enjoyment I’ll get from my upcoming cross-country rail journey.

I also suggest putting together a train trip that’s based on a special interest or hobby: the Old West, perhaps, or the Civil War, or railroad museums, or maybe a trip that includes stops at several major league baseball parks. (Some years back, my daughter and I followed the Red Sox on one of their road trips—Oakland, Seattle, Chicago—and ending up in Boston. She still talks about it!) How about taking the train on a tour of prospective colleges for your 17-year-old son? What about a train excursion next October to see the Fall colors: from New York, take the Adirondack to Montreal, then VIA Rail to Toronto, then the Maple Leaf back to New York.

As you can see, the opportunities and possibilities are almost endless. And take as much time as you can when you do go. The only thing more fun than the planning is the doing.