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Guide to Slow Travel for Fatties and Everyone Else

July 24, 2013

I don’t like flying.

It doesn’t scare me, which a lot of people assume when I say “I don’t like flying.” I just hate the experience. I hate airports. I hate the hectic atmosphere. I hate the discomfort. I hate flying so much that whenever I find myself faced with traveling somewhere that I can’t drive, like my trip last week from Reno, Nevada to Atlanta, Georgia, my brain immediately starts thinking about alternatives. Slow travel alternatives.

Usually, that’s the train. I love, love train travel. It’s romantic and comfortable and I get a lot of writing done. But Amtrak doesn’t go West to South directly, and the route it does take from Reno to Atlanta goes through Washington D.C., making it a very, very long trip. Too long. So this time, I looked at Greyhound. I haven’t taken a bus since I was a teenager and used to travel that way from Vegas to Orange County to visit my mom. That’s a lot of years ago. Turns out the buses now have outlets at every seat, as well as wifi and comfy seats.

So, I took the bus from Reno to Atlanta. I thought I’d share some thoughts on it. There are tons of articles out there about traveling by plane for fat people, but I couldn’t find much about traveling more slowly. Here’s my thoughts, for fatties and everyone else.

SEATS:  The seats on the bus and the train are comfortable. Train seats are like traveling in your grandpa’s recliner. The bus isn’t that comfy, but it’s far, far more comfortable than a coach airline seat. I mostly had two seats to myself, but even when I had to sit next to someone else it was fine. I was able to sleep on the bus, although not as comfortably as on a train. Bring a small pillow and a blanket, whether you’re traveling by bus or train. I saw several people pay premium prices for them at stops along the way. They make all the difference.

FOOD: Amtrak trains have a dining car and a snack bar. The food is not bad. Also, you can have an alcoholic drink if you want it. The food during my recent bus ride was atrocious. I mean, really bad. Two and a half days each way of rural gas station food. And whatever you do, don’t try to sneak a drink during a stop. One guy on my eastbound bus got left in Laramie, Wyoming at midnight for downing a beer before trying to reboard. Don’t risk it. Bring your own food either way, if you can. It’s cheaper on the train, and absolutely necessary on the bus. Make very sure you always have at least water with you on the bus. It only stops maybe once every three or four hours. I’m happy to say that I didn’t have to use the bathroom on the bus, because I’m certain it was disgusting. Streams of men made their way back to it and I can only imagine what a mess they made trying to pee into a hole on a moving bus.

RIDE: The train and the bus were both comfortable rides for me. The train is more so because the seats recline enough to let you straighten your legs out completely. On the bus, my legs had to be bent the whole way and that made my joints a little achy. I’m prone to severe motion sickness and Dramamine keeps it at bay long enough that I’m able to read on both the train and the bus. The views on both are out of this world. Bring music. I downloaded Pandora on my phone and, since Greyhound has outlets at each seat, was able to listen to music the whole way. It’s like a little bubble between you and the rest of the bus or train when you need it.

OTHER PEOPLE: If you’re a people-watcher or just like meeting strangers, this is the way to travel. There is a difference, though, between train and bus. The buses I rode were mostly filled with people who couldn’t afford to fly. The train costs about as much as flying, so on the train you get people like me, who prefer slow travel. In general, people who really enjoy slow  travel are laid back and really interested in meeting other people and making connections. I met some really interesting people on the bus last week and I’m still in touch with someone I met on a cross-country train ride a few years ago. Here’s where being fat is an advantage. If the bus or train isn’t completely full, you’ll probably get a two-seat row to yourself. People try to sit next to the smallest travelers, so that they’ll have the most room to themselves. Fact.

STATIONS: Along with the food, the bus stations were my only real complaint about Greyhound. They were chaotic. People fighting for position in line. In some cases the buses were overbooked to the point that people had to wait hours for the next bus. For five bucks, you can buy a priority boarding pass. No line-waiting and you get on first, which increases your chance of having two seats to yourself. I did it at every station, after I met a woman in Denver who’d been left overnight when her bus was full. No one else did. I have no idea why. And some people seemed to resent that I did. Like I was somehow cheating. Buy the pass, though, trust me. It’s worth it. On both the bus and the train you have to switch your own luggage every time you change buses or trains. That was four times each way on the Greyhound and never more than twice when I’ve traveled cross-country on Amtrak.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    July 24, 2013 3:40 pm

    I, too, love trains though I never go anywhere anymore due to disability. I still haven’t ridden the Downeaster to Boston and it’s supposed to be wonderful. Did you by any chance see the David Suchet special on the Orient Express? Out of our price range, but fun to see someone else really enjoy himself and interact with the porters, etc.

  2. nof permalink
    July 24, 2013 3:55 pm

    The seats do vary from company to company. Some are like recliners, and some are little better than airplane seats. I’m not sure where to find info on what kind each company has, unfortunately.

  3. Duckie permalink
    July 24, 2013 4:29 pm

    We love the Amtrak and we are blessed enough to be able to buy a roomette when we travel. It has enough room for 2 people and has beds to lay completely down flat on. Also, food is included when you have the roomette, as well as special waiting rooms with free drinks and snacks at the big stations. When you factor in the fact that you get travel, lodging, and food for the time you are on the train, as well as the awesome and unique scenery and privacy, it’s financially a really good deal!!

    • Duckie permalink
      July 24, 2013 4:30 pm

      The only thing that doesn’t work so well on Amtrak is that the regular restrooms are like airline restroom small….that being said, every train has an accessible restroom which is awesome!

  4. July 24, 2013 5:34 pm

    I like Amtrak generally, even though the trains are not always on time. At least you don’t have to interact with the driver or the conductor. The conductors I’ve seen almost always look grumpy, but that doesn’t matter because you won’t see them much. Seats have an acceptable amount of room. People are terse but not impolite.

    Ditto the conductors on New Jersey Transit, the less expensive and slower and less plush alternative. People do not talk.

    I detest Greyhound. There seems to be an atmosphere of doom and gloom, and the drivers often look angry and often sound angry. I try to avoid Greyhound. (I don’t drive and make trips from southern New Jersey to the New York or Northern Jersey areas about twice a month.) People seem closemouthed except to their friends.

    I have never seen anyone except teenagers actually talking at any length to strangers on the routes I travel.

  5. vesta44 permalink
    July 24, 2013 8:02 pm

    I haven’t traveled by bus in over 20 years. Sounds like they’ve changed in that time – they weren’t that comfortable, and getting your stuff on and off the bus was a PITA. Not to mention that if your destination was a small town, there might not be a bus station when you arrive and you had better hope whoever you’re visiting is there on time to pick you up.
    I refuse to fly for all the reasons you listed, plus having to go through the TSA check (not going to do that, no way no how). I don’t think I could travel by train anymore. Would depend on whether or not they could transport my mobility scooter for me.
    In September, DH and I are taking a trip from Minnesota to Norfolk, VA. He was stationed there for 12 years and wants to show me the ships in port (I’ve never seen them in real life, just in pictures/movies). We’re also going to Colonial Williamsburg, and stopping in to see one of his brothers who lives in Norfolk. So having our own vehicle, with my scooter and its lift is a necessity for us. DH also wants to stop in Indianapolis and check out all the veterans’ memorials there, so taking the train or the bus wouldn’t work too well for us (otherwise, I’d gladly leave the driving and navigation to someone else, in spite of having a TomTom).

  6. July 24, 2013 11:45 pm

    I love traveling by train. A few years ago my honey and I decided to celebrate her 60th birthday by taking the AMTRAK Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago, and then taking the California Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland. It was a blast.

    However: a few cautions. If you have knee problems, know that the stairs from the lower levels of the sleeping cars to upstairs (where the observation, cafe, and dining facilities are) are STEEP. I have good upper body strength, so I was OK, but it was definitely a climb.

    Secondly, in the dining car, the seating was all in booths and they are pretty darn cozy. I found it a bit embarrassing that whenever I got into the seat, my stomach dragged the tablecloth along because I was mashed between the table and the back of the seat. Not sure I could fit into one now. Your mileage may vary.

    Also, in the dining car you will be seated with strangers, er, New Friends and they may be delightful or they may not. Mostly ours were delightful.

    However, bring your own sandwiches or whatever and you need not stress over the dining car at all!

    The train is fun. You can see places you won’t see by car, you can nap or read or stretch in comfort pretty much anytime, and you will arrive without jet-lag or irradiation by the TSA. I take the train when I can.

    • Duckie permalink
      July 25, 2013 11:18 am

      FYI, on Amtrak, If you get a room, they will bring your food to you so you don’t have to deal with the tiny booths in the dining car.

  7. July 25, 2013 3:15 am

    I live in Germany and I travel a lot for work. If I can possibly avoid airports in favour of trains, I will. The high speed trains are sensational – fast, comfortable and roomy, and the travel is smooth. Not to mention the dining car and the overnight sleepers, where the porter wakes you up with breakfast – and the chance to actually see wonderful things flashing past! It’s brought back the romance of travel.

  8. Lauren C. permalink
    July 25, 2013 4:12 am

    My mother, 4 year old niece (at the time), & myself took Amtrak from Fort Worth to San Antonio, & LOVED IT! I was in a roomette, by myself. The roomette has two comfy chairs with a fold away table in between. The two chairs lay down into a bed with a fold down bed above (looks like bunk beds). Outlets to power your phone or reader & tempature

    • Lauren C. permalink
      July 25, 2013 5:36 am

      (I accidentally hit post before I finished.) Temperature control in each roomette was FABULOUS! My mother & niece were in their own roomette. The roomette is also great if traveling with a very fast 4 year old, who is in a not listening stage! You can keep said fast & feisty4 year old out of trouble! If you get the chance, take the train!!!

  9. scout permalink
    July 25, 2013 9:44 am

    When you get a sleeping car on Amtrak, your porter will bring your food to your compartment if you ask. No extra charge, and no fatty shame wondering if you will fit into the booth!

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