USA East To West Coast: Chasing The Great Lakes From NY To Chicago [Part Two]

The goodbye’s have been made, the train tickets booked, the last leg of Tom’s unforgettable year on his US Grad Visa is coming to an end…but not until his epic 4,000km US adventure!

If you missed Part One, read it here.

New York to Chicago – Lake Shore Route:

Departure at 3.40pm on 16th Feb. Total journey time approx. 18 hours.

This was literally my first time on an Amtrak train so I was very curious and I would say, skeptical about the trains themselves. On first impression, they did not disappoint. There is an impressive amount of legroom and space. I’m a tall guy but I had no problems stretching out my legs fully which is very rare on public transport for me! There are also very large overhead compartments for big and bulky bags.

The seats were unexpectedly comfortable. I would compare it to a standard first class plane seat without a TV. There are charger stations available which was crucial for such long journeys. There is free Wifi available, however it didn’t work sometimes so be prepared to be without Wifi at times during your journeys. For the most part, there was phone signal throughout the journey so if you have an American SIM card, you should be fine.

America Was Made To Be Seen By Train

Immediately, after less than an hour, I already got a glimpse of what was to come during my train journeys… The scenery is the number one reason I chose to travel America this way and before I even left the greater New York area, I already got a glimpse of what was to come and trust me, it gets better and better.

We stopped at Syracuse station for an hour, about halfway through the journey. They do this along all the long journeys for engine maintenance and change of staff. You can get out and go for a smoke, go to the store in the station or just use it as an excuse to get some fresh air.

Up to this point, I had both seats to myself but a large number of people got on the train so I was sitting next to someone until we got to Chicago. Sharing with someone is no problem. There is still plenty of room. My companion wasn’t very chatty but you could hear strangers meet and greet around the carriage.

One thing that must be said up to this point is that the Amtrak staff and operators are very clear and helpful in every regard. You are assigned seats based on what destination you are traveling to. Everything is organised and carried out in an orderly fashion.

Key Tips For The Long Haul Journeys

One main piece of advice I would give when taking these long journeys is to bring on your own food. Snack bars, fruit, chocolate, sweets, sodas, water bottle (there are ice water taps on board), etc. There is a dining carriage on board which serves hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner but this can be quite expensive over time. It costs approximately $20 for a meal. Definitely treat yourself once or twice for the long journeys but I wouldn’t rely on it. The food isn’t anything spectacular.

There is also a cafe which sells hot microwave meals such as pizzas and hotdogs along with a variety of snacks, chocolate and sodas. Admittedly, this is what I relied on for this journey and it is not the most healthy of options. I’m on a budget so I can’t afford to splash out on the dining car everyday. I learned pretty quickly to grab stuff in stores before getting on the trains.

The Viewing Carriage…

I must talk about the one thing which makes the trip very worthwhile. The viewing carriage. This carriage consists of huge windows that go along the side and roof of the carriage. They give you an opportunity to really get a good look at the scenery around you and other than sleeping when it was late, this is where I spent most of my time on this journey.

There are about twenty seats which can swivel so you can get a 360 degree look around you. At the back, there are tables and chairs which are good for groups. Below is the cafe so you don’t have to go far for food or drink. I absolutely loved it here as did other people. You are sitting beside strangers and you naturally get chatting and get to know other people instantly.

A Whirlwind Stop in the Windy City

We arrived in Chicago about an hour later than planned. I organized this stage of the trip so that I had a few hours stopover in Chicago before I hopped on another train to San Francisco. I wanted my trip to focus on the West Coast. However, I spent a summer J1 in Chicago back in 2012 so I wanted to have a quick look around again. In hindsight, I should have stayed the night.

I got to see the city but I was wrecked from the journey and then almost immediately, I was stepping on for a two day journey to San Francisco.

I still had a blast revisiting this great city and it turned out to be a glorious day too! I must say, it’s a really nice feeling on the train when you see your destination in the distance and you slowly roll into it. I could see Sears Tower and the Hancock building fifteen minutes before we arrived to Union Station in the heart of the city.

After the whirlwind stop in Chicago, it was time to hop back on a train and make my way to San Francisco…

Don’t forget to follow Tom’s adventure on Instagram and Snapchat (tburkey91) as his time in the US winds down. Got any questions for him about his time in NY, the Grad Visa program or his East to West Coast trip? Drop him an email