Man travels coast-to-coast by train to see America’s greatest sites for just over $200

People travel to explore the world, to experience culture, and to enjoy life. Of all the means of travel transportation, traveling by train for some may be the last choice in their plans. But despite of riding trains being underrated, it has its own share of advantages that would make your experience one of a kind.

Derek Low, a world traveler and entrepreneur, shared his unique experience of exploring America’s greatest site for just over 200 bucks by train. Here’s how he was able to make the most out of his trip on a budget:

Derek traveled coast-to-coast riding the still excellent rails from San Francisco to New York. The journey sure was long, but the up close and more personal scenic view is very much worth the long journey.

If you will be traveling coast-to-coast via train, it will take 4 days to cover the entire 3,400 miles of distance, and that is if you do not make any stopovers. But since you are traveling, it is advisable to make the most out of it. You can buy separate tickets for each stopovers or an all day pass.

Derek boarded the train in Emeryville, climbing aboard the infamous California Zephyr. It is a direct train which travels the distance of 2,438 miles from San Francisco to Chicago within 3 days.

Derek spent his day 1 traveling from San Francsico to Salt Lake City, which took him 17 hours.

The journey began when the train ran alongside the peaceful waters of the San Francisco Bay Area, offering a grandiose coastal view. It is fascinating how the train is just literally a foot above the water.

During the time spent there, the famous fog of San Francisco rolled in and engulfed the view. Soon after, the window was covered in white, and Derek found himself falling asleep.

Hours later, Derek woke up, noticing people interested to the beautiful scenery painted outside. Without a doubt, it sure is a view worth looking at.

One of the unique feature of the train is its enormous windows which is wrapped upward into the ceiling, giving an optimized view of the nature you are passing by. Derek shared a memorable experience he had while he was at Sacramento, an expert from the California State Railroad Museum boarded the train and gave commentaties about the scenery.

The railroad museum expert even told an interesting story to the travellers as they passed by Donner Lake, it was a cold winter of 1846 when the Donner Party were stranded here. Though gruesome as it sound, the party had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. 48 travellers survived out of 87 riders.

After a few hours, the train climbed into the Sierra Nevada, the temperature dropped, and the travellers found themselves found themselves surrounded by the terrains covered in white.

After another hours and hours of travelling, the landscape which was clad in snow turned into a vast and desolate desert. Derek described the scenery as if it was from a different planet.

When the evening came. Derek and his co-passengers were delighted with a scenic view of the almost setting sun. Derek described the view as divine and wonders if the people who choose to fly and miss out from this view are crazy.

As the sun prepare to rest, passengers of the train went to the dining wagon to eat dinner, due to the insufficient number of seats for dinner, passengers are sometimes seated and shared a table with random people they don’t know — it’s an opportunity to meet new friends.

It could be awkward at first, however, it is one of the enjoyable features of a riding a train for a long time. It is an opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, it is a chance to learn from the stories they’ve got to share.

During the night, Derek’s train crossed from Nevada and reached Utah. Clocks were adjusted an hour forward to adapt with the new time zone.

Derek spent the day in Utah exploring its Mormon heritage and culture before he boarded the train again.

On the second day of his journey to travel America’s coast-to-coast, Derek had to travel from Salt Lake City to Denver, taking 15 hours of travel time.

According to a lot of people, the journey between Utah and Colorado is the most spectacular and breath-taking train ride in all of the United States. Here are the pictures of sceneries explaining why:

Derek and his co-passengers’ morning were spent chugging through the American Wild West, following the southern rim of the astonishing Book Cliffs.

The California Zaphyr, Derek’s train ride, climbed into the rocky terrains and snakes for hours passing through the beautiful and picturesque Colorado canyons.

The train diligently follows the path of the Colorado river, providing a beautiful clash of colors of brown, blue, and green.

The train ride also gave them a one of a kind experience to witness the indigenous wildlife of Colorado. Following traditions, the rafters gave salute to the passing train, living up to its appropriate nickname “Moon river.”

Riding the train provides exposure to a variety of culture as well, here Derek experienced meeting dozens of Amish folks. They are said to have a tendency to avoid technology and rather use trains occasionally instead of cars or planes.

As the train reach Denver, great plains emerged from the Rockies, introducing a vast area shaded in green.

The train reached its stopover, Mile High City of Denver. Even though Denver is on a vast flatland, it still stands at 5,280 feet above sea level.

Derek enjoyed two days exploring the city and its surrounding before he continued with his journey.

On his third day of traveling, Derek had to move from Denver to Chicago, which was a total of 19 hours, bringing him into four States- Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. 

Derek’s train was travelling by night time, so he missed a lot of sceneries as he was sleeping through out the night journey.

Derek observed how comfortable sleeping in the train was. As unbelievable as it sound, it is true. The seats are spacious with plenty of room for your legs. The chairs could be reclined in a good 40 degrees. They’re even better and more comfortable than seats of economy class on planes.

The California Zephyr reached Chicago’s Union Station, which is also a historic landmark.

Derek spent one day exploring the city, Here’s a picture he took of the sight from John Hancock Tower with an impressive and breath-taking sunset.

On the fourth day of traveling America by railroad, 20 hours were spent moving from Chicago to New York. Derek had to change train from California Zephry to Lake Shore Limited. This is due to the fact that the former only offers train rides as far as Chicago.

The train travels through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania before it arrived in the state of New York.

There is an exhilarating and thrilling feeling of pride as Derek saw the Hudson River. He has succeeded almost crossed America by train!

After a long long long long long long long hours of traveling and making stop overs from time to time, Derek has finally reached the New York Penn Station. He was able to witness the beauty of America from coast to coast!

Exploring America traveling by train, covering a total of 3,397 miles is truly an epic journey that you will never forget in your entire life. For the price of a little over $200, you will be able to pass by the natural beauty of 11 states within four days. Not only that but you’ll be able to meet, mingle, and learn from a lot of people coming from different culture and places. This is the kind of experience you wouldn’t be able to afford to have by riding planes.

Surely, Derek’s journey have lit the fire in your wanderlust spirit, so what are you waiting for? Start preparing to experience the raw and natural beauty of America. Travel from coast-to-coast, meet people of diverse background, explore places you have never visited before, and find yourself in a price you can definitely afford!

Photo | Derek Low

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