All Aboard Train 59

I arrived at Chicago union station at just after 6pm on the 4th of June 2016. I checked into the first class waiting lounge as I had booked a sleeper for the trip. I rearranged my hand luggage for the train and then checked my suitcase. In the lounge they had complimentary drinks and snacks. There was also free Wi-Fi!!!. my headphone batteries had died on the CTA ride over and so I purchased some new batteries and a few snacks, a bottle of sparkling water and a Cosmo magazine for the trip. At 7:30pm we boarded the train, I am staying in Roomette 004 which is smaller than the pictures lead me to believe, but is perfect for 1 person.

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After I dropped my stuff off I headed over to the dining car for dinner, which is included in the price of my ticket. Dinner was a cold sandwich. I had the turkey and Swiss on whole grain “ciabatta”, it came with potato chips and a pickle??? America is strange y’all. I also had a root beer, which is caffeine free because I am dying for sleep at this point. I diner with a few other people, each table seats 4, I met a really nice couple and a guy who was travelling on his own. All heading to New Orleans for vacation.

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After dinner I met my room steward, a lovely girl called Keisha and she turned my room into a bed for me. By this time it’s 10pm and it is finally getting dark. I looked out at the scenery for a while before it got too dark, set my alarm for 8am and I finally got a good night’s sleep.  I woke up several times throughout the night partly from jet lag and partly from the trains whistle.

I woke up in the morning around 6am, I dozed on and off until the first announcement came in at 7am, after which I grabbed some coffee and headed off to breakfast. This morning I had a cinnamon roll with yogurt and fruit cup and several cups of coffee. I was joined by a really nice guy and his son, who had just spent 2 days in Memphis doing as much as humanly possible and then a bit more before heading home to Baton Rouge.

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After breakfast I headed back to cabin with another cup of coffee to watch the world go past and to edit my blog until lunch time. I’m finding my cabin Is quiet chilly and the air con dial doesn’t seem to have any impact on the temperature so I asked Keisha to leave my room made up as a bed till lunch time in case I need another nap and so I can have the blanket.

It seems to be mostly farm land which the odd small town along the way, these towns are small capsules lost in time. Picturesque farm house or ghost town main roads with abandoned shops and houses going to ruin and slowly begin reclaimed by nature.

This was pretty standard for the rest of the trip. I got off and walked around at the Jackson stop, singing Johnny cash in my head the whole time. After we got back under way I headed in to the observatory car and chatted with my new friends Emma and Glen. Lunch was probably the best meal of the lot lasagne.

All the meals are pretty much airline food, pre prepared and pre-packaged items, mostly cold sandwiches and what not. Definitely not what I was expecting when the website said “chef prepared”. There was also no Wi-Fi on the train either.

After lunch we had an hour and a half till we arrived in New Orleans, I waved good bye to derrick and his son at Hammond and then packed up all my things to get ready for our arrival.

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After arriving in New Orleans, I had to wait for the luggage to be unloaded. I had checked my big suitcase and I’m glad I did. The room on the train was not as spacious as I had anticipated. Certainly perfectly sized for 1 person but very cramped for 2. If going on a longer journey, I recommend getting a full on family room.

With my luggage in tow I headed on down to my hotel in Lee Circle. After checking in jumped straight into the shower before heading out to explore my new city.

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Thanks for reading !!

Planning my Trip – Flights

Step 1 – Getting There

So in my quest to visit America, I have not given myself any time to really save up. I also now have a full time job so I couldn’t take too much time off either. However, because I like a challenge I’m still planning to go to at least 2 American cities and Australia.  This trip will be like most of my others, I will be travelling by myself, but I will be meeting up with friends in both Orlando and Brisbane.

I am always looking for the best deals on flights. For this trip I am budgeting at most $2,000 on flights and around $5,000 in total.

Original budget:

$2,000 –  flights

$3,000 – accommodation, activities and spending money.

The process

I always start looking for flights on Expedia, they have a really great range of companies to search from and can definitely give you a starting point.

I try not to book on Expedia as I always have a terrible experience. You can never really change or get a refund, you can’t mix and match your flights, or specify what is important without compromising other aspects of your trip. Have a look at Kayak, Sky Scanner and Flight Centre.

I also try to price out individual flights versus round trip, especially in the planning stages while I’m trying to decide where I want to go and what I want /how I want to get there.

For example, while I was in the early stages of planning this trip I was going to go to New York and only spend 3 days in Orlando. I also looked at spending some time in California and Texas. though while researching what I wanted to do and where I would stay, nothing jumped out at me and made me decide on Texas or California as the place to visit on this trip. I have however always wanted to visit New Orleans. Something about the history and the culture there just really interests me.

I also am a member of the Qantas frequent flyer and I desperately want to get to silver membership!!!! I almost made it last year but my points expired before the end of my last contract so I missed out!

So the final flight plan I settled on:

  • June 4th – Auckland to Chicago
  • June 22nd – Orlando to Brisbane
  • July 3rd – Brisbane to Auckland

On Expedia the trip was looking around $2200.

To be honest I was kind of disappointed, I didn’t want to spend like half my budget on flights alone!

By chance I decided to search my full itinerary on the Qantas website as I had chosen the fully Qantas trip on Expedia and had decided to fly Qantas if possible so I can finally attain the coveted silver membership.

And buy was I happy I did! I found the Qantas website so useful! You can choose each individual flights to choose price or arrive or depart times. I managed to shave almost $500 off the total price. As I am always travelling on a budget, always looking to the next trip, this is always a bonus.

So my final flights are as follows

  • June 4th – 6:20am depart Auckland fly via Brisbane and LA a finally arrive in Chicago at 3pm on the same day
  • June 22nd – 7:30pm depart Orlando fly via LA and land Brisbane at 6am on the 24th June
  • July 3rd – depart 6:55pm and arrive in Auckland at 00:00.

All in all, I think I paid $1850 including the visa fee for booking and paying online.

These flights will add just over 300 points to my membership which will take me well and truly into silver level which will be amazing for my next adventure at the end of the year.

I’m really really happy with my flights. Now you may be thinking why are you going to Chicago, and how are you planning to get to Orlando???

I decided to book another flight from New Orleans to Orlando, I like to book southwest mostly because of the free luggage and the great prices. I probably could have booked either united or American airlines which would add points to my Qantas membership. However, I like the free 2 bags that southwest offers more.

This flight is June 9th 7:55pm arriving Orlando 10:35pm.

I was/am a little worried about how late I booked in regards to storing my luggage. I have emailed my hotel about storing my luggage for the day but I have yet to hear back.

My final thoughts on booking flights

Shop around! Look at sky scanner or kayak, southwest won’t show on any discount sites be sure to check their site separately.

I still haven’t decided whether it’s better to book like 6 months in advance or a week out. I booked my flights and then the next week air New Zealand and Qantas released cheap flights to LA, but my flights wouldn’t have been too much different as I have several legs of the trip.