Book Tour By Amtrak: San Francisco to Salt Lake

I left for my book tour today. I’m not going to lie to you. I was pretty emotional. We were late getting to the train, thanks to traffic (side note: a great thing about Amtrak is you can show up five minutes before the train leaves and just jump on) and I cried and then got on the train. A minute later, David was scrambling on behind me. The conductor had told him to go up and help me to my room. When he left, my porter (my porter!) came by to give me a tour of my room and asked, “You miss that guy already?” and I said, “I’m going to be gone for a month, and I’m sad.” And he nodded and said, “Understandable.”

Which is, I think, a sum up of why this trip is blowing my mind. When I had that panic attack at 30,000 feet, someone pointed out that part of the trouble with flying isn’t actually the flying, it’s how you can feel sort of dehumanized by the process. Amtrak has been the opposite experience. The train is slower, sure. But there are also a ton of real life people ready to help me out if I have a question. There are volunteers from the California State Railroad Museum giving us a history tour as we go. The sleeper cars all have a huge fold out pamphlet describing all the interesting things you’ll see. And when I went looking for paper towels (I have my own bathroom! And shower!) I realized instead they’d provided me with actual towels. What?!?

I feel like a person here. I feel like, maybe, in the rush to get on with things, we’ve all been missing something big. Because, sure, I’m not getting anywhere incredibly quickly, but with views like this, why on earth would I want to?

And yes. I miss my husband, already, a lot. Clearly he needs to take Amtrak with me, which I’m already plotting about. But there is something to be said for a marriage where you’re really sad to leave, but also know you’ve got to go, because spreading your wings is your job.

P.S. I just saw the first snow of the trip!

P.P.S. Coming up in future days: why I feel like I’m on the Hogwarts Express! Sleeping in a sleeper car! Drinking coffee in my private room in the frigid morning with the heat keeping me all toasty! Seeing America! And more! Stay tuned.

Pictures from Instagram, where I’m charting the trip. Follow me on Twitter for more. I’ll do a proper photo round up at some point, never fear.

**This post was made possible by Amtrak, who is sponsoring my book tour. Thank you Amtrak!**

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  • Rymenhild

    Private room? On a train? No way! Tell us more! Send pictures! We live vicariously through you, after all…

    • meg

      I will! But you’ll have to wait a few days for my proper long legs of the first half.

  • I am so excited to read about all your adventures on the train. I take Amtrak all the time up and down the east coast, but I’ve never done a cross country trip on it. I have a wedding to shoot in Utah this summer, and you’re making me seriously consider taking the train there.


    yay for amtrak! yay for real towels and your own porter!

  • Z

    My fiance and I are actually visiting the US this spring and he’s already decided that we won’t be bussing it or flying from Washington DC to Boston — we’re going by train. Initially I was kind of all, “Fiance, do you KNOW how much of America there is?!” but your posts are making me totally excited about travelling by train now!

    • Amy

      DC to Boston is a lovely route! And only about 7 or so hours on the Acela- totally worth it! Plus – the train station in DC is absolutely gorgeous, and I happen to think the CT to Boston leg is particularly scenic.

  • I used to take the the DC-NY train a bunch. It feels so civilized compared to air travel. Once, when an impending snowstorm threatened to keep me in DC for Christmas, I even took Amtrak all the way up to Plattsburgh NY. The views of Lake Champlain were phenomenal. Looking forward to all your photos, stories, and meeting you in Boston(Cambridge)! It seems that you’re off to a great start.

  • Clicked through from Google reader just to say: so fucking jealous. Seriously. So jealous.

    Also, I have added cross the country via Amtrak IN SLEEPER CAR (because I’ve been from MN to NY many times, coach) to my little Teux Deux “someday” list.

  • msditz

    Four years ago my now husband and I took Amtrak all the way from San Francisco to South Carolina. Not stopping to stay anywhere, just straight on through. I have to say, it was really cool, especially the first leg through Nevada. Going through the Lake Tahoe/Trukee area is beautiful! Meg, what track/line/whatever its called are you taking? Because once you go through Salt Lake, if you are continuing on through Colorado, it is the awesome! The route that we took followed the Colorado river almost the whole way, it was unreal.
    I will say that you are very blessed to have a sleeper car. We did not, and it is a very different experience. Four days of sleeping sitting up (or slightly stretched out between two seats) and no showers is even less fun than it sounds.

    • meg

      I’m following the book tour route, so yes! A stop in Salt Lake late tonight, then on to Denver, then on to Boston via Chicago. It’s going to be good.

      And trust me, I am relishing this sleeper car, and saying very good things under my breath about Amtrak, bless them.

  • Aaaand…wonderlust activated. Have an awesome time Meg!

  • This is amazing and I love the photos. Can’t wait to follow along!

  • I’ve been on a real, honest-to-goodness, not-city-transport train so rarely (maybe not since I was a small child?) that my thoughts totally went to Hogwarts Express when you were describing the start to your trip! Enjoy the rest of your trip and best wishes for great book launch events!

  • See you soon. Can’t wait to hear more.

  • Oh wow, a train trip has just been added to my list of fun things to do with my husband.

  • Ms. A

    You hafta fold down the top bunk in your room and crawl up there just for kicks. Falling asleep to the chugga chugga of the train is amazing. Also, hang out in the snack car you’ll meet the most interesting people. The folks who work on the trains are also really dear. And wait until, in Chicago, you have to switch to a train w. only a single level because of the tunnels. Oh, childhood, I remember thee fondly.

    • meg

      I love train staff. They are seriously The Very Best People.

  • carrie

    So I had a dream last night that I was responsible for setting up the event space (and booths for exhibitors, which is my *actual* job) for your DC stop. Since it was a dream, nothing was ready things were a total mess. I’m having your stress dreams for you, Meg, so you can just check that right off your list. ;-) Good thing your Amtrak trip is treating you right!

  • Charlotte

    We took Amtrak NYC – Oakland, CA last January and ADORED it! What an incredible way to travel! We also Instagram’ed the trip:

  • Eat a Chocolate Frog for me! :)

  • Raechel

    Ahh! Meg! I am SO jealous! Buying one of the one-month Amtrak passes and heading out west (from Detroit) has been on my Life List for ages. I’m hoping to go back to school full time in the fall and, if all goes well, I’m planning on quitting my job a month early and making this happen. I’m so glad to see someone else loving on Amtrak as much as I do!

  • Michelle

    I remember thinking a Greyhound trip from Vancouver to San Francisco would be as romantic as you are describing.. 4 hours in, I knew I was wrong. Let me tell you – having your travelmate puke up Taco Del Mar in a moving bus bathroom brings you straight back down to reality.

    We should have taken Amtrack.

    • meg

      Ha. Greyhound. Greyhound is NOT romantic. Greyhound is the opposite of romantic, actually. Sometime necessary, mind you, but. Yeah.

  • That is soooo cool! 11 years ago I travelled from Montréal to NYC in Amtrak and I LOVED IT. I was travelling coach, no luxuries, but seeing the landscapes change through the window at such a human pace, while drinking coffee and reading a nice book was absolutely wonderful. I do love travelling by plane, but train rides have a completely different kind of magic.
    I look forward to reading your next posts. Good luck!

  • I’m already planning a trip on Amtrak thanks to you! (that was really worthwhile sponsorship, in every sense of the word).

    I can’t wait to join you on the journey as I look forward to my own.

    You had me at ‘porter’, but, seriously, towels? I’m IN.

  • AliceMay

    Strange but useful piece of Amtrak knowledge – their steak is amazing. Seriously. Just make sure you order it in the first part of a trip – they tend to run out as the days go by.
    And, at least on one morning, get yourself out of the toasty private room to catch sunrise in the viewing car. Amazing.

    • meg

      SUNRISE. Ok, I’m on it. Also, if they have crab cakes? GOOD. Really good.

  • I wonder how many more hits to the Amtrak site there have been since you announced their sponsorship!? You make it all sound so dreamy! Now I want to take a train on our next vacation, but alas, it’s to Aruba. I don’t think Amtrak goes overseas… We’ll just have to plan another vacation!!

  • Yes to the dehumanisation that happens when travelling by air. For years now I’ve called it travelling cattle class, cause that’s what it feels like. Bring back the romance! Let me keep my damn shoes on while going through security!

    It’s been too long since I took a long train journey someplace. (Once in America, on Amtrak no less. And once through Europe.) You’re stimulating the wanderlust, which is no fair, cause this year is not about travelling for me. Then again, there’s nothing stopping me from plotting for *next* year, now is there?

    • meg

      I mean, MAYBE we should go on the trans-siberian railway together ;) How about NO security? They just let me jump on and off the train. It’s so…. lovely.

      • When I was a callow youth, I actually got to go from Moscow to Leningrad (that’ll date it) by train, at night. It felt like being in a fabulous indie movie, even sitting in the cheap seats.

        Train rides just have so much more romantic adventure to them than, say, commercial jets. Romantic adventure with snacks and wifi.

  • Awww, yeah Amtrak!

    I love that first picture, Meg. :)

    • meg

      I was yelling “TAKE THE PICTURE QUICKLY” because seriously. We arrived with five minutes to go. Ah well, we could have chased the train if we needed to (other upside).

  • MWK

    My mom has always said that the problem with air travel is that it takes your heart and mind a while to catch up with how far your body has traveled. With car and train travel you get to see where you’re going and where you are and the extra time sorta lets your brain and heart keep up with where you are/have been/are doing/will be. That’s always felt true to me, but I also just love listening to Neko Case while traveling slowing through small towns in a train.
    Your porter sounds like the best.

    • meg

      Yes. You’re right. And my heart and mind had a lot of getting ready and getting to sorted to do yesterday morning. Watching the scenery helped figure it out.


    Are we allowed to ask what the amazing sleeper car etc would cost without a sponsorship? I’m a little afraid to hear it, but insanely curious.

    • meg

      Go look it up for whatever route you want. It’s not the cheapest ever (coach seats are literally SCANDALOUSLY cheap). But. When you factor in the fact that it includes your meals and your hotel stays for the duration, it’s really pretty reasonable. The thing is, plane travel is just how you get there. Train travel is actually part of the trip. (I’m in the bedrooms right now. Without sponsorship I would have done the Roomettes, which are less glamours, but totally workable.)

  • Ana Maria

    “I feel like a person here. I feel like, maybe, in the rush to get on with things, we’ve all been missing something big. Because, sure, I’m not getting anywhere incredibly quickly, but with views like this, why on earth would I want to?” ♥♥♥

  • :sigh: If only Amtrak allowed pets on the train I’d so be doing that this november and would probably travel by train everywhere.

  • April

    Annnnnnnnd, you’re OFF! Safe and happy travels, darling. I have goosebumps of excitement and a big ear-to-ear grin reading your post today and seeing pics from your first day of travel. Do keep us posted! Thrilled for you and your cross-country adventure and all the goodness it holds. XO

  • A couple of years ago, the Man and I took the overnight sleeper train from Paris to Rome. It was quite an experience, very sort of Soviet: the dining car was left in Paris, the train ran out of water, ran out of loo roll, etc. But the view of the Alps glowing by the light of the full moon was pretty amazing.