DIY or Die

How to take a cross-country [rail]road trip

By Theresa Walsh

You're just a few weeks away from the end of another semester, and you want to put off the real world--or the couch--that awaits you. Time for a road trip! Instead of racking up miles on your Honda, opt for a more eco-friendly route via train. This twist on an American classic accommodates any amount of time or money you're willing to spend.

Plan Your Getaway illustration

PLAN YOUR GETAWAY Start planning your trip by visiting the Amtrak Web site. Mix and match routes for a trip worthy of American History 101 credit. You can cross the country in four days, riding from the industrial northeast to the sunny San Fran Bay. And it won't leave you penniless; a 12-segment, 30-day tour costs only $579, leaving room for hotels and excursions.

chuggin' along illustration

CHUGGIN' ALONG Since most of the Amtrak trains have open seating, make friends with your neighbors--not only for good conversation, but also for advice on where to go and what to see at your next stop. Use the perks of the railway; the open windows and wide aisles make train travel best for taking in the scenery. The chugging may lull you to sleep, but don't nap for too long--you might miss the world's largest frying pan in London, K.Y.

Destination Elation illustration

DESTINATION ELATION Once the train hits the station, get ready to explore. Use a Lonely Planet or Frommer's guidebook to map out the must-sees, but rely on locals to point out the hidden gems. Get a taste of each city's classic fare: savory lobster in Maine or BBQ ribs in Texas. If you can afford it, try to pick up a piece of each city to bring home.

memorabilia illustration

HOME SWEET HOME? Once you're back in your suburban basement, keep your train trip memories on their track. Buy a cheap U.S. map to chart your trip with tacks. Place pictures, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia into a scrapbook of your adventures. Create a Road Trip '09 playlist for your iPod so you won't forget the tunes of your travel. After all, you can't appreciate foreign soils until you've been knee-deep in your own.