CA Zephyr
The California Zephyr stopped in Omaha, NE

Kev’s Trip Planning: October and November 2019

If you have been following me over the past year-plus, you might see a travel theme, family. For October and November travel, my travel is to transport my niece’s grandma, or I call her my mom. She is going to Nebraska to spend some time with Mackenzie, my sister, and Abby, the Newfie, while my brother-in-law is training. My mother is not comfortable traveling out there on her own right now, so I am helping her out.

Since my sister moved to Nebraska, my travel changed to mostly road trips, but one trip, my last trip, started as my first Amtrak west in a long time but ended as a road trip home. I went out there to help drive my sister’s family back to Wisconsin.

I told my folks I didn’t want to drive out this trip, so instead, we are hitting the rails. My mom is not new to train travel but is not used to riding coach on Amtrak long-distance train; she has been in coach class on the Hiawatha.

Mack and Abby
Mackenzie and her bigger furry sister, Abby the Newfie

I am going back and forth.

This trip will be in two segments for me; the first is to take my mom to my sister’s and then come home that week. Part two is a few weeks later, when I return to bring her home.

I thought of staying out there the whole time, but being an organist, I didn’t want too many Sundays off. Now, if  I wanted, I could record my playing on floppy discs, like from the 1990s and early 2000s.

I have a fantastic friend, and she “plays the organ for me when I am gone.” I am thankful for you, Jen! When I am gone, she presses play and the next button so the church can still sing while I am gone.

During planning this, something else happened; I agreed to play the organ at another church. Due to a lack of forethought by the builder, this organ does not have a recording device; well, maybe the issue is that the organ is from the 1880s, and they probably never thought that technology would ever be possible.

Since I could not leave the Sunday, I decided to embark on Monday and stay for about a week leaving the following Sunday. I will record the service I miss at my church, and Jenn agreed to “play for me.” As I roll through Iowa that Sunday, the congregation will sing to my music as I relax. The other option was to go out there, have a day on the ground, and then leave immediately to come home.

Ca Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr stopped at Ottumwa, IA.

Transportation choices

  • Driving – but not the option I want
  • Train – I think you picked up the point that this is the one we picked
  • Bus – almost happened on this trip
  • Flying – is not very cost-effective in this case
  • There isn’t any maritime transportation between Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Looking at how to get out to Nebraska with “grandma,” I could eliminate flying because of her fear of flying and because it is the most expensive way to travel there. I found a few flights that took longer than ground travel, including going through the TSA and other waiting times. She picked Amtrak because she is not keen on a bus, and we had companions coupons.

CA Zephyr OMA
Train 5, the westbound California Zephyr in Omaha, NE

The Amtrak trains for this trip.

Hiawatha– Sturtevant, WI to Chicago (Union Station), IL

From my past trips, you know I use the Hiawatha often. I have been on the Hiawatha more than any other Amtrak train.

The trip from Sturtevant to the Windy City is 63 miles and about 63 minutes; it isn’t that odd.

This midwest regional train has fourteen daily trips with two trainsets. These trains have WI-fi but no food service. The Hiawatha is an unreserved coach class train (reserved around Thanksgiving) with six cars in length, one Quiet Car, and five others, and your ticket is valid for any seat on the train.

California Zephyr– Chicago, IL to Omaha, NE (the train does go to Califonia)

The Zephyr has a piece in my heart, for it was the first long-distance train. I took it to San Fransico, CA, for my first solo cross-country trip.

I was on this California Zephyr when they shot the video.

The Zephyr has three distinct vistas as you ride it from end to end. You start with the midwest planes, agriculture, windmills, and industry from east to west. The next day you wake up going through pastures and factories and start your journey through the Rockies. After your final slumber aboard the Zephry, you wake up to see the Sierra Nevadas before reaching the ports and industries of California. If you only take one big train trip, this would be one of the ones I suggest.

Amenities on this train include a dining car, a Sightseer lounge car with the cafe on the lower level, baggage service, coach class, and sleepers. The Califonia Zephry has a “traditional dining car” and cafe.

Buying tickets

I booked my tickets using both and also the Amtrak app. It was easier to use the website to log into my dad’s account to access the companion coupons for the two one-way tickets. I used the app to purchase my round-trip tickets from Omaha to Sturtevant. All of our reservations are for coach class.

The cost from Sturtevant to Omaha leg was $122 for both of us with the coupon. Coming home originally was $104 for both of us, but I changed the date to Sunday, which dropped that cost by $3. The savings came from the Hiwatha portion of the ticket because there are no weekend priority train prices. Priority train tickets are slightly more.

The round trip from Omaha, NE, to SVT. and back in a few weeks was $184.50 with my Rail Passenger Membership discount.

The gear & packing

For this trip, I am using both of my travel backpacks. I am using my eBags Professional Weekender for the first time because it is slim, and I am only packing a few things. On my second trip, a 40-liter bag from Tortuga (mine is no longer in production) will come along. I will need a few more things because I am staying out longer.


  • One Sweater
  • A pair of jeans
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Bottoms to sleep in or wear around the house
  • Shirts, socks, and underwear for up to three days (less for the first trip)
  • I often wear two jackets, a fleece with a coat that can protect against wind and light rain over it. If it is not too chill out, this works well for changing temperatures


  • A small blanket
  • Blow-up pillow (mine is similar to that one)  plus a neck pillow
  • In the 3-1-1 bag that I use, a “dop kit.”
    • Toothbrush and paste
    • Floss
    • Deodorant
    • Sleep aids and vitamins
    • A reusable container with mouthwash
  • Waterbottle
  • Battery pack
  • iPad and chargers
  • Computer to work on this site. A newer tablet could even replace that

Safe Travels


I want to thank my sister for the photo of Abby and Mackenzie; aren’t they adorable? Maybe I have a bias.

For more information on traveling on Amtrak, check out this page.

To follow me or join the mailing list, click here! If you are interested in supporting the site, click here to find out how.


Kev has been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating his tenth year this year. Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200,000 miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by assisting them with support and information. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.