Healthy Soul

Preparing for the Black history tour on Amtrak

It is really a trip that should be shared, and my friend Valarie from Virginia Beach will be joining me on this Black history tour. We’ll be meeting in Washington, DC. With that settled, there were so many things to put in place.  Well, we are as ready as we’ll ever be. Only a couple of hours before the Amtrak conductor’s “All Aboard!” beckons us.

Amtrak train - we'll be on and off eight times in the next 11 days.

Being comfortable on the train

The beauty of the travelling by train is that we will not be confined to our seats. We can get up and walk around, find a lounge to sit in, set up a card, Backgammon or Scrabble game at a table, and interact with other riders over meals. Conversations with the Amtrak representatives revealed that the menus, accessible at the website, offer a wide selection of reasonably priced meals highlighting regional fare. Of course I’ll have my stash of Kashi and Kind bars as well as Food Should Taste Good sweet potato chips.

When a friend asked whether or not we will bring on pillows and blankets for the nights, we talked about multipurpose articles of clothing like pashminas and large shawls that would serve as wraps, sun dresses as well as blankets and pillows when folded. No, we didn’t want to be lugging lots of things around. In fact, preparing for this trip was a huge lesson in how to be a minimalist.

Headphones will be close at hand to be sure no one will be disturbed when I’m being lulled to sleep by Earl Klugh’s acoustic guitar or enjoying the moving scenery accompanied by Joan Armatrading. Should I ever get tired of hearing my personal music I have a free subscription to Pandora radio on both my laptop and Blackberry.

David Lee, keyboard player; Jennifer, fan; Earl Klugh, acoustic guitarist


As Valarie and I reviewed the schedule, figuring out how much time we had in each place and the things we would be doing, we realized that only three of the ten nights will be on the train. We needed to secure hotel accommodations. I contacted the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Memphis, New Orleans, and Birmingham requesting information about hotels. A representative in each city graciously assisted in not only securing easily accessible accommodations in well-known chains, but also offered recommendations for things to do and suggestions for getting around while visiting. You’ll have to travel vicariously with us to get all the details.

Keeping in touch

The unique feature of this trip is the number of cities we’ll be visiting for only $403.00 in transportation costs. Although the USA Rail Pass for eight stops in 15 days is advertised at $389.00, the ride between Memphis and Jackson is on the Friday of the fourth of July weekend so there was a $14.00 surcharge. Friends and family members all have the itinerary, but we still hear “How will we know for sure where you are on any given day? We want to know that you are safe. We want to know what you are doing. We want to know . . . ”

Keeping in touch and sharing daily activities are now so easy to do.

 Cellphone.

 HD digital camera.

 HD camcorder.

 Laptop with personal data stick for internet access when there are no Wi-Fi hotspots.

Each one has a power cord and an associated USB cable so I have to be sure they are carefully packed. Out comes the Ziploc bags labeled with a marker so that cords/cables for each one are together. And for both the digital camera and the camcorder, I purchased two 8 GB storage cards – would definitely not want to be shooting fantastic pictures or videos only to run out of memory. In addition, the external microphone and the mini tripod for the camcorder need to be included. Yes, family, friends and others, there will be daily blog posts of comments, pictures and videos.

Packing the other stuff

With all the electronic items and accessories carefully packed in the computer bag, thoughts must now turn to the other stuff – clothes, shoes, toiletries – and what they will be packed in. The first concern is easily transportable luggage. Of course, there is always the option to accept the assistance of the friendly Redcap person in each station. Before pulling out the suitcases, I returned to the Amtrak website to review their suggestions. I strongly recommend this website whether planning to travel by train or other type of transportation. Being aware of the weight and measurement limitations for luggage carried on board the train, I pulled out my trusty carry-on and the packing envelopes from Eastern Mountain Sports – EMS to get organized. We decided on one pair of shoes for dining out or going dancing, one pair of walking shoes/sandals for daily wear; and one pair of flip-flops for the Amtrak showers.

Oops, did I say showers on Amtrak? Well, it turned out that I didn’t realize that the first agent I spoke with was saying the showers are only found in the private sleeping units – totally inaccessible to the coach riders. Oh, oh – what do we do for the three overnights on the train? Well, in a conversation with Barbara Morris of Black Culture Tours in Chicago, the Hostelling International was offered as a suggestion. Sure enough a telephone call and a super persuasive conversation resulted in us being able to shower for $10.00 each, with towels provided. Stay tuned for how the shower issue on the other two nights are resolved.

So, what are you doing on your summer vacation?


Click here to read the other posts from Jennifer’s Black History Tour.


  1. I believe we could collaborate on a Tour that would feature First Coast (FL) attractions. I’m Owner / Operator of the St. Augustine Black History Tours (6 years as a Licensed Tour Guide).
    Our itinerary would include:
    Jacksonville for the Ritz/Lavilla, J. P. Smalls (Ball Park) Recreation Area, Kingsley Plantation (with live performance of “THE ORAL HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF ANNA KINGSLEY” with African djembe drum accompaniment), American Beach, Amelia History Museum.
    St. Augustine for the Mision Nombre de Dios (free Africans helped establish permanent settlement in 1565); Ft. Mose (first free Black town and fort in what is now the USA); Plaza de la Constitucion with Footsoldiers’ Monument and Andrew Young Crossing Memorial; last slave quarters (made of coquina), and Lincolnville (settled by freed Blacks after the Civil War and includes a great deal of Civil Rights significance).
    Daytona Beach for a tour of the Bethune-Cookman University sites (including Mary McLeod Bethune Home, Swisher Library, Rosewood Exhibit, and the Black Art gallery in the Performing Arts Center); Jackie Robinson Ball Park; Furman Home; and the St. Rita’s Black Heritage Museum in New Smyrna Beach.
    I have contacts for lodging. I see this as a 3-day, 2-night excursion for 40-50 people. I’m going to keep my price at $30 per person for the 3-day excursion which will allow for Transportation, Lodging, and Meals to come in at a very comfortable Budget for all concerned.
    Send me an email and I’ll reply with attachments offering details about myself and my Tours.