All Articles The joy of solo travel on a 46-hour train ride

The joy of solo travel on a 46-hour train ride

See the best of Glacier National Park from the observation car.

Sojourner White
By Sojourner White2 Oct 2023 3 minutes read
A snowy mountainous landscape can be seen through large windows in a train car
Amtrak train traveling through Glacier National Park
Image: Mike Petrucci/Unsplash

My solo trip at a glance:

Hometown: Milwaukee

Destination: Portland, OR

Number of nights: One night on the train, two nights in Portland

Biggest fear was: Getting bored on the 46-hour ride

Most excited for: Gliding through Glacier National Park and eating my way through Portland

Why I wanted to go:

As an avid train traveler who has taken three overnight train trips in the U.S., my goal is to experience all of the country’s most scenic train routes—and that was my singular motivation for this journey. I have easy access to Amtrak in Milwaukee, and I decided to focus on the Empire Builder route: a 46-hour trip from Milwaukee to Portland, OR, that travels through Glacier National Park. The last time I visited Portland the weather wasn’t great, so I decided a repeat (solo) visit was in order. I booked a trip for late spring and packed my bags.

How I balanced spontaneity with planning:

A woman smiles up at a camera from the seat of a train car with her backpack on
Sojourner White aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder train
Image: Sojourner White

Aside from the train ride itself, I didn’t have much planned for this trip. I do like to be prepared for all sorts of downtime—I normally bring my laptop, a deck of cards, a few books, and a journal. I also listen to music and download some favorite podcasts like The Trip That Changed Me and Too Smart For This.

Beyond the train ride, I love the Portland food scene so I let my taste buds guide me once I arrived (I asked a friend for a few recommendations, too). It was a welcome break from train food, which is admittedly not the greatest. (That said, I always love train desserts like blueberry cheesecake and chocolate cake.)

The people I met:

I always chit-chat on train rides. As a solo traveler, I’m often seated next to others in the dining car. On this trip, I met two best friends who take trains to meet each other all over the country. I also spoke with another solo traveler who moved from Chicago to Montana and takes the train often; she had tons of tips on where to sit for the best views (both sides are good, but the right side is best).

If I have only one solo-travel tip, it's this:

As a solo train traveler, I always carry a pack of playing cards. You never know who you’ll meet in the observation car—card games like Speed and Go Fish are great ways to break the ice.

How I kept costs at bay:

When booking my overnight scenic train trips, I always splurge on the roomette, which offers a bed, personal space, and all meals included. On this trip, I balanced the cost by booking a shared room ($50/night) at Lolo Pass, a Portland hostel. Each of the four-bed, all-female dorms had multiple showers instead of just one, which made me less nervous about cleanliness. I also walked or took public transportation where I could, though I did Uber a few times in Portland. For food, I allowed myself one or two splurge dinners.

The times when I felt safe/unsafe:

An exterior view of the Portland Union Station centered on a set of train tracks
Union Station in downtown Portland
Image: samvaltenbergs/Getty Images

I find the scenic train rides I’ve taken in the U.S. to be the safest I’ve felt as a solo traveler. Since I booked a roomette, I felt at peace: No one bothered me and my room locked from the inside. In Portland, I felt safe walking around the city—even at night. The hostel had key-card access and lockers.

What I learned about myself:

It always surprises me how comfortable I feel on a moving train; I enjoyed sitting in the observation car and gliding through Glacier. I didn't get nauseous or bored, which showed, yet again, that I can entertain myself without doing—well, much of anything at all.

My Portland cheat sheet:

Eat:

  • Pan-Caribbean Sousól has sultry solo date vibes, a dimly lit atmosphere, and couch seating. Order the sweet-but-spicy trini-Chinese chicken wings.
  • For a lower-key meal, sit at a shared table at Lil’ America. The menu is stacked with Korean dishes, Southern classics, Mexican fare, and more.

Play:

  • If you’re looking for a calm and serene scene in Portland, visit Powell’s City of Books and pick up a few new reads—perfect for the train ride home.
  • Get some fresh air with a stroll through the Portland Japanese Garden, which relaxing, reflective down time after the long ride.

Stay:

  • Beyond being budget-friendly, Lolo Pass has a bar with an inexpensive happy hour in the lobby—an easy spot for making new friends.

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Sojourner White
Sojourner White is a remote social worker, award-winning travel journalist, and train travel queen. Hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin she has been a digital nomad and called both Spain and Germany home. Through her platform Sojournies, she helps 9-5ers fulfill their career goals and bucket list dreams to find freedom and flexibility outside the office. Sojourner has been featured in Buzzfeed, PopSugar, The Matador Network, HuffPost, and Thrillist and written for Travel + Leisure, USA Today, Fodor’s, Insider, Lonely Planet, Viator, and more.