Soon I will return on the rails for my first train trip in months. I have been taking some train trips, but they were to Milwaukee or Chicago. You can probably guess my destination if you have followed me on social media. Yup, I am going back to Nebraska.
Why Nebraska, again?
My sister et al. moved to Nebraska a few months ago, and I must admit, I like the area more than I anticipated. They are returning to Wisconsin for a visit, and I am helping to drive “home.” But that is not without chilling out there for a while. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know I am going to the zoo again, and if Little Mack wants, we can ride on the carousel again; maybe this time, we will ride the tiger if she is brave enough; if she isn’t ready, we can ride on the bench, and that is cool.
Why I can’t wait
I am looking forward to this trip for a few reasons. The first reason is that I haven’t made a solo trip yet, and I miss that. The past few journeys to my sister’s included transporting one or both of my parents. Don’t get me wrong; I love helping family and my folks, but I miss solo trips. The second reason is that I am not driving out there and can enjoy the journey. I am one of the drivers for returning with my sister and family (Abby, too), but I still have a long-awaited solo train trip.
Taking the train is a nice change from driving. The drive is not bad, although the stretch of Illinois seems to take forever. Very few waysides and many gas stations are not that close to the road.
The best part about the drive out to Nembraks is the Iowa section of I-80, for it has many convent waysides and several accessible on-and-off places to fill up with gas and a snack.
Getting to Nebraska
Because driving was not practical for this trip, I needed to find a way to get out there. I looked at both air and land choices. I chose rail, as I hinted before. Cost, comfort, and convenience led me to Amtrak, plus it is one of my favorite way to travel.
Amtrak cost and breakdown
Here are my trip breakdowns
- The price for this trip is $90.90
- Note: This includes a 10% discount due to my Rail Passenger Membership
- Coach Class on both trains
- Time and Miles
- 11.53 hours (including layover) and 563 miles
- Hiawatha is 63 miles, 1.1 hours
- Chicago Union Station layover 1.52 hours
- California Zephyr 500 miles 8.9 hours
The Hiawatha: getting to Chicago
This Hiawatha transports me to Chicago, and I transfer to my next train there. My other options are two Metra trains, Fox Lake, IL, or Antioch, IL. I didn’t want to leave my car at the station because I was not returning those trains. I did look at riding the train to Milwaukee and then a bus down; I have done that before. The best part is the ability to stop at Stone Creek for coffee before leaving, but the times didn’t work out, or there weren’t any cost savings.
The Mighty Hiawatha takes me from Sturtevant (WI) Depot to Chicago Union Station; the California Zephyr will whisk me off to Omaha, NE.
Layover at Chicago Union Station
I often use the Metropolitan Lounge off the Great Hall when I take trips like this, but I cannot access that room this time. The lounge is for sleeper cars, business class passengers, or Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus members. Sadly I do not qualify for any of those.
The layover comes at an excellent time for lunch and maybe a brew; I could save time and do both simultaneously. I am excited about new food places coming to Union Station, but I’ll have to wait for another trip since they are not open yet.
California Zephyr, take me away.
I have a soft spot for the Califonia Zephyr because it was the first long-distance train I ever made.
The Zephyr will take me 500 miles from Chicago to Omaha. With the train leaving at 2:00 pm, I will see most of the scenery as we roll through.
As a coach-class passenger, I have access to the Sightseer Lounge Car, and my food options include the dining and cafe cars. If you have not been on a Superliner train before, the Sightseer Loung is the upper level of the cafe car and has large windows on the sides and windows that curve in the ceiling. This windowed car is a great place to get out of your seat, see the country go by, and maybe enjoy a treat from the lower-level cafe.
My other non-road trip choices?
By air or sea
Traveling by water was not a choice for this trip, which is okay.
Flying is possible but not practical. Many “affordable” flights cost three times Amtrak and take longer.
Most of the bus options I looked at were from Chicago, although a few were from Milwaukee. The Milwaukee option didn’t work in my schedule.
Outside of the cost of taking a bus from Chicago, there is the cost of getting to Chicago. Taking Metra to Chicago adds $9.50 and $22- $25 (with a discount) for Amtrak. The Metra Line and Amtrak take me to Union Station; the bus stations or loading areas are not far from there.
Megabus runs a daily bus to Omaha operated under Windstar Bus Company. The bus leaves a few blocks south of Chicago Union Station. If I remember correctly, the “bus station” is a sign on a poll (I took Megabus from Milwaukee to Chicago once). If I were to book early, it would be $39.99 to $49.99, plus the cost of going to Chicago. Don’t forget with Megabus, there is a $2.50 service fee for every transaction.
Greyhound gives some flexibility for travel. I can take Amtrak up to Milwaukee Intermodal Station from Sturtevant and then leave and take buses for the rest of the trip.
The other option is to take a train to Chicago and go from there.
The Greyhound stations or pick-up spots (that I know of ) in Chicago:
- Amtrak– At Union Station
- Greyhound Station– 630 W Harrison Ct
- Chicago 95th & Dan Ryan – 14 W 95th
- Chicago Cumberland– 5800 N. Cumberland Ave
When I was shopping for deals, I found something unusual. Booking a trip from the central bus station in Chicago to Omaha would cost around $116. By starting my bus journey at the 95th and Dan Ryan stop, it was $62. Okay, let me break this down by taking an L ride (a $2.50 added cost) and adding a bus from the 95th, and Dan Ryan stop to the central bus station; I can save almost half on tickets. I am cheap enough to do that.
Burlington Trailways runs the bus from Chicago to Omaha for Greyhound. I could book the trip through Burlington Trailways, but with the 95th stop “discount,” I probably would book through Greyhound.
This year has not been a significant travel year for me, at least not for train travel. Looking back, so far, I have traveled more than I thought.
I was with my family a year ago in Charleston, S.C., and Brunswick, GA. I took my dad out to visit my mom because she was out with my sister, helping her after the birth of Mackenzie. We had to evacuate to GA on that trip due to a Hurricane Flow.
A year later, I discovered that being an uncle is not just a title that a sibling gives you when giving birth to a kid but a gift and a bond. Being an uncle is like traveling; there is no right way to be an uncle or go, but there are a few wrong ways. Plus, the memories from traveling and being an uncle are cherished forever.
If you want to follow along with my journeys, check out how you can find me here! If you’re going to travel with Amtrak, get started on that path here.