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I Prefer to Travel by Train Rather than Plane Any Day

Amtrak is where it’s at.

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I used to love flying. I used to love doing internet searches for flights, pushing the “purchase” button, and then being flown off to some far off part of the world in a matter of hours. Flying has revolutionized our perception of time and distance, Shanghai is now just as close to New York City as Chiapas, Mexico. I use to love the power of flying, I use to dig being treated like a king even though I was occupying a cheap-o seat in coach. Then something happened, flying became an incredible hassle — so much so that I avoid it at all cost.

It all begins with searching for a flight. No longer can you browse through all the websites, write down the cheapest prices, and then expect to get the same price a few days later. No, the prices change fast, the process of landing a ticket now feels like a race. Even when going through the flight selection and purchase process, all too often I’m getting little notifications saying that the price increased.

What? The price went up in the past five minutes?


When I was buying flights from Mexico City to Rochester, NY last year I remember the prices going up once between transferring from the Kayak.com results and again just before going to the payment screen. Now I feel a sense of stress and urgency when purchasing flights so that I can get the fare I initially find before it increases. I suspect this may be by design.

(Go to Don’t hesitate when buying plane tickets travel tip.)

And this is just where the stress begins. At the airport you must show up hours early, stand in a line to be checked in, be interrogated as to whether you have an onward ticket (if you don’t you have to buy one before checking ing), often go through a pre-security check, then the real security check where ever last trinket you have in your possession is fondled and then they try to X-ray you and then pat you down. When I refuse to be X-rayed the real annoyances begin . . .

Checking into a flight feels more like entering into a prison than a luxury you paid thousands of dollars embark upon. Then you get on the plane and the stewardesses act like they’re breaking some major rule by giving you a complimentary glass of water. Some service.

No thanks.

I choose to avoid flying whenever possible. The intrigue, wonder, and convenience of air travel no longer usurps the annoyance and stress of the security theater that is now inherent to this mode of transport

When I have the option, I take ground transport.

So when I look at my choices for getting from Rochester, NY to New York City this March, I don’t think for a second about taking the plane. Rather, I go over to Amtrak.com and I book three tickets on the train. $117 for my entire three person family to go on the eight and a half hour ride. Not bad. Granted, the flight would only have been $180, but the extra hassles are not worth the slightly faster travel time and $60+ more.

When you ride a train, all you need to do is show up 5 minutes before departure time, walk through the station, go to the tracks, and get on. No security check, no bag checks, no identity check, no public safety theater.  You are treated with dignity and respect, not as a criminal. It is an enjoyable experience: you sit back and watch the scenery pass by.

Quality of the journey — not fast arrival times — is a big part of the enjoyment of travel.

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Filed under: Air Travel, Train Travel

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

9 comments… add one

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  • Nathan January 12, 2012, 12:46 pm

    If only there were true high speed trains in America. I would always choose trains as an option if that were the case.

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    • Wade Shepard January 12, 2012, 4:09 pm

      Right on. There should be — at least for short to mid-range trips. I also did the math, and with needing to be at the airport an hour or two in advance of the flight, the flight time itself, and getting from JFK into the city the train is only takes around 3 hours more. Now, if this was a high speed train, I bet it would actually take less time than flying. The Amtrak ticket I bought was like $45 per adult — truly not bad and less than what you could drive from Rochester to NYC for. Man, I would like to take a cross country Amtrak trip though.

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      • Nathan January 13, 2012, 1:07 pm

        Maybe we can goad Erik into some sort of collective rail journey, although I’m not sure if the pilot by profession would be caught dead on a train.

        Sam and I did the back and forth to NYC last year and it was definitely cheaper and more enjoyable than a plane trip even with it being longer. Brought back memories of the Toyama to Wajima journey albeit slightly less scenic.

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        • Wade Shepard January 17, 2012, 5:32 pm

          Right on, we should. We should be back in New York later next month. Lets have a party or something.

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          • Nathan January 18, 2012, 4:40 pm

            Sounds like a plan. It may finally give us an opportunity to meet your family. Keep me posted through any of the normal channels (facespace, email) as to when you’ll be back around.

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            • Wade Shepard January 19, 2012, 8:06 pm

              Just sent you a message.

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  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell January 22, 2012, 2:25 am

    Hi Wade. Greetings from Bangkok.

    Agreed. I enjoy surface travel as much as possible, when practical, so yeah I too, love trains … they beat buses, as in some countries they don’t stop much – if at all (Iran); meantime, you’re busting for the toilet (on-board toilets are still a rarely, mostly). But on a train you can drink beer til the bottles are empty, without toilet-stress – long journeys in China, India, and Russia being perfect to kill time, daydream, contemplate whilst looking out the window at the passing world with brew in hand. Bliss.

    Regards – Michael

    PS: Your new site-make-over is superb.

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    • Wade Shepard January 22, 2012, 11:15 pm

      Right on man! The train is the way to go.

      Back in Asia? Man, you went full circuit back to where you started from! Good thing, I love just traveling those big loops in Asia. We should be in China by April. Wife took a teaching job. I should be pretty free to roam though. We should meet up, maybe in Yunnan?

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  • the candy trail ...| Michael Robert Powell January 25, 2012, 4:12 am

    Yeah, I decided that I didn’t want to return (or work) in Istanbul / Turkey for now -too expensive for the low ESL salary, weather getting very cold – so back to SE Asia, maybe to live in China awhile, again. So, a meet-up is possible ….

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