A train is a wonderful, cost-efficient way to travel. Watch the rolling hills of the Midwest drift past your window as a glowing sun drops below the horizon. Relax in wide seats — larger than a plane's — and take a moment to truly enjoy your trip.
In the United States, Amtrak will get you almost anywhere you'd like to go. Since many Americans aren't familiar with train travel, it can be a bit intimidating at first. However, we want you to appreciate your time on the rails. Here are five simple things to avoid to help you have a successful and enjoyable trip.
1. Scheduling Your Arrival Right Before an Important Event
Trains are a great way to travel, but delays are common, so you'll need to plan extra time into your itinerary. Riding a train is about the journey, not getting to your destination as fast as possible. Arrival times are not always accurate. Don't plan to arrive right before an important event, or you could risk missing it.
Passenger trains often share the tracks with extra-long freight trains, which get priority. You may end up stuck on the track waiting for a sluggish, mile-long caravan to pass. The weather can also cause delays if it affects the safety of the track. Sometimes it's malfunctioning machinery, or any number of other reasons for a delay. Plan ahead to avoid any problems or stress that a tight schedule may cause.
Instead of arriving right before an important event, schedule yourself to arrive at least two hours before you need to be there. That way, if you do end up being early, you can use that time to check out the local attractions.
To be notified of any delays while riding Amtrak, sign up for the Amtrak App or email updates. Both will notify you in advance of any potential problems and could save you valuable time waiting around.
2. Throwing All Your Stuff Into Multiple, Unorganized Bags
When packing for your trip, pack smart. That means not scattering your most important items throughout five bags. This seems obvious, but when we're stressed and hectically packing, it can be easy to forget.
Amtrak allows you to check four bags, although more than two will incur an extra fee. If you do want to check luggage, make sure you arrive at the station at least 40 minutes before the departure time to handle that transaction. One benefit of checking your bags is that you won't have to worry about keeping an eye on your valuables during the journey. This will free you to explore rail cars without worry. But coach cars have plenty of overhead storage where you can keep your luggage if you prefer.
You're allowed to carry two personal items and two carry-on bags. The best way to pack for your voyage is to designate one bag as your "train bag." Pack everything you'll need for the voyage into that one bag. That way, you're not bothering the other passengers by routinely trying to access your other bags from stowaway.
Your "train bag" should include snacks. Most trains do offer meals and cafe cars, but that can be more expensive or only available at certain times. It's always nice to have a few extra snacks just in case you get hungry between meals. You'll also want to include any entertainment for the ride and a change of clothes in your "train bag."
3. Dressing for Only One Temperature
When traveling on the train, you may experience wildly different temperatures throughout your journey. Dress in layers so that you'll always be comfortable. Even if it's the middle of summer, bring a sweater. Temperatures inside the rail cars are supposed to be uniform throughout the year, but they're not always adequately controlled. One car may be extremely warm, while the next car is breezy and chilled. Dressing in layers will help you stay comfortable no matter what the temperature.
The weather from one destination to the next may change considerably. Even if a city isn't your final stop, you may want to get out and stretch your feet. Be sure you're prepared to do that regardless of the weather in that area. Remember, when you travel by train you're often traveling great distances, and the weather can change quite a bit over those miles.
4. Not Bringing These Two Simple Tools
One fantastic tip that we picked up from the travel blog Cruise Maven is to bring a roll of duct tape and a small cloth. Trains are a fun way to travel, but they can be a bumpy ride. Because of this, loose hardware, rolling doors, or equipment can rattle or roll around, causing clanking noises and irritation, especially if you're trying to sleep. A roll of duct tape and a small cloth can be used in a variety of ways to temporarily stabilize anything that becomes a bother.
Place a piece of tape over clanking hardware to keep it quiet. Lay the cloth across a table to create friction that will keep items from rolling around. A clean washrag works great for this because it has a textured surface. Even a keychain attached to your bag can rattle become a distraction. A piece of duct tape slapped over any loose items will stop unwanted noise.
These simple tools can also be used to divert the cool air of a vent. If the constant breeze is chilling you, lay the cloth across the vent and secure the top with the duct tape. This will still allow the air to flow, but it will redirect it another direction so that you'll be more comfortable — genius!
Just be sure to remove any tape from the train when you leave.
5. Expecting to Be Connected
Although Amtrak and other train lines often advertise Wi-Fi availability, it's not always consistent.
You won't regret taking the time to plan ahead. Download anything you'd like to access during the voyage — movies, audiobooks, and podcasts. These can all be great for keeping you entertained on a long trip, but you have to download them in advance.
However, if you spend the entire trip glued to a screen, you'll regret it. Traveling by train is one of the best ways to see the beautiful countryside. Many trains have dedicated observation cars with large windows that are perfect for watching the scenery go by. Be sure to dedicate some time to simply gazing out the window – even if you keep a podcast playing in your earbuds.
These tips will help you have a fun, relaxing trip that you'll remember for years to come.