Traveling by train could be described as romantic, eco-friendly, and simply put – leisurely. With no turbulence, traffic jams or enormous security lines to deal with, you can sit back and enjoy the experience once you board the train.
Picture this: You’re listening to your favorite song while gazing out at breath-taking mountain vistas floating by the window. You and your travel partner are enjoying a glass of wine, serenaded by the rhythm of the tracks. You meet interesting new friends in the dining car, swapping stories of adventures and family.
Now that we’ve whet your appetite for train travel, check out our tips for an adventure you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Research and Plan Your Trip
Whether you choose a short train trip or an extended vacation across the country, here are some basic questions to ask yourself while in the planning phase:
- Where do I want to go and what do I want to see along the way?
- What time of year do I want to travel by train?
- What type of trip do I want? A scenic one-way day trip, a national park trails-to-rails vacation, a trip across the United States, or a luxury long-distance journey?
- Do I want to hop off the train and explore a city?
- How will I get to and from the appropriate train station?
- What kind of accommodations do I want?
- Do I want to upgrade to first class? Do I want a room in the sleeper car?
- Does the train provide dining options and/or a café car?
- Do you need internet access and if so, is a personal Wi-Fi hotspot recommended?
- What is the train company’s policy for personal food, beverages, and medications?
- What do I need to know about security, ID requirements, and accessibility?
Get Your Train Tickets
You may decide to travel across the United States or visit several countries in Europe via train. Wherever you decide to roam, you must have tickets to ride. Ticket prices widely vary depending on trip duration, type of trip, and what amenities are included. Typically, you’ll get the best fares if you make your reservations early, and avoid holidays or peak travel periods.
- With Amtrak, you have the option of long or short trips, all-inclusive vacation packages, multi-ride USA Rail Passes, California Rail Passes, and discounted group passes. They even have an interactive map to help you plan your trip. Check their guide to the many fare types Amtrak offers.
- Vacations by Rail offers a wide variety of train tours – overnight and long-distance adventures through amazing landscapes, historic sites and attractions. They offer independent rail vacations, escorted tours, luxury journeys, and custom train trips all over the world.
- America by Rail offers all-inclusive train trips where all the details are taken care of for you. Fully escorted tour packages, they also offer vacations world-wide.
- For train trips less than 115 miles long, check out smaller train trips recommended by AARP for scenic routes that won’t break the bank.
Pro Tips for Departure Day
1. Pack Light
Try to keep packing to a minimum, as you may need to haul your bags from time to time. Be sure to plan for a personal bag to keep your valuables safe throughout your journey (see #4). Regardless of your meal plan, pack some snacks in case of a delay (always check food policies) and bring cash in case your train has an onboard café. Be sure to download any books, audiobooks, and music you may want to enjoy while on your train trip, as well as old-school card or board games. Don’t forget your earbuds and camera!
2. Arrive early
Plan to arrive about 45 minutes before your train departs. Take time to locate your platform, review your route, check on any connections, ask about meal schedules (if applicable), length of stops and time between trains. Prepare your bags by labeling for clear identification. Depending on the type of train trip, plan to hang on to your tickets throughout your entire journey, as conductors may request to see them at any time.
3. Check Bags if Needed
Do your homework early to find out any luggage policies for checked and/or carry-on bags. Find out the cost of checking bags, what the overhead bin situation is, and what you can keep with you at your seat.
4. Plan for Safety
Always plan to keep your personal items and electronics with you at all times to deter petty thieves. Keep your money, passport, and other vital information on your person – even while you sleep. Secure your large bags with locks and further, add a cable lock to attach the bag to the luggage rack (if this is where you’ll store your bag).
5. Get Comfortable
Plan to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and shoes while on the train. For longer trips, bring a blanket and pillow so you can cozy up for a nap when needed. If you have reserved a room in the sleeper car, take advantage of it for a good night’s rest.
6. Move Around
Explore the train and stretch your legs. Locate the restrooms. Visit the observation car, snack car, dining car and any other cool spot the train offers – you might be surprised at what you find! Keep your camera by your side to capture amazing vistas while moving about.
7. Enjoy the Ride
The journey is a large part of the adventure – so relax and enjoy! Bring a paper map with you to keep track of where you are and mark your route as you travel. Even if you don’t have a dining plan included, consider reserving a spot to experience it at least once during your trip – it’s a fun way to meet new people while enjoying the views.
Traveling by train will garner memories for years to come, and you’ll have spectacular photos to prove it. So wait no more – use our pro tips to plan the train trip of your dreams.
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