We Know: Train Travel Tips

How Should I Approach Train Travel?

Train travel is a great American tradition, and it's one of the best ways to see the country. It does, however, have drawbacks. It's one of the slowest forms of transportation, for instance, and it can be very public. Nevertheless, there is a real mystique to train travel that can't be matched by anything else.

If you're planning to travel by train and you're going to be on a train more than six hours, you should definitely consider private sleeper accommodations. Train travel is novel and fun for about the first hour, but after this it can get tedious.

With this in mind, here are some tips:

  • Pack lightly if possible; you may have less room than you expect.
  • Keep binoculars, maps, a CD player or MP3 player, and a good book handy.
  • Bring a pillow and light blanket and earplugs and eyeshade if you're a light sleeper. Also bring a watch with an alarm or a travel alarm clock.
  • Bring your own water; the water on the train may not taste very good.
  • Bring snacks that won't go bad.
  • Bring personal grooming items like deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrush, etc. You may not have a chance to take a shower, so plan accordingly.
  • Bring a cell phone. Because of delays, your schedule may change, and you should have a convenient way to change plans.
  • Bring luggage you can easily carry yourself, or that has wheels. There won't always be a luggage cart available.

You should also be ready to strike up conversations with the staff and crew and fellow passengers. Part of the delight of train travel is meeting new people, and the staff in particular are knowledgeable and usually very friendly. If you have any problems on the train, you should speak to the staff right away; after you get off, you may have a hard time resolving things with Amtrak, but the staff on board are often empowered to make things right for you.

Is Train Travel Expensive?

In America, it can be. Our train systems cover a much larger area than the trains in Europe, they're much more lightly traveled, and there is simply no way to discount tickets. Sometimes if you purchase tickets in advance, you can find great deals; but for the most part, you should be ready to pay as much or more than you would for airplane tickets.

You should make sleeping car arrangements as far in advance as possible. These sell out fast.

What Should I Avoid?

Try not to plan a train trip at the last minute. Travel by train takes a little planning. Another thing to remember is that most people traveling a long time by train -- won't have a chance to take a shower! If you're going to travel overnight, shower before you go and try to get a sleeper car. Also remember:

  • Do not wait for breakfast to be announced -- they won't. Instead, get up yourself before 7 AM and have breakfast to avoid the rush.
  • Do not complain about delays. Instead, expect them, and be prepared for them.
  • Do not forget to leave a tip. The servers on a train get paid just like those in a restaurant. And don't expect to have an easy time finding change -- instead, bring smaller bills with you.
  • Do not plan to eat in the train's dining car. Especially if you're traveling late, bring at least non-perishable snacks with you.
  • Do not plan close connections. Trains, especially long-distance trains, are notoriously late. If you must make close connections, keep your luggage with you instead of checking it.
  • Do not carry things around with you on a moving train. Instead, keep both hands free; trains sometimes make surprisingly rough stops, and you could wind up on the floor. Always be ready to catch yourself.

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