Picking between planes and trains and cars

Published7/26/2008 12:58 PM

No matter how wealthy you are, pride suffers no fall when you improvise methods of travel to get around the four-dollar a gallon syndrome.

We see hybrids, bicycles, motorcycles, motor scooters, hitch hiking and car pooling. Probably soon, men and women in business suits will be hopping freight cars to get to work. But according to Amtrak, the oil-price crisis hasn't affected over-all costs by more than a tiny amount from last year to this year, including on vacation trips to yonder.


Some sample regional price increases from a year ago show $2 more that last year's $67 price from Washington to New York Regional Service on coach, $6 more (to $129) on the Acela Express from Washington to New York. On the Capitol Limited from Washington to Chicago the coach class price of $78 is the same as a year ago, and the Silver Service line from Washington to Miami is only $2 more, to $115.

But comparing travel by train vs. plane or auto may be one of those "apples to oranges" arguments. Air travel is quick but minus the sights, unless you're into cloud-counting. Traveling by auto has its scenic rewards but is expensive and tiring. Rail travel is long and tranquil, with visages out the window and leisurely, comfortable meals in a dining car contributing to the clickety clack joy of the trip.

And with a 15 percent discount luring seniors aged 62 and older, a summertime Amtrak excursion from Chicago to some place like Albuquerque, N.M. can make one forget the price of gas. Planning a custom route by Amtrak is made easy on www.amtrak.com. By selecting the Interactive Route Atlas, a traveler may choose a variety of routes, with stopovers for sightseeing along the way.

Just for fun, I cyberspaced a trip to Albuquerque Aug. 4, with overnights for sightseeing in Denver, arriving in Albuquerque Aug. 8 at a senior's cost of $740.10. That may seem expensive, but for the overnight leg of the trip to Denver, I selected a Superliner Roomette, whose two reclining seats convert to a bed, with an upper berth folding down from the wall. The roomette version includes meals, and among the amenities are climate control, individual reading lights, a fold-down table, fresh towels and bed linens, personal service of a bed linen turn-down, coffee, paper, bottled water, daily newspaper.

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If you are still worried by inflated prices, calm down because Albuquerque, while one of the most scenically colorful places in the country, is, according to the American Automobile Assn., the second most affordable city in the U.S., just below Tulsa, Okla.

Seniors are treated in Albuquerque to "Honored Citizen" status which means, among other discounts, that bus fare is only 35 cents a trip to the city's many cultural locations. Old Town, in particular, is unique, with seven wonderful museums, including one that features the world's largest collection of live rattlesnakes. Bypass that one if you wish, but be sure to take in the city's Museum of Art & History and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.

Two other museums not seen elsewhere are the National Atomic Museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and is America's official museum of nuclear science and history, and the Turquoise Museum, where guests can visit the depths of a turquoise mine and study Southwestern jewelry. Old Town, which is centered around the adobe San Felipe de Neri church built in 1793 with five-feet thick walls, boasts about 300 boutiques and other shops.

The city is most famous for two most colorful attractions --- hot air balloons and the culture of Native American Pueblo adobe architecture, dance and crafts. October is when the International Balloon Fiesta is held. More than 700 balloons fill the clear blue skies at a time and is considered to be one of the most photographed events in the world.


Every weekend of the year, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center presents Indian dances and art demonstrations, plus changing exhibitions of food, history and current affairs of the Pueblo people.

The old and famous Route 66 travels through Albuquerque as Central Avenue, with many vintage neon business signs still in place, guiding the traveler past the Rio Grande Botanical Garden, through Old Town and the city's main business district, the restaurants and shops of Nob Hill.

The outskirts of town boast a score of golf courses, hiking trails and spas. The most complete information about this sunny, welcoming town is available from the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau (http://www.itsatrip.org/). And before you leave, tap into the discounts available at http://itsatrip.org/!UserFiles/pdf/ABQ_Coupons.pdf. You'll receive a half-price admission, for instance, for your companion at the Albuquerque Swing & Country Dance Club, up to 50 percent off certain jewelry items at Trader Barb's Gallery, 10 percent off Tours of Old Town, or a chocolate chile pecan pie free with the purchase of 12 bags of chile spiced nut at the Blue Plate Special.
John Hilferty's column for
mature travelers appears
monthly. He can be reached at

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