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Retired Union Pacific "Big Boy" greets drivers to Omaha

2019 a year in review

In 2019, I did not rack up as many miles as in the past. Nevertheless, I had fun and even had a few new experiences. Hence, I decided to share my 2019 year in review with youThis review includes mileage reports, highlights of destinations and layovers, updates on family, 2020 hopes and dreams, and I hope a little travel inspiration at the end.

2019 Adventures

SWA Sunrise
Sunrise from the window of a Southwest 737-700 flying over Iowa

I visited the east coast from Washington, D.C., to Orlando, FL, and Charleston, S.C. My new travel destination is the Great Omaha, NE, area; also the furthest west I went. This year saw my last trip, at least for now, to Charleston, SC.

Road trips in 2019

Concrete loons
Concrete loons at the Wisconsin Concrete Park

This year I traveled more via my least favorite transportation means, road trips. My guess is around 6 of them to my sister’s new Nebraska home. It takes seven to eight hours to drive out there with at least one fuel stop. I could get away with one fuel stop, but I found two works better, and then I almost have a full tank when I get to my sisters.  Driving to Nebraska is not too bad but boring at points. The highlights include corn and other crop fields, windmills, themed rest stop in Iowa, and The Worlds Largest Truck Stop.

My dad and I also took a road trip up to my grandma’s in northern Wisconsin. We gave her a smartphone, and for someone in her 80’s, she eagerly learned how to use the phone and is doing well with it. While up there, we also visited my dad’s youngest brother and checked out the house he is building. We took an outing with my grandmother to Fred Smith’s Wisconson Concrete Park in Philips. I drove past there several times but never stopped before. It was fun to share this experience with my dad and grandma.

Trains of 2019

CA Zephyr
The California Zephyr stopped in Omaha, NE.

This year I traveled  7,725 miles aboard 36 Amtrak trains, with an average of 215 miles per Amtrak trip. With Meta, Chicago”s commuter railroad, I went 1447.2 miles during my 28 times aboard their coach cars. I rode a new railroad for me this year, the Omaha Zoo Railroad (OZRR), my two rides on the steam-powered railroad racked up 3.8 miles.

My total 2019 rail mileage is  9,176, and I boarded 66 trains with an average of 139 miles per trip.

Amtrak trains this year include the Hiawatha, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Silver Meteor, Palmetto, Silver Star, Cardinal, and the Carolinan. With Metra North Central Service and Milwaukee District North.

Flying in 2019

AA Regional Jet
An American Airlines regional jet

I had two flights this year, and both were in December.  Southwest flew me about 556 miles from Omaha to Midway on a Boeing 737-700. The other 515 miles trip went from O’Hare to Omaha aboard American/Envoy Air as American Eagle on an Embraer EJR-145.  Making 1,071 miles total between the two (I am guessing based on points).

Total travel mileage for 2019

Total of 10,247 miles on 68 rides averaging 150.7 miles per vehicle.

Road trips did not get included in these numbers.

What was new for this year

Raleigh Union Station
Raleigh Union Station

This year had a few new destinations, including Raleigh and Wilson, NC; Kissimmee, FL; and Papillion and Omaha, NE. New trains include the Silver Star and Carolinan. I took the long way to get to Kissimmee, FL, from Charleston, SC, and that trip had layovers in those North Carolina cities. If you are interested in that trip, check out this story.

My last flight was a few years ago, but I still remember how the process. As I said before, all my flights were in December and a week apart. The last time in the friendly skies was a triple first, a regional jet, using American Airlines, and flying out of O’hare. Although it was on Christmas Day, all went well, and no issues.

Layovers and destinations of 2019

Washington, D.C.

1948 Tucker Torpedo
1948 Tucker Torpedo, my dream car at the Smithsonian Museum of National History

One of my favorite layover cities is Washington D.C. because there are many activities within walking distance of the train station. One of my favorite places to visit is about 1.25 miles away from the station, the Smithsonian National History Museum, where on this last visit, I saw my dream car (the photo above), a 1948 Tucker.

This city has a lot to offer travelers, starting with the train station. From there, you can walk to many museums, restaurants, coffee shops, or other standard big city entertainments. Many of the attractions are free for the public, including the Smithsonian Museums, monuments, and government attractions like the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.

Raleigh, NC

Gayle and I
Gayle and I at Raleigh Union Station

Raleigh was a fun stop for me this year for more than one reason: Gayle is another Amtrak fan. We are both members of a few Amtrak groups on Facebook. This wonderful lady is the contact person for North Carolina’s Train Host, a neat program that serves as a goodwill ambassador to the trains. Together we walked to the Morgan Street Food Hall and had a great meal at the Cow Bar, a burger joint in the hall. I had a great time meeting her and enjoyed her hospitality.

Disney World

Disney World
Walt Disney  World

I took a few weeks off during the Lent season (being a church organist, you go by seasons) for a long trip; part of the reason for the trip was to watch Abby for a week while my sister and family went to Disney for a week. My brother-in-law went down for a week, and then he flew back. After he returned, I took the train down and got to enjoy the parks for a week. My sister, niece, parents, aunt, and uncle visited the parks for two weeks.

Disney was never on my “must-go-to” list, but since I had the opportunity to go, I went. I have to say I liked Disney World more than I thought.  My mom and sister made the experience more fun because they showed me their favorite parts of the parks. The first ride I went on was with my sister’s, the Haunted Manson, and her excitement made the experience fun. My mom took me to the Hall of Presidents and the Carousel of Progress, her favorite rides.

We all stayed at Camp Wilderness Resort/Campground with my Aunt and Uncle in their R.V. My first trip “by sea” (in a while) happened there too because the boats were the easiest way to travel between the campsite and the park’s transportation area. There are busses, but water travel was closer and faster in most cases.

Omaha Area

Omaha Zoo Dome
Omaha Zoo Desert Dome & Mahoney Kingdoms of the Night.

Paula, Mackenzie, and I enjoy visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. I am not sure if the animals and entertainment are what I want or spend time with my niece. We went several times over the past few months, and it is fun to see the zoo through her eyes. She notices more every time we go, and her little pointer finger points out what makes her excited. I think her favorite exhibit is the aquarium, but she loves to play in the kid’s park and ride the carousel, although she is not brave enough to ride on an animal yet.

I have to admit I do enjoy riding the Zoo Train, two train sets powered by steam locomotives. The train gives you an overview of most of the zoo and a few animal areas behind the scenes.  The train does have two stops, but they are not that far apart.

Paula and Mack
Paula and Mackenzie at Kenefick Park

Not far from the zoo, almost across I-80, is Kenefick Park, an essential visit for you railroad buffs. This park has two of  Union Pacific’s giant locomotives on static display, a Big Boy and Centennial. Besides these seeing these two pieces of railroad history, you learn the history of the railroad. Be advised; it is a small hike to get up to the locomotives but worth the visit. The park shares a parking lot with the Lauritzen Garden so that you could get two outings in one stop.

My Family in 2019

Family ice cream
My family and I enjoying ice cream at Beaches and Cream at Disney World

This year was fun and challenging, as every year seems to go. This year was less demanding than others, like 2017, when my hometown flooded.  With fun comes struggles; going to Disney was fun, but having to share a bunk in an R.V. with your dad can be challenging what I do for cheap lodging. I am used to traveling solo, but most of 2019’s adventure was with family. I love to help out, but sometimes we can get on each other’s nerves.

As I sorted through the photos of 2019, it amazed me how much Lil Mack grew. When you often see someone, you don’t notice the changes, but I can certainly see her mature after looking at photos over this year.

As you learn, my sister moved this year from the east coast to Nebraska.

Abby the Newfie

Abby and balls
Abby is in her happy place, outside with her toys.

The Nebraska move made the 145 pounds fluffy  Abby the Newfie very happy, mostly. Her favorite changes include a fenced-in backyard, cold weather,  and winter with snow (unlike South Carolina.). She loves the freedom of sitting outside as long as her little doggie heart wants,  plus she can run around and play.

The things she might miss are her friends and trips to the dog park. There are dog parks in the area, but my niece makes it harder for my sister to take Abby to dog parks as much as Abby wants. In Charleston, Abby and her family lived in an apartment complex with a dog park on campus.

Little “Mack” Mackenzie

Mack at church
Mackenzie and I at the organ

If you were to tell me that one day a toddler would mean so much to me, I’d call you crazy. I do not have a history of being a little kid type of person, but guess what, one little girl crawled her way into my heart and changed me forever.

MAck and I
Mackenzie and I on Sue’s Wildlife Carousel at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Mackenzie, or Little Mack, as I call her, is an essential part of my life. I’ll tell you this; I wish other people were as excited to see me as she gets. She loves her Uncle Kevy (a nickname only a few people can call me) and loves to be around me.

My friend Ben B. once told me that being an uncle was a cool thing, and I thought, okay, sure, whatever. I found out he was right. As she gets older, our bond continues to grow. She does not have issues with hanging out with me without her mom around. Mackenzie enjoys bringing me into her world by grabbing my finger, taking me to places, and a quick pull of the finger means she wants me down at her level.

Ben, you were right; being an uncle is fantastic.

My SIster and her hubby

Mom and Mack
Mackenzie and her mom walking through Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo’s Aquarium

As you know, my sister and her family had a significant change this year; they moved 1,280 miles from the east coast to the breadbasket of the United States. Over the past eight years, they moved from Wisconsin to Germany, and then they moved from Germany to South Carolina, and now to Nebraska.  I am proud of how resilient and adaptable my sister and her husband are with all the changes they have encountered over the years.  I am thankful for the destinations of Charleston and Omaha that I would not have explored without them being there. Plus, I am grateful for the airports and train stations’ pick-up and drop-off service, rides around, and lodging.

Haunted Man
Paula, ghost, and I outside of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World

With Paula and the gang closer to Wisconsin, we are thankful they bought a house with more room than their apartment. Since we visit more and the family grew, more space is needed. They had a two-bedroom apartment in S.C., so these new “deluxe accommodations” are great.

There is a reason I do not talk much about my brother-in-law by name or publish photos of him. I like him, and he is a great guy, a loving husband, and a father, and I am glad that he is in my family. He is in the military with a specialty job. He doesn’t want me to say too much about what he does, and I respect his wishes. His family has become a part of my family,  and many are now big supporters of Travels with Kev. 

My Folks

Folks at truck stop
My folks at the I-80, “world’s largest truck stop.”

Last year my mother retired, and quickly she transitioned into her dream job, being a grandma. To fill this role, she needs to travel, something she is not fond of doing. I help get her to go back and forth between home and my sisters. I think that makes me her “support traveler.” She could go on her own, but the staff would probably appreciate her having her travel buddy, plus it’s an excuse for me to travel.

My sister enjoys my mom’s help when my brother-in-law is away for training. Grandpa might be helping out soon. Realistically, Paula could deal with the homefront solo, but why not take the from help with eager helpers.

My father is about to join the ranks of full-time grandparents. He is finishing up his 47-year career in the glass container industry. He and I will celebrate his retirement by taking a train adventure, and we are setting up a trip to see a state he has wanted to see, Texas. Soon you will find out more about this trip.

Looking towards 2020

Jackson Square
Jackson Square in New Orleans, LA

I know that 2020 holds forth several visits back to the greater Omaha area to visit Abby, Mackenzie, and the rest of the family. These trips start-up in January, two weeks after we just got back. These tips to the Cornhusker State will include car, train, plane, or bus to transport us.

Outside of those trips, I am looking at visiting Philadelphia, PA, Clearwater/St Petersburg, FL area, New Orleans, LA, and either El Paso, TX or Los Angeles, CA.

Travels with Kev’s website

This year has been the best year for this site! Traffic increased by 373% over last year. The site helped many people learn about food on Amtrak and changes to food service on eastern trains. I am thankful to you for reading my articles and for your support. If you do not follow me on social media or my email list, check here to learn how you can.

Running a site like this costs money, and if you are interested in supporting the website, check out this page or get ahold of me here. If you cannot or do not want to help out financially, share this site with a friend (or close enemy) who could benefit from Travels with Kev’s information.

My wish for you

Amtrak's Carolinian at Raleigh Union Station
Amtrak’s Carolinian at Raleigh Union Station

I hope this year allows you to work towards your travel goals and dreams. We all have to start somehow. If being for you means brainstorming destination ideas, great! Maybe start by purchasing the gear you will need; that too is a great start. For others, just book tickets can be the thing that will get you started this year. You know yourself better than I ever do, but I know if you are here, you want to start traveling, or you’re an excellent supporter.

Amtrak's City of New Orleans
The City of New Orleans is waiting to leave New Orleans for Chicago.

If you can’t find someone to travel with, that is okay; join the group of us that love solo travel. It is okay to go on your own, and there are several of us travelers out who travel the world solo, not just guys. You can always make new friends along the way, and with modern technology, it is more accessible to video chat with a loved one if you feel alone. It can be lonely at times, but I have traveled with others and felt more isolated than I ever did traveling solo.

You can do it, I know you can, but you need to take the first couple of steps. Don’t forget that fear and excitement are very similar emotions.

I want to thank my mom, sister, and some Disney Cast members for a few photos.

Safe travels!

Kev

For more information on riding Amtrak, check out this page to start your search.

If you do not find what you are looking for there, please let me know how I might help.

Kev

Kev has traveled over 125,000 miles on over 660 trains all around the United States aboard Amtrak. When he is not on the move, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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