Traveling By Train 101: A How-To Guide On US Rail Travel

July 16, 2015 5:00 AM

(credit: istockphoto)

(credit: istockphoto)


Traveling by train has many advantages over other means of traveling, such as by plane or car. Not only will you be traveling with a sense of old-fashioned charm, you will also be able to relax and enjoy the view. However, the benefits to traveling by train do not stop at an amazing view and plenty of time to relax. There are many other advantages to opting to travel cross country by train.
(credit: shutterstock)

(credit: shutterstock)


Advantages

There are many different advantages to traveling the country by train, above and beyond the beautiful view you will have from the comfort of your seat. Top benefits of traveling by train across the country include:

  • Baggage: There is no additional fee for either checked or carry-on baggage like most airlines are doing. Plus, you can take up to two carry-on items (50 pound limit each), bring your personal items (purses, strollers and diaper bags) with you and check up to four (50 pound limit each) bags.
  • Comfortable: Seats are more comfortable and you are able to get up and walk around much easier than you would when traveling by plane.
  • Costs: Depending upon where you are traveling to, going by train can be more cost-effective alternatively to flying or driving. Discounts are also available on most Amtrak trips for students, children, seniors, AAA members and military personnel.
  • Fares: For the most part, train fares tend to remain the same day after day. They do not fluctuate as much as airline fares do on a daily basis.
  • Hassle free: There is no need to arrive hours early and work your way through all of the screenings. For most trips you can arrive 30 minutes before departure and walk right out to your platform.
  • Stations: Most major train depots are located in the downtown area of your destination. Making it more convenient to get to your hotel or to see major landmarks during a layover.
  • View: Most trips will take you through beautiful country settings, offering a breathtaking view out of your window.

Related: Tri-State Guide to Planes, Trains and Automobiles

(credit: shutterstock)

(credit: shutterstock)


Top Rail Experiences

Chicago to Emeryville, California
Take a journey through seven different states when you travel from Chicago to Emeryville, California aboard an Amtrak train. During your trip you will cross the Continental Divide, pass over the deserts of Utah and Nevada and follow canyons along the Colorado River. Estimated travel time for this cross country journey is a little more than 51 hours. Definitely a unique and comfortable way to see the western half of our nation.
 
Durango to Silverton, Colorado
Your Durango Train experience will take you back in time as you travel on this historic 1920s steam locomotive that pulls a 1880s-style passenger car. This half-day train excursion will take you to Silverton and back to Durango before 1:30 p.m. Though it is a short trip, it is well worth the time. Your 45-mile adventure will take you along a narrow-gauge railway up 3,000 feet to Silverton where you will have amazing views of the mountains surrounding the area. Though this is not a cross-country rail experience, you do not want to miss this one.
 
Amtrak Cascades
Your trip aboard the Amtrak Cascades will take you out of the country into Canada, however, the views you will have along the way in Oregon and Washington are some of the best parts of taking this train trip. Your trip will take you along some of the most impressive and breathtaking views of seascapes, distant islands, farms and mountain peaks, including Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker. Your Amtrak Cascades adventure will depart from Eugene, Oregon and take you up the west coast to Vancouver, British Columbia and is definitely worth the trip.
 
Though these are some of the most unique and beautiful trips available across the country, there are many others available, making it possible to find the rail trip of your dreams. Amtrak also makes it possible for you to make your own itinerary, including starting and ending destinations and stops along the way.

Related: Guide to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Train Travel Tips

Once you have booked your train adventure you will want to make sure you are prepared as much as possible so you can sit back and watch the amazing views pass you by. Of course getting ready for a train trip is not as extensive as getting ready to fly a plane (no need to worry about arriving hours early or what cannot be packed), but there are a few things you can do to make your trip easier and more enjoyable.

  • Reserve your seats: If you choose not to reserve your seat, you will want to arrive a little early so you can get a decent seat. Check reservation tags to verify which leg of the trip the seats you are interested in are reserved for. It may be open for the leg you will be traveling aboard the train.
  • Lunch: Pack yourself a picnic lunch to bring on board with you. This will help you save the cost of food purchased in the dining car of the train.
  • Luggage: Because the amount of luggage is more liberal than flying, try to pack everything in your two carry-ons. This will make it easier to keep your baggage with you and you can easily stow it in the compartment above where you are sitting. Also, to avoid any theft issues, keep your baggage within your sights at all times.
  • Passengers: take the time to speak with other passengers. You will be able to share stories and learn about other possible vacations you can take in the future.
  • Time: Take advantage of the time you have on the train. Use this time to get organized, go through photos from the previous day, make plans for your next destination and relax. However, you do not want to forget to take time to enjoy the view as it passes outside your window.
Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.

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