The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

by Carol Voigts /
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Jun 07, 2008 / 1 comments

The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

We’re the grandparents. We wanted to travel with the grandkids. They’re usually in school when we want to travel and they work in the summer. So our scheme was to go on vacation with them for spring break. and of course to introduce them to our favorite mode of travel--the train. Our proposal to take our son, wife and two teenagers with us on a trek to San Antonio via Amtrak was met with pleasure by them. Eager to go South, excited to see their daughter/sister and family, and game for breaking the winter doldrums this year, we booked our trip for seven! (another teen friend was invited too.) Our grandson was just under 16 so he’s half price, and our granddaughter got her student card so she got the 15% off. Seniors get a discount too so the price of a round trip for six was less than $1300. We chose to go coach, which is acceptable travel for teenagers, but we could have used six hours of horizontal sleep. A two person compartment is a pretty reasonable price but family accommodations can get pricey. The coach accommodations are certainly far more comfortable than bus or airline seating, and you have the option to go wander around the train.

The Amtrak train to San Antonio is direct and supposedly 31 hours. We made it in 37 hours. Grandpa and I as usual enjoyed the passing of the towns, the fields, the bluebonnet covered pastures, the rushing trains whirring by. We amused ourselves with counting the cars and reading the labels on the Union Pacific freights. The kids and I played my new travel version of Scrabble in the club car. (I could hardly believe they’d never played that old standard game.)  

flood waters on the Mississippi. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

bluebonnets from the Amtrak. The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

Isn’t it fortunate that the night-time travel is mostly going past corn and soybean fields? We didn’t miss too much scenery that way. I’m wondering if that’s what Amtrak plans when they make out their schedule. Jack and I had printed out the itinerary "with places of interest" that Amtrak has on line. I was busy reading these out loud as we approached each place. Actually this proved to be a conversation opener in the club car too, as the informal setting had all of us talking to each other as we enjoyed the scenery. Folks who had been there interjected other bits of information into the conversations. Geography 101!

The first evening’s sunset had the attention of everyone and their cameras. The St. Louis arch had the grandchildren fascinated. The floodwaters were just receding in Missouri. As the train passed by Texarkana , we had to shoot the pic of the mileage on the station. Everyone rushed to the windows to see Daily Square in Dallas. I think we saw "Austin City Limits," one of our favorite music programs, as we sped by. We were fascinated at the juxtaposition of skyscrapers and refineries at several of the skylines.

Daley Square. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

Though the coach seats are comfortable, the sociability of the club car had many of us just sitting there reading our books, playing gin rummy and Scrabble, listening to stories of new found friends. Pete was someone who takes a couple of trips every year on Amtrak. He told me he just gets that urge, his wife says "go," and he’s off for a week to any number of places he likes to visit. His little food kit he’d developed over the years was an insight on how I could pare down my own snack sack. (One trick was he used plastic coffee containers to carry his sandwiches and then he disposed of it.) As he left us, he settled down at the other end of the car and acquainted himself with a quiet fellow who I thought was almost a recluse. Pete drew him out with his friendly way and we all found out that Fredrick had just become a US citizen. The word spread through the train over the next 24 hours and many spoke to him to wish him well. He got off at Dallas with a smile on his face and a wave to the rest of us.

Two of our meals we took at the dining car. Their elegant service and great food were conducive for pleasant conversations with our table mates. Again we found new stories, and interesting tips on train travel from fellow travelers. The girls savored the waiter service and leisurely dining, but our grandson was eager to finish his food and get back to whatever he was doing back at his coach seat. The rest of our meals and snacks were taken from our packed knapsack.. We had apples, snack bars, Vienna sausages, crackers, peanut butter, cheese and other savories and of course oatmeal raisin cookies. I had invested in a little heater coil to make hot water. My tea bags and our metal cups weren’t too elegant but a cup of tea any way you have it, is always a pick-me-up.

The trouble with arriving at your destination with seven is no cab can take you and you need two cars to pick you up at the station. Our grandson-in-law, and his father both came to gather us up. Our granddaughter screamed with delight at our arrival. The next day we just crashed, and then made arrangements to rent a large van for our planned trek to the Gulf at Corpus Christi and Padre Island. For Northerners who have just been assaulted with five months of blizzards, slush, blizzards, subzero, blizzards, shoveling and more blizzards--seemingly never ending, there was no question we had to make it to the Water! And that we did. Andy drove us all, including our newest great -grandson, to the spots we had determined we needed to get to in an 8 hour visit. What fun the web is in planning a trip, quick or extended, to eliminate tourist traps and find the essentials!

The soothing waters of the ocean. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family


Even Jack gets wet! From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family


Of course, that ocean breeze and the salty waves refreshed our spirits. The surfing kept the teenagers as well as their dad busy for several hours. As we are beach bums in Michigan during our short season, sand between our toes is an essential feeling that will revive everyone of us who live on Lake Michigan. The day ended with us splurging on seafood at just the right crab shack.

We kept the van for one more day so we could all "do" the San Antonio city center. What can you say about the River Walk in San Antonio except that it is one of the great places to visit in our country. Spectacular at the very least! But Jack and I were soon ready to go on to other photo ops, and made our way over to the Alamo. I saw the history film again and Jack took pictures of EVERYTHING!

The Alamo. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

 It’s such a small world! As we approached the entrance of the Alamo, there was a couple we knew from a little village in our county in northern Michigan. Meeting someone from Onekama, imagine that! We moved on to the Tower of the Americas and spent almost two hours in the restaurant at the top. An aerial tour all the way around the city while enjoying our meal was well worth the price. Jack’s comment was "Well, a $70 meal fare is a much smaller price than a helicopter ride and we ate too." We got terrific aerial pictures of the entire circumference of the city’s center.

San Antonio Amtrak Station. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

a view of San Antonio from the Tower of the Americas. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

As we were tiring out by 6 pm, Andy took Jack and me home and then went back downtown where all the rest of the group was ready to stay until there was nothing more to do. They finally arrived home about 11 pm. We had already downloaded our day’s pictures into the computer and Jack was busy editing.

The trip back home seemed boring to the teenagers, and they spent their time in their coach seats sleeping as only teens can. Jack and I got more pictures of things we knew we had missed on the way down. I wrote down things I wanted to Google more information about when I got home. There was an old installation that looked like military barracks. We found out from our Google search later that it was the Jefferson Barracks from the 1840’s.

Jefferson Barracks. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

An exciting and strange happening on board was a passenger who insisted on smoking several times until he finally got put off the train and into a cop car in a little Missouri town. It didn’t help that he had been drinking to excess, too. We all watched the unloading of our "character" and were glad the train crew handled such a situation with aplomb. Somebody got out a guitar and we sang for a while in the club car late at night. I learned a new way to play Scrabble from one of the women who was traveling with her niece for a Spring break trip back home to San Antonio. She was a bilingual teacher in Grand Rapids. As we talked together late into the night, we found we had several mutual friends. An annoying fellow, stoked up with too much liquor, joined our conversation for a little while but soon moved on to another table.

St. Louis Arch. From The Zen of Traveling Retired: The Karma of Traveling With Family

By the time we got our connections in Chicago, picked up our car in Michigan City, and drove the three more hours home, we were definitely brim full of a wonderful trip. My observation of traveling with teenagers is twofold. Make sure you have lovely grandchildren with which to travel! And then just ignore their complaints about the trip being too long. They will get over it and remember only the "ZEN" of their trip.


Carol Voigts is Co-Editor of Retiree Travel here at




Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 6 months ago

    carol - i think that intergenerational travel is just the best. Your stories made me feel like I was there, with you. You meet the coolest people!


    Jessie Voigts


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