Monday, July 31, 2017


My early childhood vacations were crazy family productions.  It was all my mom's extended family.  Dad and uncle-by-marriage were the two "outsiders".  I guess it was all my grandmother's idea and I have no idea how the cabins at Clear Pond in East Carver, MA was the place that we schlepped bedding, clothing, pots and pans, etc to.  I don't know that my mom or my aunt considered these weeks much of a vacation because they involved at least one major trip to the grocery store and cooking dinner every night.

Of course my eldest cousin and I thought it was all pretty cool.  We got to go swimming every day, get ice cream from the truck that visited Clear Pond and there were other kids to play with.  When we went to the grocery store, there was walking the town line tiled into the floor.  We'd usually make a day trip to the Edeville Railroad to ride through the cranberry bogs or to Plymouth to see historical things.

But by the time I started school, we stopped making those trips.  In fact, even just with my parents I didn't travel much.  We did day trips to Queens in the summers of 1964 and '65 for the World's Fair.  I would spend one or two weeks at Girl Scout camp.  That was it.

Then we moved.  That move seemed to finally establish my parents and I as the family without all the rest of her family.  The second summer we were in our new home, Dad took a week off from work and we drove to VT.  We stayed in nice little family-run New England motels and saw pretty little towns in the Bennington area.  The three of us enjoyed it so much we did it for 3 more summers.  One year going up the 91 corridor to Springfield and Bellows Falls, another going up to Burlington and Shelburn. Sometimes we stayed at Howard Johnson's and others at those small family businesses.

The summer after I graduated high school we went even farther north.  We took the ferry from Burlington VT and went to Canada.  We stayed in Montreal for 3 days.  It was the first time we stayed in a hi-rise hotel.  We road the Metro all over the city and out to the Montreal Expo grounds.

After working for a year, I began my four year enlistment in the Navy.  I took my first long-distance train ride on the Silver Service to Orlando for boot camp.  Of course that wasn't a vacation.  But once basic training was over, my actual duty stations were vacation destinations - Boston and Bermuda.  I never took multiple days off though to actually explore those places.  I went home instead.

Upon discharge I began my many years of being broke.  Even marriage didn't improve the financial situation.  We did however, make one trip to MI just as a couple and again years later with 2 kids to camp with my ex's sisters.  Then since we had invested in camping gear, we went to a state park for a week two summers.  It was terrible.  Pack up your whole life in a van, have to heat up dish water to do the dishes, cook all the meals, shower with 20 other people and live in a fabric house?  Vacation for some but not for me, especially when the lack of fun continued upon arriving back home and having to unpack, wash, put away, etc everything.

Then I was single again and still broke.  Time off from work was spent on day trips or just hanging out at home.  Sometimes I'd travel to VT to hang out with family and that was fun and relaxing but still not how people define vacation.

Around Christmas of last year, I started considering the little bit of extra money I had from my mother's estate.  Originally I thought about doing a tour package to Scotland and Ireland.  It was an ad that popped up somewhere on the internet that sparked a very old take the train across the country.  At first I looked at package vacations but none of them included more than two cities I really wanted to visit.  So then I thought - could I put together an adventure that took me to places I wanted to go?  I sat down and began pouring over Amtrak's website.

By the time I was done putting The Great Rail Adventure together I had discovered USA Rail Passes and how great the phone reps for Amtrak are.  The final route was the Northeast Regional from Bridgeport to New York Penn, the Lakeshore Ltd to Chicago, the Empire Builder to Portland, Coast Starlight to LA and the Texas Eagle to Austin and then back to Chicago.  With the rail pass and accommodations upgrades, it all came in under $2000.  On to planning lodging.  I found wonderfully quirky and affordable hotels in Portland and LA.  I braved an Airbnb in Austin and finally splurged on a fancy lakefront hotel in Chicago.

The final travel did have some changes.  Those started with being told that the leg on the Coast Starlight was canceled due to a freight train accident in Northern California.  Now I had to make airline reservations from PDX to LAX.  This earned me an extra day in Portland.  Next was an email explaining track repairs in WA that would have me detraining in Pasco WA at 5:30 a.m. to travel to Portland.  Thankfully I now belonged to multiple Amtrak groups on Facebook.  Folks on the Empire Builder group suggested changing to the northern spur of that train to Seattle and taking The Cascades down to Portland.  In the end all of it came together like a perfect puzzle and resulted in my first ever two-week long vacation.

In coming posts I will share each leg of my journey so I hope you will come back so I can help you live a bit vicariously and maybe encourage you to venture out into this big beautiful world.

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