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An early web tagline for Backroad Planet was  “Your Road Trip and Fly-Drive Travel Source.” One of our Twitter followers recently inquired, “What is a fly-drive?” I explained that a fly-drive is when you fly to a destination, rent a car, and take a road trip. For example, when Jerry and I visited Costa Rica, we flew into San José, rented a car, and drove around the country for a week visiting incredible locations such as Villa Hermosa and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Although rental cars are great, wouldn’t it be even better to have your own vehicle at those distant destinations? If your distant destination happens to be in the Orlando, FL, or Washington, DC, metro areas, you just might be in luck.

Enter Amtrak’s Auto Train.

This specialty train is similar to most other Amtrak trains, but the Auto Train let’s you take your vehicle with you. Following the same general route as Interstate Highway 95, the Amtrak Auto Train runs daily in both directions between its northern terminus in Lorton, Virginia, and its southern terminus in Sanford, Florida.

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 Arriving at the Sanford Auto Train station. 

We took the northbound Auto Train from Sanford to Lorton to expedite one of our more epic road trips. From Lorton, we drove north to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and then made our way back home to Central Florida through the course of the following week.

The week-long itinerary included:

  • Manassas National Battlefield Park
  • George Washington’s Mt. Vernon
  • Gettysburg National Military Park for the 150th Anniversary
  • Eisenhower National Historic Site
  • Antietam National Battlefield
  • Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
  • Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park
  • Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina
  • Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Pinebox, my North Georgia mountain cabin
  • Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class in Plains, Georgia

You could say I’m a bit of an overplanner, but hey, we had a blast driving through all the scenic and historical sites along our southbound route.

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 Our trusty Mercury Mountaineer waiting to load up on the autorack. 

One of the benefits of Auto Train travel is that you don’t have to check baggage. Your luggage is safely packed in your car. You will, however, need a small overnight bag or daypack because your vehicle will be inaccessible during the 17.5-hour Auto Train ride.

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 Cool station art! 

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 The Sanford station was packed. 

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 More cool art! 

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 Check-in. 

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 Jerry ready to board. 

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Shortly after boarding we attended a welcome wine and cheese tasting in the lounge car. Note: We have read this amenity was discontinued in March of 2014.

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The bi-level Amtrak Superliner sleeping car options are a bedroom with private restroom and shower, or a convertible roomette that accommodates one or two passengers. You may also book regular passenger coach seats. We opted for a roomette with nearby restroom and shower facilities.

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 How long until we leave? 

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 I don’t think we’re moving. 

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 The dining car. 

Meals are included with your ticket purchase, and our evening dinner was a pleasant and entertaining part of the journey. We were seated with a mother and her adult son and enjoyed casual conversation during the several courses of the meal.

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When we returned to our roomette, our sleeping car attendant had converted it for sleeping. The two lower seats created a comfortable bed for one, and an upper berth had been lowered. I claimed the roomy bottom bed, and Jerry got the windowless claustrophobic upper berth. Perhaps not ideal sleeping arrangements, but definitely better than sitting in a coach seat for the overnight run.

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 The lower bed. 

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Complimentary bottled water and coffee are readily available in the sleeping cars. Believe it or not, the onboard coffee dispenser produced some of the most flavorful joe I have ever tasted. When I returned home, I ordered some of the Dutch Douwe Egbert coffee online, but alas it was not the same.

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 Crossing the James River near Richmond, Virginia. 

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 The Lorton, Virginia, clock tower. 

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 Let’s go pick up the car! 

After disembarking in Lorton, we waited an hour or so in a lovely outdoor waiting area for the Mountaineer to be offloaded, although the wait would have been lovelier if we had not spent the time dodging smokers who typically gravitate to us. You can avoid the wait for your car by purchasing Priority Vehicle Offloading, a $50.00 upgrade.


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Howard Blount is founder and co-owner of the travel blog BackroadPlanet.com. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with the likes of Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Although his road trips are financed by his day job as a middle school teacher, Howard would much rather be doing anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, restored classic movies on Blu-ray, HDTV, autumn, sandhill cranes, hot springs, Florida springs, rain and other gloomy weather, log cabins, cracker shacks, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, museums, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, scenic and historical sites, castles, cathedrals, the Civil War, cold sheets, National and State Park Passports, quotes, the Rambos, Dionne Warwick, Steely Dan, Doobies, Diet Pepsi, Fish City Grill, anything Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists. And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.
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