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Traveling by Train

When planning a vacation, many people treat the journey there as they do an elevator ride: the traveling is no more than the means to get to a new place. But if you have never traveled a day's distance or more by train, then it's time for you to consider trying one of these last relics of mid-1900 travel.

The survival of train travel in the face of price and speed advantages of airplanes is itself a testimony to its magic. For some, trains trips are a necessity, since for medical or other reasons, they cannot travel in reduced pressure airplane cabins. For the rest of us, particularly those for whom the journey is an important part of the trip, it is out of a preference for the romance and comfort of train travel: the ability to stroll the aisles, share drinks with new found friends, sit down to a restaurant quality cooked meal, sleep overnight in a private cabin, and to see the scenery from ground level. Indeed, whether looking up from a valley or peering out from mid-span on a bridge, there are many impressive and awe-inspiring vistas that cannot be noticed -- let alone appreciated -- at 30,000 feet.

Long distance train travel survives in two forms: chartered and scheduled service. At the high end, there are special chartered luxury trains that are not unlike a small cruise on rails. These trains run a few times a year and schedule their arrivals and departure around particular destinations with long enough stops to accommodate excursions to the attractions before reboarding and moving on.

For everyone else, Amtrak still operates a daily schedule of long haul trains that provide transcontinental service. Their stops are usually only long enough for discharging and boarding new passengers. Longer stays usually require waiting for the next day's train.

Amtrak trains can be very economical or very comfortable -- all depending on how much you want to pay. If you want to reserve just a seat, you can sometimes buy a ticket for $39 one way between Chicago and New York. On the other hand, if you'd like to travel in style on the 20 hour or so trip, you can purchase a ticket with a private cabin that also includes a private toilet, all meals onboard, and access to onboard shower facilities.

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