A note from Shea: I'm out of pocket this week working on a project in Iowa and I've asked a few of my green blogger friends to help me out by writing some guest posts. Enjoy this piece from Jaymi Heimbuch from Treehugger. I'll be back in action next week.
I live in San Francisco and have family in Los Angeles. This past weekend was a family event and I wanted to be there. But, being carless, transportation is a bit of a pain to figure out. Do I do a short-haul flight, do I rent a car, do I take the train, do I try to find someone on a ride-share service? Renting a car is not cheaper than flying or taking the train, and I'd have to actually make that very long drive by myself. Yuck. That ruled that out. A flight was a tempting alternative. It only takes about an hour to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And there are dozens of flights a day so I would have been able to pick exactly when I wanted to arrive. But ultimately I chose to go for the train ride — the insanely long train ride. From the first bus outside my apartment to the last train outside my sister's apartment, it took 13 hours. All weekend when people asked how long the train ride was and I replied with, "13 hours," jaws would drop, eyes would widen, and the inevitable, "What? That's awful," would follow. But really, the trip was great. In fact, a 13-hour train ride was better than a 1-hour flight. Here are the perks:
The way the train schedules worked had me taking a bus for the first part of the trip. Taking the bus for long trips never sounds appealing, and I wasn't sure what to expect. But this was a really comfortable bus with big, cushion-y seats. It felt more like a tour bus than a Greyhound. The train was equally comfortable. There were outlets at every seat so I could charge my cell phone and laptop while I worked. There was tons of leg room and I could get up and move around as much as I wanted. There was no getting dehydrated from the processed air as happens on a plane, and there was lots of space to spread out my laptop, books and other items.
2. No frustrating packing and security requirements
I didn't have to worry about how big my shampoo bottle was or if all my liquids fit into a Ziplock bag. I didn't have to arrive early to stand in line and be scanned in my stocking feet. I didn't have to worry about having my carry-ons be a certain size or type, and no one checked that my laptop was a laptop. It was peaceful to just arrive at the station, hop on, and away we go.
I grew up on the Central Coast so this trip allowed me to see my own backyard at a prime time of year. I enjoyed rolling green hills spotted with cows, miles and miles of gorgeous coast line, and even watched the sun set over the Channel Islands. Rather than flying above it and barely seeing anything, I got to really enjoy it, with uninterrupted views that even a car wouldn't provide.
4. Required unplug time
A one-hour flight would have been just enough to get through all that security, sit down, be bored for awhile because why bother taking out a book when I'm going to have to put it away right when I get absorbed, and then get mushed into the bustle of the airport where I have to navigate public transit again. While the flight might have been only an hour, there would have been a good 3 total hours just getting in and out of airports. Nothing relaxing about that. Instead, I enjoyed a rarity — time to be still, to read, draw, write, think. To take photos, daydream, chat with random people, and on the way back, write this post.
5. Tiny price
The round trip was $90 total. The average price for a round-trip plane ticket is around $120. I'll save $30 where I can, and after tacking on an extra $4 for the MUNI buses to and from the train stations, I call it a darn cheap mini-vacation.
6. Smaller carbon footprint
The primary reason for me to choose this travel option actually wasn't all of the above — those were perks discovered and enjoyed after the fact. The two main reasons were the carbon footprint and consumer demand. The carbon footprint of the train trip, because of the portion where I had to ride the bus, wasn't significantly smaller than flying or driving to L.A. and back. But it was one of those do-what-you-can-where-you-can moments, so I took it. But the other reason for the trip is to show consumer demand for train travel. While California has plans to build a bullet train, we're a long, long way off from having it, and the bus and train schedules are terrible, with few options that don't require going out of the way or taking the bus most of the way. So, by buying a ticket, I was showing that there are some people who want to ride trains, and hopefully that will help make a tiny difference in keeping the tracks hot and making schedules more lively.
BONUS: People wave at trains
Every so often, as people waited at track crossings or even while standing on the beaches, they waved at us. It brought up a feeling of friendliness, of excitement around travel and seeing trains go by, of community support in some vague way. No one waves at planes ... what's the point? But they still wave at trains. It was neat to slow down and experience that.
So, was it worth the 13 hours of travel just to get from San Francisco down to Los Angeles? In this case, every moment. Let's hear it for taking the train! If you're down for trying out a longer train ride, check out these six essential tips, and start off with some of the most scenic routes around.
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