5 tips for travelling by train in the USA 2024

Your Guide to traveling with Train

Traveling by train in the USA is a delightful way to explore the country’s diverse landscapes, from bustling cities to scenic countryside vistas. With the rise of sustainable travel and the allure of a relaxing journey, more and more people are opting for train travel. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time train adventurer, these five tips will help you make the most of your train journey across the United States in 2024.

1. Plan and Book Early

Why It’s Important

One of the biggest advantages of train travel is the ability to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride without the stress of driving or the hassle of airport security. However, to secure the best seats and fares, early planning and booking are essential.

How to Do It

  • Research Routes: Amtrak is the primary passenger train service in the USA, offering various routes across the country. Research the different routes and decide which ones best fit your travel plans.
  • Check Schedules: Train schedules can vary, so make sure to check the times and frequencies of the trains. Some routes, like the Amtrak California Zephyr or the Coast Starlight, are incredibly popular and can fill up quickly.
  • Book in Advance: Once you’ve decided on your route, book your tickets as early as possible. Amtrak often offers discounts for early bookings, and you’ll have a better chance of getting a seat in your preferred class.

Insider Tip

If your travel dates are flexible, consider traveling during off-peak times or weekdays. You’ll find less crowded trains and potentially lower fares.

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2. Pack Smart

Essentials for a Comfortable Journey

Unlike flying, train travel allows you to bring more luggage and enjoy a more relaxed packing process. However, packing smartly is key to a comfortable journey.

What to Bring

  • Comfortable Clothing: Dress in layers to adjust to varying temperatures on the train. Comfortable clothing is a must for long journeys.
  • Snacks and Drinks: While trains offer dining options, bringing your own snacks and drinks can save money and ensure you have your favorite treats on hand.
  • Entertainment: Pack books, magazines, or download movies and music to keep yourself entertained. While trains offer Wi-Fi, it’s always good to have offline options.
  • Travel Pillow and Blanket: For overnight journeys, a travel pillow and blanket can make sleeping in your seat much more comfortable.
  • Portable Charger: Keep your devices charged with a portable charger, especially for long trips where outlets may be limited.

Insider Tip

Amtrak allows two personal items and two carry-on items for free, so take advantage of this generous luggage policy. Just be sure to keep your essential items in a small bag that’s easily accessible.

3. Make the Most of Onboard Amenities

Enjoying the Ride

Amtrak trains offer a variety of amenities designed to make your journey enjoyable and comfortable. Knowing what’s available can enhance your travel experience.

Amenities to Look For

  • Observation Cars: Many long-distance routes feature observation cars with large windows and comfortable seating, perfect for enjoying the scenic views.
  • Dining Cars: Full-service dining cars provide a range of meal options, including vegetarian and vegan choices. Reservations are recommended for dining cars, especially during peak meal times.
  • Café Cars: For a quick bite or beverage, café cars offer snacks, sandwiches, coffee, and more.
  • Sleeping Accommodations: For overnight trips, consider booking a roomette or bedroom. These private accommodations include beds, linens, and access to shower facilities.
  • Wi-Fi and Power Outlets: Stay connected with onboard Wi-Fi (available on most trains) and keep your devices charged with power outlets at your seat.
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Insider Tip

Take advantage of the observation and dining cars to break up the journey and meet fellow travelers. These shared spaces can be great for socializing and sharing travel tips.

4. Be Ready for Scenic Stops and Layovers

Making the Most of Layovers

Train travel offers unique opportunities to experience the journey itself, not just the destination. Embrace the scenic stops and layovers as part of your adventure.

What to Do

  • Stretch Your Legs: At major stops, passengers are often allowed to disembark and stretch their legs. Use these breaks to walk around and take in the local scenery.
  • Explore Layover Destinations: If your journey includes a long layover, research the stop ahead of time. Many train stations are located in the heart of cities, allowing you to explore nearby attractions.
  • Capture Memories: Scenic stops provide excellent photo opportunities. Keep your camera or smartphone handy to capture the stunning landscapes.

Insider Tip

Check the train’s schedule for any planned stops with longer durations. These stops can be perfect for a quick local bite or a short exploration.

5. Embrace the Social Aspect

Connecting with Fellow Travelers

One of the unique aspects of train travel is the opportunity to meet and interact with fellow passengers. Embrace the social aspect of train travel to enhance your experience.

How to Connect

  • Strike Up Conversations: Don’t be shy about starting conversations with fellow travelers. Whether in the observation car, dining car, or even at your seat, trains provide a relaxed environment for socializing.
  • Share Travel Tips: Exchange travel stories and tips with other passengers. You might learn about hidden gems or useful advice for your destination.
  • Join Group Activities: On some routes, Amtrak offers onboard activities such as wine tastings, games, or educational talks. Participate in these activities to meet people and enrich your journey.
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Insider Tip

Traveling solo? Trains are a great way to meet people. Many solo travelers find themselves making friends and even planning future trips together with people they meet on the train.