[amtrak trip] arriving in Tucson

8:00 PM: Arriving and hotel checking in

I arrived in Tucson at late night, good for me that the hotel was close to the train station. I had hard time deciding between two hotels near the station. One was Congress Hotel and the other was AC hotel (by Marriott.)

Pros and Cons of two hotels were too clear. It was just which one to choose from.

Congress Hotel (est. 1919!!!!)
Pros: historic, extremely affordable. extremely close to the Amtrak station
Cons: too old, no elevator, very loud at night because of the night club inside the hotel (the hotel even sent me an e-mail to let me know that the hotel should be quite loud at night)

/A room at the Congress Hotel

AC Hotel
Pros: new, fairly close to the Amtrak station, quite, chick
Cons: expensive (about three times more expensive than Congress Hotel), not a lot of story to it

/A room at AC Hotel

I first made a reservation for Congress Hotel but decided to change it to AC  Hotel at the last minute after reading carefully the email sent to me by Congress Hotel. I have never experienced a hotel sending an email warning that they are sooooo loud. I kind of got scared like ‘oh my god, it must be awfully loud that the hotel itself confesses beforehand!’ Also, I had these huge luggages for one month of train trip, so I wasn’t sure if I could carry them to the second floor without an elevator.

So, I ended up spending quite a $$$ for the night at AC Hotel Tucson.

Anyway, when I arrived at Tucson station, I was pleasantly surprised by its vintage-ishly chick atmosphere. The first impression for me was that ‘oh, so many light bulbs here and there.’ I kind of have this (very unscientific) prejudice that the more light bulbs, the cooler a city. Tucson was full of light bulbs everywhere: from the train station to the bars, to the cafes, to the hotels and to the restaurants.

/Warm lights at the historic Hotel Congress

10:00 PM Tiger Taproom

The AC Hotel was about 7~8 mins from the Amtrak station. I was pretty tired after the long train ride. I just threw my luggages and headed to the bar next door, the bar at the historic Congress Hotel (Tiger’s Taproom.) It was about 10:00 PM when we grabbed a seat at the outside table. It was like an early evening at Tucson, that young ones with loose and cool outfits started to come out for some local beer and small talks. The muscular bartender was like one out of an 1980’s movie, wearing a white, sleeveless shirt with a white cotton towel resting on the shoulder. And of course, there was live music to cheer the warm air of Arizona desert night. 

/Outside seats at Hotel Congress’ bar, Tiger Taproom

 

/Live music (with light bulbs!) at Hotel Congress’ bar, Tiger Taproom

*****Amtrak trip: full list*****

 

[Amtrak US #4] Drawing the BIG PICTURE

 

 

While preparing for a trip, the most exciting moment for me is the time looking at the map to choose which cities to visit and what roads to take.

For 2018 Amtrak trip, the starting point for my planning was the map that Amtrak provided on their website.  This interactive map is called ‘Amtrak Travel Planning Map.’ (***I don’t know why, but this link doesn’t seem to work in mobile devices. Will update if I can find the mobile version of the interactive map. Again, Amtrak is not the most user friendly company!)

The map is useful to kind of draw a BIG PICTURE in your head. For instance, my starting point is Boston so I could check where to the railroads extend from Boston. I could go South (to New York), North (to Maine), or to Northwest (to Chicago). I decided to go to Chicago because my final destination is Seattle and it seemed pretty reasonable to head Chicago if you look at the map (plus, I visited NY and Maine many times already.) Then from Chicago I could go further Northwest to North Dakota and Montana, but then my trip will end too soon! So I decided to go South to New Orleans…. and so on.

This is my BIG PICTURE of Amtrak trip 2018!

<BIG PICTURE for Amtrak trip 2018>
Boston–> Chicago–> New Orleans–> Houston–> Tucson–> (This part I decided to travel with a rental car: Sedona–> Grand Canyon–> Las Vegas)–> Los Angeles (Thruway Bus, which is Amtrak USA rail pass covered Greyhound Bus… meaning free with USA rail pass)–> San Francisco–> Portland (Oregon)–> Seattle (then back to South Korea)

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 6.23.14 PM

Really, it is just like a starting point and much more details had to be decided later. For example, I had to decided whether I would stop by Cleveland (the hometown of Indians and Cavaliers -good bye King James!-) before heading to Chicago. I decided to skip it for this trip because I had looooooooong way to go and it felt like too much time on Midwest.

My itinerary is a bit unique because I am not coming back to where I started. Well… I think every traveler is one of a kind so there might not be something like THE ‘answer sheet.’ But for a guidance, I borrowed the book <All Aboard> from the library and skimmed through it . It is a nice little guidebook that gives you a motivation and basic info about train trip (like you get free meals if you pay extra for roomette, which I will get back to later.) There seem to be a few more books about train trip like <Tourist Trains Guidebook> , but I haven’t read it yet.

IMG_6730

<All Aboard> by Jim Loomis

These are the suggested itineraries from <All Aboard> FYI. The routes are mostly loops that one can come back to the starting points. The lovely titles of the itineraries are from the author (Jim Loomis, he runs great website about train trip in US.)

»Big City Tour: Chicago-Washington, DC-NY-Boston-Chicago
»Glaciers to Glitz: San Francisco-Seattle-Chicago-San Francisco
»A Western Triangle: Los Angeles-San Francisco-Portland-Santa Fe-Los Angeles
»Big Mountains, Little Towns: Los Angeles-Santa Fe-Galesburg-Granby-Davis-Los Angeles
»Oh, Canada!: NY-Toronto-Vancouver-Seattle or San Francisco
»The Santa Fe Trail: Chicago-Dodge City-Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Los Angeles-Chicago
»The Ultimate Round Trip: NY-Washington DC-New Orleans-San Francisco-Seattle-Chicago-Boston-NY
»Semigrand Tour: Seattle-Chicago-New Orleans-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Seattle
»Fall Colors I: Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Chicago-Washington DC-Philadelphia
»Fall Colors II: NY-Saratoga Springs-Ticonderoga-Montreal-NY

 

[Amtrak US #3] Buying the USA rail pass

According to Amtrak website, there are at least two ways to buy USA Rail Pass. 1) buying it online at Amtrak website 2) buying it from travel agencies who have access to Amtrak.

As a heavy online shopper, I chose to buy it online. Buying the pass online is pretty much like other online shopping. However, NOT like other stuffs that are delivered to your mailbox, Amtrak does not send you the pass but you will have to pick the pass up at Amtrak station later.
So purchasing the pass is more like purchasing the right 1) to pick-up the pass at the Amtrak stations later 2) to make reservation for each train ride with the info that you will obtain after making the reservation. (I will come back to making reservation for each train ride in later posts.)

Purchasing the USA rail pass can be made here. This is the first page you’ll see when you visit the website.

I chose ’30 Days: 12 segments’ pass ($689) and clicked ‘Purchase Now’ and was led to here eventually. 

reserve_2

Amtrak is not the most user friendly company (WHY!!!! 😱). As you can see, this page can be pretty intimidating especially if you have not decided details of the trip! I will share what I know+what I did.

1) Choosing the pass.
It is pretty easy. You can choose which pass is right for you. (post about choosing which pass it right for you)

2) When is your first day of travel?
If you have fixed the starting date of the travel, you can just state the date. However, I wasn’t 100% sure what date I was to begin traveling (I only had an approximate range.) In this case, you don’t have to be super specific about the date… unless it is way too off (like one year.) I don’t even understand why one needs to put this down, because when I got the actual ticket I did not find any info about this date.

reserve3

I chose July 23rd as starting date

There are still the rules to keep in mind. According to the e-mail I got later:

<all travel must be completed within 330 days of reserving the first travel segment or within the selected travel duration of the pass once the first travel segment is reserved, whichever comes first. Pass prices are subject to change and are not guaranteed until actual travel reservations are made.>

In short, you have to finish the trip within around one year after the purchasing of the pass or before your pass’ duration ends (which is obvious, you have to finish the trip within 30 days if your pass is 30 days pass…hmm….)

3) Where and when will you pick up your pass?

reserve4

So many stations to choose from!

This one really got me confused. How will I know for sure which date I will pick up the pass? Life is so busy, right? It can sound even more problematic when you are an international traveler, coming to US and you are not 100% sure which train station is the best for the ticket pick-up. What I can say is that you can be pretty flexible about the pick-up date. I KNOW it because I put in ‘May 25th’ as a pick up date but I went to the station (South Station in Boston in my case) on 29th… and it was just fine! There is a fine print on the page saying ‘NOTE: If you do not pick up your pass by the date you specify, your pass will be canceled’, but my pass was safe and alive. (The lady at the station didn’t seem to care at all about this date.)

I am not sure if you can change the pick up station though. (I will add the info to the post if somebody gives me a feedback on this?) I have a feeling I can be flexible too, because it wasn’t like they have a printed pass waiting for you or anything. They print the ticket only after you present them the ID and the reservation number.

After you are finished with selections on these three factors, rest is just like other online shopping. You sign-in/sign-up for Amtrak account or you can choose to pay with a guest account. Amtrak accepts most of major credit cards, including Union Pay, JCB, and UATP(?).

Well.. this was about purchasing the pass online. There is another way of buying the pass, by contacting travel agents who sell Amtrak tickets. Considering all the hassles, it sounded nice if I could ask an expert about details. However, I have not succeeded on finding the mean to search for Amtrak agent near me. Perhaps, if you call Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL = 1-800-872-7245), they might be able to tell you.

 

[Amtrak US #1] All aboard!

I am planning one month of Amtrak train trip next month.
As a Korean studying in the US for one year (Aug 2017- Aug 2018), I wanted to explore the US to the fullest. How foolish I was to think that I could experience the US in just ONE year!
I have to get back to work in South Korea by Sep. 1, 2018 and realized that there are still so many cities that I want to, or I have to visit. Chicago, New Orleans, cities in Texas, Sedona, Las Vegas, San Francisco… 😓😓😓There was no possibility that I will visit all these cities before I go back to Korea.
Then I found out there is USA rail pass, just like Eurail pass in Europe, designed for train lovers who want to travel across the US states via train!
I bought the pass through Amtrak website, and have finished planning the itinerary about 2~3 weeks ago. Also made reservation for the each train ride (yes, you have to make reservations for the each trip even if you have the pass… will get back to this in following posts.) It surely wasn’t easy, but wasn’t impossible either.
In this blog I am planning to share my one month journey across the US, starting in July 23.
I am planning to add on ‘how to prepare’ tips, itinerary, city info, experiences on the train, pros and cons, and etc. I have never written a travel blog or travel book by myself, so the info I post might not be 100% correct (though I will try to be as accurate as possible). In this case, just let me know by writing in comment section or sending me an e-mail (sky4994@gmail.com) and I will correct the info as I go along.

This is my Amtrak USA rail pass that will accompany me for one month of travel