October 2017 Money Diary: Everything We Spent on Our Train Trip Across America

 
 
The Origami Life October 2017 - Money Diary Savings-2.png
 
The Origami Life - October 2017 Money Diary-2.png

In October,  Jennie and I took 15 days off and traveled from Los Angeles, California to Boston, Massachusetts - by Amtrak rail.

Here’s what we spent on this long train journey:


Everything We Spent on Our 15 Day U.S. Train Journey with Amtrak


Our Travel Spend Priorities

Before I lay out the expenses for the trip, I should provide some context on what Jennie and I value when we travel. The following are not hard and fast rules, but I think it paints a pretty accurate picture of what our spending priorities are

  1. We dine out for a light breakfast (usually just coffee + pastry) to go over our plans for the day.

  2. We dine out for one of lunch or dinner (and buy groceries for the other meal).

  3. We choose one paid “attraction” per day and plan several free ones around it.

  4. We plan our meals around relationships we value. If we’re staying with friends, we will always pay.

  5. How a restaurant looks, ‘its vibe’ and the attentiveness of its waitstaff are of minimal importance to us.

  6. Whenever possible, we will ride public transit at least once. It’s not just cheaper, but you get to see a cross-section of society interacting (or not interacting).

  7. We don’t believe in souvenirs or other knick knacks that can’t be immediately consumed.

  8. We don’t do ‘fine dining’ (our definition is any meal over $35 per person incl. tax and tip), fusion cuisine, or places that advertise farm-to-table ingredients. These are just personal preferences.

  9. We don’t (really) drink and avoid bars, breweries and nightclubs designed specifically for that purpose. The only exception are jazz clubs (i.e. the drinking should be the secondary objective to whatever the main point is).

  10. We will pay a (significant) premium for a quiet coffee shop or bookstore with fast wifi, strong coffee, and a clear view of the passing scenery (hence, 100 hours over 15 days on trains).

With that out of the way, here’s what we spent:  


Before the Trip


Amtrak USA Rail Passes (x2): $918 ($459 each)

28L Patagonia Refugio Backpacks (x2): $0 (swag from Jennie’s company #privilege)

20L Packable Eddie Bauer Daypack: $25 (Bought on sale from Amazon. Waterproof and super useful to stow our valuables! We’re bringing this on our RTW trip)

Day 0 Total: $943

For the USA Rail Pass, a 15 day trip works out to around $30 a day per person, with stopovers in up to eight cities. Keep in mind some segments are overnight so you can actually save on accommodation. 

The Amtrak USA Rail Pass guarantees you a coach seat (roomettes are extra), but you’ll still have to call or show up at your nearest station prior to your trip to pick up your pass and reserve tickets for the individual segments. 

You can learn more about how to plan your trip using Amtrak USA Rail Passes here:


Leg 1:
The Coast Starlight
(~12 hours from Los Angeles to Emeryville)


The Coast Starlight goes from Los Angeles to Seattle. Our favorite segment of the trip takes you along the coast of California. 

 The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

Day 1: Los Angeles Union Station to Emeryville

  • Groceries: $40 (Two bento boxes and snacks for the 12 hour journey)
  • Dining Out: $0 (There is a dining car onboard that we tried on another leg of our journey. The food was...edible)
  • Sightseeing: Free (We sat in the observation car working, reading and chatting until it was dark and the stars came out and the ocean was illuminated by moonlight) 

Day 1 Total: $40

 Watching the sunset from the train.

Watching the sunset from the train.

Day 2: Emeryville, California (NorCal)

  • Accommodation: $0 (Arrived in Emeryville at 10 PM. Stayed with a friend for the night)
  • Dining Out: $36 (Treated friend to early morning breakfast before leaving for Salt Lake City)
  • Groceries: $30 (Hummus, pita chips, and fruit from Safeway for the next leg)
  • Transportation: $10 (Two Lyft rides to and from Emeryville Station)

Day 2 Total: $76


Leg 2:
The California Zephyr
(~50 hours from Emeryville to Chicago) 


 Checking out the  Mormon Tabernacle Choir  at 8am.

Checking out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at 8am.

Day 3: Salt Lake City, UT

  • Accommodation: $0 (We got off train at 3 AM and we boarded the next one 24 hours later. We were tired. Would not recommend).     
  • Groceries: $15 (Clif Bars, crackers and cheese from Trader Joe’s)
  • Dining Out: $65 (Ruth’s Diner in the mountains for dinner and Village Inn because it was either that or Denny’s at 4 AM on Sunday)
  • Transportation: $30 (A lot of Lyft rides)
  • Sightseeing: $24 (Ensign Peak and Mormon stuff were free. Paid for Red Butte Garden)
  • Other: $15 to leave our packs at the station and $10 worth of coffee to keep us awake

Day 3 Total: $159

 Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Day 4 - 6: Denver, CO

  • Accommodation: $0 (We stayed with family for two nights)
  • Groceries: $20
  • Dining Out: $80 (Paid for as many meals as we were allowed to by family)
  • Other: $30 (Edible gummies from marijuana dispensary and Popeye’s Chicken)

Day 4-6 Total: $140

 Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Day 7: Omaha, NB

  • Accommodation: $0 (Hyatt Place Old Market for 8,000 points, transferable 1:1 from Chase)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $50 (Two meals worth of BBQ at Smoking Jay’s)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: $46 (Henry Doorly Zoo and a special exhibit at the Joslyn Art Museum)

Day 7 Total: $121

 Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Day 8 - 10: Chicago, IL

  • Accommodation: $210 (Airbnb for two nights)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $170 (Because Chicago)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: Mainly free stuff and hanging out with friends

Day 8-10 Total: $405


Leg 3:

Lake Shore Limited & the Northeast Corridor
(~21 hours from Chicago to New York to Philly to Boston)


 Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Day 11: New York City, NY

  • Accommodation: $0 (Stayed at friend’s $300 a month apartment in Chinatown)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $65 (we were only in New York for 16 hours) 
  • Transportation: $5

Day 11 Total: $85

 Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

 Day 12: Philadelphia, PA

  • Accommodation: $82 (Airbnb for one night)
  • Groceries: $10
  • Dining Out: $64
  • Transportation: $15
  • Sightseeing: $28

Day 12 Total: $199

 We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

Day 13 - 15: Boston, MA

  • Accommodation: $0 (Again, we lived in Boston and have several close friends)
  • Groceries: $45
  • Dining Out: $140
  • Transportation: $15

Day 13-15 Total: $200


Flying Home
 (~7 hours Boston to Los Angeles)


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$25 for two one way tickets from Boston to Los Angeles: flights were paid for with miles through United (transferable 1:1 from Chase)


The Origami Life Cross Country

Train Trip Summary


Total all-in spend for the 15 day trip
was $2,393, or $1,196 per person


Jennie and I were fortunate enough to have friends and family living across the country, which saved us anywhere between $300-500 on accommodations

However, even if you add those costs back in, you could still travel quite comfortably across the U.S. for well under $1,500 a person, or less than $100 a day. If you traveled in a larger group of say 4 people, and split the cost of accommodation and food, that number would be closer to $1,000, which is about as much as you’d spend for just one week in Europe.