Tips for riding the Amtrak Empire Builder Coach Class

I’m not the biggest fan of air travel, so when it came time to plan my trip from Chicago to Seattle my mind was instantly searching for any other way to get there. I had never taken an Amtrak train before, but after doing some research on the Empire Builder route, it seemed like such a beautiful way to see America.

We bought coach seats, which meant that we had to sit, sleep and do whatever else we could to keep us occupied in that seat. There was no bed for us to lay down in at the end of a long day of exploring the U.S. the old fashioned way, which definitely had its negatives.

The total duration of our trip to Seattle was 47 hours. It sounds much more lovely and quick than when you are actually on the train. Two straight days of doing anything can become extremely boring.

Before we dive into the tips, let me preface this by saying that I actually really enjoyed the trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder once we hit Montana all the way into Washington, but if you know anything about Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, you are aware of how boring these states can be to drive through/take a train through.

While trying to prepare myself for what to expect riding coach on the Amtrak, I really couldn’t find much other than a few slightly helpful Youtube videos and a couple of vague articles. So, I figured I’d share my tips after going in almost blind and riding the Empire Builder coach class.

  1. Comfort Essentials

The coach seats are sneakily uncomfortable. At first sit, you will probably say something like “oh wow, these aren’t that bad”, but trust me, it gets worse. They do recline, but not nearly enough for a good night of sleep. There is also a foot rest at the bottom of the seat in front of you, which can make relaxing a little bit easier.

Bring a neck pillow, not a real pillow. I can’t stress this enough. Unless you end up lucky enough to not be on a sold out train (like we were) and no one ends up sitting next to you, in which case you could probably lay across both seats and have a decent sleep with your regular-sized pillow, then having a neck pillow is a much more comfortable option. We had both with us on our trip, I tried sleeping with the regular-sized pillow and could not get comfortable for the life of me, but once I switched to the neck pillow I was out like a light.

Don’t forget a blanket. Even if it’s a small little throw, it will make your journey so much more cozy. It makes the coach seats seem a little bit less like coach seats. Hopefully, it will distract you a little bit more from how much you wish you had a sleeper car.

Not necessary, but I suggest bringing some comfy shoes/slippers/shoes you don’t really care about to wear around the train. The bathrooms get a little bit grimy after two days of constant use, especially with how small they are, so having something you don’t really care about makes stepping into there a little bit easier.

2. Snacks + bottled water

The Amtrak food is a little bit pricey, and let’s be honest, they can get away with it because there is nowhere else to eat, even at the long stops (we did see some people order a pizza to get dropped off at one of our stops prior to arriving.. we were so jealous). Dinner is about $18-30 per person and it’s just about what you would expect from railroad food in taste.

Unless you are really great at packing food in a small cooler, you may run into having to purchase food once or twice. They do have a snack car on the Empire Builder (not sure about other routes) at the bottom of the observation car which has some microwavable snacks and drinks, but they aren’t the best. I got a microwaved bagel, took a bite and immediately threw it away.

I would suggest just carrying on a bag or cooler filled with snacks that could potentially replace a few meals, unless you have the funds and are wanting to buy all the meals on the train. The coach passengers meals are not included.

Bottled water is a huge must-have. First of all, you want one bottle reserved just for brushing your teeth.. because the sinks get pretty gross and dirty, the water is from a holding tank, etc. Second, you just need water. Pack as many as you can in random bags.

3. Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes

You are not the first passenger ever riding on the train, which means that there have been other people sitting in those exact same seats for hours on end. Bring some disinfectant wipes to totally sanitize your area (pull-down tables, arm rests, basically anything you can) and you will  be surprised how much dirt you pick up.

I know by this point you probably think that this train must be disgusting, or that I am a total germaphobe. The second is true, the first is up to your interpretation. But, carry some hand sanitizer with you because, again, you are around a lot of people.

4. Take advantage of smoke-break stops

There are plenty of stops along your route, but there are some that are longer than others and trust me, you’ll want to take advantage. The majority of stops are about 3-5 minutes long as passengers load and unload. But, the smoke break stops are anywhere from 10-45 minutes.

If you’re anything like me you will be crawling out of you skin by the time you reach one of the stops, so get out stretch those legs and make some friends with people who are on the trip along with you.

5. Sleeping

I kind of covered this already with the pillow situation, but sleeping is pretty tough in the coach seats. First of all, the comfort is a big issue, but you will find what works for you, you have plenty of time if you’re going the whole route.

Then, you have to hope that your fellow passengers are respectful and quiet at night.

Just because you go to sleep doesn’t mean that the train stops. You will continue picking up more passengers all through the night, which brings the added noise of people throwing their luggage up top or being a little bit too talkative. We luckily only ran into this once, and we took this train roundtrip, so it wasn’t a huge issue.

If you’re traveling with someone you are comfortable sleeping next to (i.e. significant other), try out some weird contortions like laying your legs on them. It’s worth a shot.

They make the announcements for breakfast in the dining car starting at 8 am over the speakers, so don’t expect to sleep past then unless you have quality noise-cancelling headphones or can sleep through anything. The morning views are incredible and worth being awake, anyway.

6. The Observation Car should be your BFF

The train comes equipped with a train car filled with seats and tables looking out with floor-to-ceiling windows, which makes the journey a lot less painful.

In the summer months (we went in June), a few Trails & Rails guides from the National Park Service give a tour of all the beautiful scenery you pass through, starting in Montana into Washington. This was so much fun and so memorable for us. If you get a great crew, you will learn a lot.

The observation car is also a great place to make some friends. Remember, everyone else is stuck on the train too and it’s interesting to meet people from all over the country and world (we met a couple from Australia!).


Don’t let these tips/warnings detour you from taking the Amtrak. Honestly, we did enjoy ourselves, it was just a little bit too long for our taste. We also took the Empire Builder roundtrip, so it was a total of four straight days of our vacation stuck on a train. It was such an experience to see the country as people did back before car travel became popularized.

Here’s a few photos from the windows of the train:

Let me know in the comments if you have ever taken the train, or if you have a trip coming up tell me about it!


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DIY Chalkboard Ornaments

I got into the holiday spirit a little earlier than usual this year. I had my tree up before thanksgiving, some of my holiday shopping had already been completed (this is very unusual) and I can’t stop listening to the holiday radio stations. Buddy The Elf, move over.. Emily’s in town.

I like my tree to have a very simple, classic look. These ornaments totally fit that description. They’re simple and you can put whatever you want on them.

Tom and I were super excited to make ornaments. He made two and I made two. We want to make it a tradition to make some each year. It’s a perfect thing to do with a significant other, siblings or any other friends and family as a personal touch to each tree.

Grab a mug of hot cocoa and get to work!

*I must admit, I got a little bit caught up in the moment of decorating them so my pictures aren’t as “step by step” as I would have liked.. but I will try to do my best to explain. These are VERY easy*

 

What You’ll Need:

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  • Plain Wooden Ornament (got mine at Michael’s for $2 each)
  • Chalkboard Paint
  • White Chalkboard Marker
  • Silver Chalkboard Marker (or whatever colors you like)
  • Small Paint Brush (I got a cheap foam one)
  • Little Cup For Paint

(The Star ornament was an added thing. I didn’t include it in this DIY cause it turned out kinda ugly)

How To:

  1. Gather your supplies and prepare the work space by putting down newspaper or an old sheet.
  2. Paint your wooden ornaments with the chalkboard paint. Make a decently big circle, but leave a small border of the wood all the way around the edge. They need to sit for 30 min – 1 hour before adding anything onto them. They’ll look something like this:IMG_2949
  3. After they dry, think of a lovely holiday design to put on them. I decided to put a snowflake on one and a tree on the other. Tom got fancy and did a “countdown to christmas” and a cute couple ornament with our names on it. (Maybe he should be the blogger in the relationship). Use the colored chalkboard markers to complete your design.
  4. That is really all there is to it. Allow them to dry overnight before hanging them on the tree. Here’s how ours turned out:

 

As always, thank you so much for reading.

I will be back with more holiday stuff soon!

-Emily

 

DIY Painted Polka Dot Pumpkin

A few days ago, Tom and I decided to go to a local pumpkin patch to grab a few of our own from the fields. It was a wonderful thing to do together and really brought us into the fall spirit. We picked about 6 total pumpkins and some mini pumpkins all for the low price of $15. When the friendly farmer lady told us the price we almost laughed cause we thought she was joking. Even Home Depot charges about $10 for an awful pumpkin.

My advice: always choose the pumpkin patch over large retailers.

The price made us super happy about the pumpkin adventure and we went back to my house to carve them up. We didn’t make any real design plans.. instead we grabbed some knives and cut into them hoping for the best. To the tune of Monster Mash on repeat, Tom chose a simple design: a very simple design. He went with your typical small-faced jack-o-lantern, but it was still adorable because everything he does is adorable to me. I went with a slightly more complex idea.. JACK SKELLINGTON (from Nightmare Before Christmas). I think both of ours turned out perfectly and they now sit proudly outside of my house. They might be rotted out by the time Halloween actually comes, but that’s okay.

It’s really the simple things that bring me so much joy.

Yesterday, I wanted to get a bit crafty with one of my leftover pumpkins. I had heard of “painting pumpkins” and thought it would be an awesome thing to try. I came up with a simple idea: gold paint with black dots. It is so adorable and perfect to add a little bit of flair to your average pumpkin display.

Just in time for pumpkin carving, follow my DIY below if you want to try something new and make your very own PAINTED pumpkin:


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What You’ll Need:

  • Pumpkin of your choice (any size will work)
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Acrylic Paint Brush
  • Cup of Water
  • Paper Plate
  • Old T-Shirt or Newspapers to work on top of

Directions:

  1. First, make sure your pumpkin is rinsed or wiped clean of any dirt (you will run into more if you actually pick it from the field). Working with a clean surface is very important or you will run into problems with the paint sticking. If your pumpkin has a super long stem, cut it shorter before you start. Here’s mine all cleaned up and stem trimmed:

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2. Pick the first color you want to be your “base coat”. I used metallic gold acrylic paint that I found at Michael’s. Squeeze some paint onto your paper plate and begin to paint a thin layer onto the surface of the pumpkin. After it’s evenly coated (it will look very transparent) let it dry for about 20-30 minutes. Here it is with one coat:

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3. If your pumpkin is dry to the touch, you’re ready to apply a second coat. This will probably be ALL YOU NEED. Repeat step 2 by applying an even layer all over the pumpkin. It should look opaque enough, but if it doesn’t you may need to wait another 20 minutes and apply one more coat. Here is how mine looked after the 2nd and final layer:

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4. After waiting 30 minutes for the color to dry.. it’s time to add the polka dots! I used metallic black for my dots, but any color would do the trick. This step takes a little bit of patience and artistic ability since it is KINDA difficult to freehand circles. I drew two different sized dots. Some about the size of a quarter and the others about the size of a nickel. I tried to do an even mix of both for a cool effect. If you use a dark color like black.. you will only need one coat of paint for the dots. Here it is in the beginning after just a few:

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Then I added even more:

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5. Wait for it to fully dry. Clean up all your paint and make sure you rinse the brush for future projects! Use to decorate an indoor area or put it outdoors to add to the jack-o-lanters! It adds a unique, handmade flair to your front step.

Here it is next to my carved pumpkin:

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Thanks for reading and I hope you all try this before the big day which is coming up very soon!

-Emily