I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.
I travel for travel’s sake.
The great affair is to move.
~Robert Louis Stevenson~
When Steve and I began planning this trip, our focus was Elkhart, Indiana (South Bend area). You may wonder why someone would choose South Bend as a vacation stop-over. Elkhart happens to be the “RV Capital of the World”. And we’re in the market for a new camper to serve us during these retirement years.
We have been researching RVs for several years now and have had many discussions about the type of RV we would like. The first decision for us (as we still planned to tow) was “travel trailer vs. fifth wheel?”. We currently tow a travel trailer. It attaches to a bumper hitch on Steve’s truck. The bed of Steve’s truck, which is protected by a bed cap, offers additional storage for camp necessities. The bed of Steve’s truck (with cap) also doubles as a shelter when our travels take us off road and we are truck camping.
Fifth wheel trailers attach to the tow vehicle with a special hitch that is mounted in the bed of the towing vehicle. While 5th wheels do offer extras you won’t find in a travel trailer, they also weigh more – usually quite a bit more. Steve’s new truck, while heavy duty, doesn’t have the greatest fuel efficiency when towing. Therefore, the lighter the trailer the better. We don’t want a big chunk of our travel budget to go to fuel. So travel trailer it is.
We also want our new rig to be rated four-season, or to have what manufacturers are calling an “arctic package”. This will enable us to camp in the fall in New England or the spring in Wisconsin – or anywhere else we want, within reason. After extensive research, we narrowed the manufacturers down to Grand Design and Jayco, as both carry four-season travel trailers that suit our needs. We made appointments with both companies to do a factory tour while we were in town.
The factory tour made it easy for us to choose which company is going to get our business: Grand Design. We were very impressed with the way they did things, the quality of their workmanship and materials, and most especially that they do a 100+ point inspection on every single RV that comes off their line. (Jayco pulls RVs randomly to do a 20 point inspection)
While touring, we found out that the travel trailer model we chose to purchase is being tweaked a bit for the 2017 model. We had the opportunity to walk through a prototype of this new trailer and we were sold. We’re going to wait until the 2017 is available and then buy. If you want to look at the original travel trailer we chose, there are photos HERE. (They make them so luxurious now!) The updated floorplan rearranges the bathroom – closing off the door from the bedroom – and has an additional storage cabinet on that wall, bedroom side. The new trailer specs also show a larger refrigerator and larger waste tanks – all much better for longer trips.
I don’t know why or when I suggested doing a train trip. I think it came up after we decided we’d like to visit Washington DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival. We were talking about taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to DC and I researched fares. Once I was on the Amtrak website, I fell down the rabbit hole… The next thing I knew, I was pricing cross-country train trips in a sleeping car. We didn’t purchase the tickets until nearly a month later unfortunately. By that time the price had increased several hundred dollars. (Book early and save money!) They release seats and roomettes in blocks. Once they sell out the first block, they open the next up for sale – at a higher price… and so on. The later you book, the more expensive the tickets are.
I am not new to riding Amtrak, but this was my first extended trip with a roomette. Steve had never traveled by train. The price for basic coach tickets is comparable to (and sometimes less than) super saver airline tickets. Of course traveling by train takes longer than going by air, so there’s that consideration. But both of us agree that traveling by train was much more enjoyable than traveling by air. We also learned that a roomette is the size of a small closet and you’ll feel claustrophobic if you hang out in there for any length of time. Family size bedrooms are larger, and we’d consider booking one of them just for the space, depending on the extra cost. Family rooms also have their own bathroom – a small one, but convenient.
When you book a roomette or sleeping room, you are a First Class passenger. First Class travel includes all meals, a car attendant (makes up and turns down beds, cleans and maintains the bathrooms and shower rooms on the car, brings water or other refreshments if asked, etc.), free checked baggage, and access to more comfortable lounges – like airline boardrooms – found in stations all across the country. After seeing the prices on the menu in the dining car, the extra spent on a roomette is worth it. If you elect to travel coach (fairly comfortable, reclining chair), you’ll need to bring your own food on board or you’ll have to budget extra to cover meals.
Meals are served three times a day, and you choose the time you want to have dinner. Breakfast and lunch call is for a couple of hours and you go anytime. Be aware that there could be lines. Things run a little smoother at dinner, which is why you have to make a reservation. Also, if there are less than four in your party, you will be dining with others. Every seat is filled at mealtime. I enjoyed eating with and meeting new people each day, but if you’re not a particularly outgoing individual, I do believe you can have your meals served in your room.
Our rail travel was split into legs so that we could lay over in South Bend:
Washington DC to South Bend IN – Capitol Limited – Depart
4:05pm. Arrive in South Bend at 7:51am. (Roomette)
Two Days in South Bend
South Bend IN to Chicago, IL – Lake Shore Limited
Depart at 8:49 AM. Arrive in Chicago at 9:45am (Coach Seat)
Chicago IL to Portland OR – Empire Builder
Depart at 2:15pm. Arrive Portland 10:20am (TWO days later – Roomette)
WASHINGTON DC to SOUTH BEND
After checking out of our condo, rather than wrestle with all of our suitcases on the metro, we called a cab to take us to Union Station (Amtrak). It was money well spent to get us there stress-free. We checked in and were given access to the ClubAcela room, where we could stow our bags, enjoy free refreshments and snacks, freshen up, watch TV, and take advantage of free wifi. When it was time to board, Steve asked for assistance, as our car was way at the back of the train, and we had two big suitcases and two small bags each. They drove us (and others) right to our sleeper car on a golf cart.
We knew the roomette was small, but until you are BOTH standing inside a 3’6″ x 6’6″ space, with a couple of carry on bags (camera/laptops), you truly have no idea just how much you better like the person you’re traveling with. I wish I would have taken more photos of the actual sleeper room itself, but even my wide angle lens wasn’t wide enough! (You can find photos online)
I didn’t take many photos as the view out the window was mostly urban and industrial until we reached West Virginia. A couple of hours later, just before we crossed the border into western PA, night fell. I pulled the short straw, so I climbed up into the pull-down bunk – a spacious 24″ of sleep comfort. I convinced myself it was cozy, rather than claustrophobic!
Harpers Ferry, West VA looks like a neat little place: