musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Take a Ride on ‘The Reading’…

Discovery: you can do a lot of Reading on the Train!

Last weekend we took a four-day trip to Chicago, our first time taking an American train. We wanted a little get-away before I have my second knee replacement at the end of January, and we hadn’t been able to travel for quite awhile due to my chronic-pain-mobility circumstances. The train seemed like a good experiment, and we had a very simple itinerary to not overtask my remaining bad knee.

I admit that I’m a somewhat anxious traveler — traveling is all about having new experiences, and I can get to fretting because of the lack of certainty in traveling scenarios. However, I don’t want my fear to hold me back, so I go into research mode to learn what I can, and then try to calm down my freaky little lizard brain.

As a large-bodied and somewhat disabled person, I wanted to look into how to best navigate the train experience. I asked around on Facebook and online groups and got a lot of great information and suggestions about that, and train travel in general. This helped enormously, and our experience was all the better for it.

We left last Thursday and came back on Sunday.  Our two 8-hour train rides were leisurely and very pleasant. The coach seats were comfortable, with much more seat-width and legroom than coach airplane seats (what a relief!). We packed a small cooler with snacks and a picnic lunch, to avoid the dining car scene. We enjoyed reading our books, looking out the window, napping, visiting the upper-level observation car. We listened to the variety of train announcements, including the cafe attendant who sang all her lengthy info as if we were in a musical (oh yes!).

We took turns leaving our seats to explore, so that one of us could keep watch over our luggage (we’d been cautioned by a friend in the travel business about this). With my mobility issues and the rocking of the train, I helped out my stability by grabbing on to things as I walked, to seat tops, overhead bins, doorways. I had heard the stairways were narrow and steep, and they were. My large body fit okay, and I had enough strength to grab the railings and pull myself up. I took my time and it was do-able. I was glad I got to experience the observation car, even if it was mostly overcast and not particularly scenic.

Some helpful tips and observations for those with modest disability issues:

  • Bags can be checked, which helps eliminate the inconvenience of trying to lug, store and monitor bulky bags while on the train.
  • Reserve a seat on the lower level to not have to deal with the steep and narrow stairs.
  • When it’s time to board, go up to the conductor and ask to board early. I went to the front of the long line, explained that I needed extra time and couldn’t stand in line. I was allowed to go right away, and we had to walk several train car lengths to board, so the extra time was necessary. On the ride home, we bypassed the line and received a ride on a cart for the extra long walk it would’ve been.

Overall, we had a great first experience riding the train, and we liked it enough to talk about doing a longer trip sometime in the future, and then we’d probably try out a sleeper car. There are pros and cons to taking the train over driving or flying. These are ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Flying vs. Trains — pros: faster, and obviously you can fly overseas; cons: more stress and hassle dealing with airports, smaller and less comfortable coach seating, baggage allowance more strict, confined to one seat during trip.

Driving vs. Trains — pros: you are on your own schedule, more freedom during the journey to set your own pace and environment, you have a car to use when you arrive, probably cheaper; cons: more stressful to deal with traffic and pay attention, you can’t read or nap while driving, not as relaxing to drive.

Of course, trains do have their cons. We were warned about delays, that trains can get way off schedule and you are not guaranteed to arrive on time. Sometimes they get quite late, and we did hear stories about that. We were okay with that possibility, since we didn’t have a schedule at our destination.

I was pleased to have my travel anxieties dissipate during this trip, especially concerning my issues of disability and size. Thanks to everyone who gave info and suggestions. We are looking forward to our next journey by rail.

{Photos by Bob Alberti, and Sandra-Ahn-Mode courtesy of }


  1. Christine Mounts

    Glad you had fun! Best wishes on your next surgery!

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thanks Christine! And good luck to you in planning your next trip with your mom and family.

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