Southern Mom Loves: 12 Tips for Traveling by Train

12 Tips for Traveling by Train

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring is here and it's time to start planning summer vacations! If you're tired of traveling by car or taking a plane to reach your destination, try traveling by train. You don't have to worry about driving for hours or getting lost, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Today's trains are equipped with everything to make your adventure comfortable: cushy seats, dining cars, sleeping cars, and even wifi. If you've never traveled by train before, here are 12 tips for getting the best experience.

12 Tips for Traveling by Train

1. Book online: One of the things that can give your trip by train a successful start is booking tickets in advance. You don't want to show up at the station to find out the train is full! While regional train lines exist in many states, Amtrak is the only passenger rail system that provides cross-country service throughout the U.S., and you can book your tickets online through the Amtrak website.

2. Label Up: Make sure to label all your bags. You will also want to keep your photo ID, Passport (if traveling internationally or through borders), and a train ticket out of your luggage. If you have an e-ticket, make sure to charge your electronic device before you board the train. Tickets get handed over once the train is already in motion. Can you imagine not being able to get to your electronic ticket?

3. Pack for Now, Pack for Later: When traveling by train, you can only bring 2 luggage bags per person onboard. According to the Amtrak website, "Each passenger may bring 2 personal items, 25 lbs. and 14 x 11 x 7 inches each, and 2 carry-on items, 50 lbs. and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each, onboard."

You can check 2 additional bags per person free of charge (and 2 more for $20 each for a total of 4 checked bags per person), which you won't have access to for the journey, so while you may be able to bring all your stuff, you'll want to pack your onboard bags with the essentials. Many travelers find that a blanket, pillow, camera, tablet, cell phone, route schedule, extension cord, and chargers are some of the essentials. Of course, you may need things like a change of clothing or shoes, and maybe even some snacks!

4. Take the Virtual Tour: If you're traveling a long distance, taking a virtual tour of the sleeping accommodations can help you choose the best option for you. Most long-distance routes will have a roomette, bedroom, bedroom suite, and accessible room, but a superliner train may also have a family room. You can check out the arrangements and rates ahead of time to eliminate surprises.

5. Get to Know Your Route: When you travel by train, you don’t have the hassle of driving and you can experience various natural and cultural sights. If you want to experience a picturesque landscape or famous sight, knowing the train route will help you get the perfect memories for your trip.

6. Be Prepared to Relax: If you’ve ever traveled by train, you know that it takes quite a few hours to get where you’re going, however, you can make this to your advantage. Take naps, read a book, eat, or do whatever else your heart desires. Time is one thing you’ve got plenty of right now!

7. Check out City Guides: Trains make lots of stops. Once you know your train route, look into the City Guides for each city you will be stopping in. This is even something you can do while you’re on the train. Get to know where you’re passing through! You can even purchase a USA Rail Pass from Amtrak that will allow you to customize your trip. You can stop overnight in a city you'd like to see more of and board the next day to continue your journey. Just make sure you make all the reservations ahead of time.

8. Don’t forget Food: If you have a special diet such as Kosher or vegetarian, it's important to see if your train station can accommodate your dietary needs before booking a trip. You may need to bring some of your own food items with you. If you're on a tight budget, you can avoid the dining car by packing a picnic lunch. We always bring a snack bag along with all the kid's favorite snacks, that way I don't have to worry about picky eaters along the way.

9. Get Travel Insurance: You never know what can happen, and the last thing you want is to have to cancel a trip and not get a refund. By getting travel insurance when you book, you can recoup up to $500 of your travel expenses if you have to cancel or interrupt your trip for covered reasons such as you’re involved in a traffic accident or a family member becomes ill.

10. Take in the Scenery: I think one of the best parts of riding in a train is the scenery. You get to relax and take in everything around you. To document your journey, make sure to bring a camera (binoculars are a fun way to keep the kids busy!) Just remember you're on a speeding train, so shots on your regular setting may come out blurry. Try increasing your shutter speed for SLRs or putting a Point-and-Shoot camera on the "sports" setting.

11. Talk to Someone New: As mentioned before, you have a ton of time on your hands as you travel on a train. If you’re up for it, talk to someone new. You may learn something!

12. Sweet Dreams: Because trains move slower, you may need to travel overnight. Make sure to book sleeping accommodations ahead of time if you know you'll need them. You can upgrade to a sleeping car once you've started your journey, but it may not be available.

There are rooms to sleep 1 adult, family groups, or up to 6 adults, with private bathrooms and showers. The extra expense might be worth it to you since Sleeper Service includes all regular meals for each passenger and a range of hotel-like amenities. When you book a sleeper, each passenger pays their rail fare, then you will be charged only one accommodation charge for all parties sharing the sleeping accommodation. So cheapest rail fare per person + single room charge = sleeping accommodations charge.

Traveling by train is a great way to relax and enjoy the scenery and can be a fun and memorable adventure for families, so if you have the time, check for a station near you!


Have you ever journeyed by train? What other tips do you have for traveling by train? I love to read your comments! 

If you want to read more about train travel, check out my post "New Orleans by Train: A Family-friendly Vacation Under $700."

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