If you're looking to take a trip but want to avoid a visit to the airport, you may want to consider train travel. By land mass, the United States is the fourth largest country in the world. That means there's a lot of beautiful land between major cities that you won't see by flying over. Train travel is also much more passive than driving, meaning you can just sit back, relax and take in the sights. As a bonus, train travel is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to travel.
Planning your train trip
Once you've decided to travel by train, what's next? Here are a few details to think about.
Choose your route
Your first step should likely be choosing a route. You can search by routes offered by a specific railroad, or you can see if you can cobble one together if there are certain areas you don't want to miss. You may want to start your route locally, or you may want to start somewhere else like a nearby city that has more available train lines. Choosing a route is totally up to you — you can have some destinations in mind, or you can just see what's available. And while you can certainly do a cross-country trip from east coast to west coast, you may also want to consider a regional tour of a smaller area, or a themed route.
Consider a rail pass
If you've decided on a longer route, you may want to look into getting a rail pass. For shorter trips it's likely cheaper to book the tickets individually, but a rail pass will save you money if you're planning a long-distance train trip. Generally, rail passes will allow a certain number of journeys depending on the level of rail pass you purchase.
Book seats in advance
When you've made your decision on destination and tickets, you'll want to book ahead. In some of the more populated cities the trains can fill up quickly, so you'll want to make sure you have a seat far ahead of time. Additionally, if you're going to be spending the night on the train, you may want to book a sleeper coach for a more comfortable sleep. And much like an airplane, there are different classes of seats, so you may want to choose higher levels for the longer legs of your journey.
How to pack for traveling by train
Packing is an important part of train travel — if you need something you didn't bring, it could be tough to get ahold of it since the train stops are often quite short depending on your route.
- Travel documents (tickets, ID, etc.)
- Luggage locks
- Toothbrush, toothpaste and other toiletries
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Extra clothing
- Snacks and water
- Chargers and power banks
- Eye mask
- Portable Wi-Fi spot
- Reading light
- Portable trash bag
Traveling by train: Important safety tips
Like any form of travel, traveling by train has its own unique safety considerations, though it's generally quite safe. Be sure to have a lock for your luggage to help prevent theft. You'll likely have to leave your bags alone if you need to use the bathroom, so make sure you're taking the proper precautions.
Having said that, it may also be a good idea to have a personal bag that is small enough to carry with you as you move around the train. In here you can store your ID, wallet, tickets, cell phone and any other valuables you don't want to risk losing.
If you must change stations at night, be vigilant. Try to stay in areas where there is ample light and there are other passengers around you. Otherwise, just take other common-sense precautions. Don't leave your bags unattended, stay awake and alert and keep your headphones out or on a low volume so you can hear what's going on around you.
For an extra layer of safety, consider sharing your itinerary with friends or family so someone knows where you are at all times. You may also want to plan to check in with someone on a set schedule.
Train travel hacks
If you're planning your first long distance trip, here are a few helpful tips you may want to know about train travel.
While it's a good idea to bring snacks, there will be a dining cart available for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. While it may not be a five-star fine dining experience, you'll likely find that the frequently rotating menu keeps you full and happy.
Additionally, many trains will have a bar car. This is usually found near the dining car and acts as a sort of lounge for passengers. There are often comfortable booths and tables where you can sit and play cards, order a coffee or a cocktail and meet other travelers.
Some trains may also have special scenic cars that have seats facing outward to give you a better view of the passing landscape. This is more common on some routes than others, so check ahead of time if this is available on your trip. The seats tend to fill up quickly, so you'll want to claim your spot early.
If you're worried about getting stiff inside the train car, don't fret. There are designated rest stops at which you're allowed to get out, walk around and get some fresh air. Just make sure you know which stops are rest stops and which aren't.
Train travel can give you a brand new traveling experience. If you're looking for a way to see more of the country while relaxing and just enjoying the ride, then train travel may just be a great option for your next adventure.