By: Lance Van Auken
We’re zipping along I-95 as I write this, near the Virginia/North Carolina border I think. My wife, Robin, is reading a book. My name’s Lance.
To be clear, I am not at the wheel, although I have driven this route between the Northeast US and Florida many times. No, we’re not in a driverless vehicle.
Actually, we’re along-SIDE I-95, comfortably situated in Amtrak’s Auto Train.
Vehicles on the interstate, when we can see them from the big window of our sleeper car, seem to be moving well enough. Surely, though, there’s a 10-mile backup ahead. There always was when I drove it.
I gave up on long-distance hauls, which seemed fun way back when in the pre-back/butt/neck-ache era. We’ve taken the Auto Train a half-dozen times and we’ll always choose it.
Retirement for me came a little earlier than I expected. The company where I worked in Pennsylvania offered accelerated exits to longtime employees because of the pandemic. After a quarter of a century there and several important-sounding titles, including vice president, I took the offer.
Robin and I are in our early 60s, and not ready to entirely call it quits. She’s part of the gig economy, helping to shepherd new museums into existence with writing and researching. The great thing is, all of her work is online and via phone.
I’ll be helping her when possible, but I’d really like to play more golf if you want to know the truth. I also like to dabble in carpentry, having outfitted our Pennsylvania home with built-in bookcases, benches, shelving, and the like.
But first, travel.
After much debate about whether to hold onto the Pennsylvania home or sell, we sold—in a seller’s market happily enough. In a rare fit of prescience, we bought a second home in Florida several years ago during a buyer’s market. It’s been rented out since then. Our renter’s lease ends about a year from now, so that leaves us without a home base for the time being.
Fortune smiled on us again, as our daughter gave us a car—a snazzy Audi convertible—for our 40th anniversary this past spring. We sold our 11-year-old Ford F-150. Our Audi is somewhere behind us as I write this, along with dozens of other vehicles belonging to our fellow train passengers.
It’s the “auto” in Auto Train that we like the most. Taking the train is fun, and even romantic. We jammed our little Audi with about 200 pounds of luggage—another advantage over flying. Amtrak doesn’t care how much stuff we put in the car.
But, not having to deal with the craziness of I-95 is the best.
If driving, we would have stayed at least one night in a hotel, and put a thousand miles or so on our car. If flying, we would have gotten there sooner, but then we’d have to rent a car. Neither of those options results in having good food, and both involve tons of stress.
All in, the Auto Train is a bit more expensive than driving or flying. But it’s worth it.
Here’s why: At the moment, I am sipping a nice Sauvignon Blanc we picked up at Food Lion before boarding the train, which is zipping along at about 65 mph. They definitely frown on that while driving, by the way.
Food in airports and on road trips is problematic for people like us, who try to stick to Keto, more or less. The complementary meal we had an hour ago was not great, but still pretty good—far better than anything we might have gotten on the road, or in an airport. We brought along healthy snacks—to complement the white wine of course.
So the plan is to be “Hobos in an Audi” for a while, staying at Airbnbs and taking our time to see some of the things we always wanted to see when we didn’t have the time, or the money, to see them. (Note: We’re not wealthy by any means, but we have a nest egg, our children don’t need our money, and we’re frugal travelers.)
This first trip of my semi-retirement is to visit our daughter in Miami. She’s getting married at Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West later in the month, so that will be amazing.
I’ll update this blog as our adventure continues, with details to come on our Key West visit, but here are some of the longer-range plans…
After returning to the States, we’ll head back to Europe in April 2022 on a Royal Caribbean ship, where we’ll visit Portugal, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Then we’ll maybe bop around Europe for a month or two before returning.
Hopefully, the world will be back to something resembling normal, pandemic-wise, and we won’t have any major issues. Either way, we’ll keep you informed.
Until next time, safe travels. We’ve crossed into North Carolina, by the way.
About the Author
Lance Van Auken retired in 2020 from Little League Baseball and Softball in Williamsport, PA, where he served as Vice President. While at Little League, he was liaison to The White House during President George W. Bush’s Tee Ball on the South Lawn initiative. As spokesman for Little League, he has been interviewed on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ESPN, MSNBC, PBS, and in hundreds of newspapers. Lance also served for 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Military Policeman and Journalist. He now enjoys traveling with his wife, Robin, and writing about it. Oh, and golf. He likes golf, but isn’t very good at it.