10 Train Travel Tips

JoAnna

JoAnna is a globe-trotting, idea-inventing, culture-collecting creativity connoisseur with big dreams and a desire to touch all seven continents. You can also find JoAnna at joannahaugen.com and at The 52 Letters Project.

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37 Responses

  1. Willy says:

    You forgot to mention in regard of long distance travel on Amtrak the following facts:
     – sleeper tickets includes all food and non alcoholic drinks
     – and as earlier you book as cheaper you can get the sleeper
     – sleeper price is always for two person !

    see some very realistic 360 degrees interactive panorama pictures of Amtrak here: http://www.360cities.net/search/amtrak

  2. Shelley says:

    Great tips, Jo — thanks! I’ve never taken a train trip in the US, but the hubby has fond memories of traveling by train as a little kid. We’d like to take a trip this way at some point…although it looks like we’ll have to get on board somewhere other than our current state of Idaho (I think).

    • JoAnna says:

      Yeah … you’ll have to hop on somewhere else. When we went to New Orleans, we had to leave from L.A., which seems counterproductive, but we really wanted to take the train, so that’s what we did.

  3. Leigh says:

    I wish train travel was a more viable option in Canada. Only the busy Calgary-Edmonton and Toronto-Ottawa corridor have lots of daily options. We can’t even train it to Calgary from Vancouver without it costing a fortune and taking a full 24 hours.

    I love going to Europe and watching the world whirl by from the comfortable seat of a train. One day I’d like to do the Trans Siberian train trip — that would be cool.

    Great tips and many I hadn’t ever considered.

    • Willy says:

      I cannot judge the situation in Canada, but the USA had a vast and advanced system of passenger rail, until somebody had the idea to make the people vicious with gasoline and highways and followed by urban sprawl . The result is destroyed passenger rail system, no high speed trains, no frequent public transport,waste of energy, daily traffic jams, crazy commuting by cars. Now all options are taken away and you cannot even cross some streets without having a car. The oil industry dream came true.… and after that “drug” is the vast emptiness as the country is not prepared to live with less oil. Here in Europe living without car is easy and viable even more comfortable and of course much cheaper without wasting energy and individually generated traffic noise…and the next energetic error is coming up here in Europe with low cost air transport where people can travel 500miles for 10$ increasing demand for travel.… what we need is less travel, less traffic by better use of existing means of transport which we have plenty here in central Europe.

    • JoAnna says:

      I would love to ride the Trans Siberian railroad as well. It would be a nice, slow way to see that part of the world.

    • Willy says:

      Yes Siberian Railway is the longest. You could spend 8 or more days on it. BUT comfort is not very good. Siberian Railway is like a bad youth hostel and Amtrak Superliner compares to it more like a hotel with 3 ***
      I prefer Amtrak Superliner which is for me one of the best regular train services which I could imagine and I know a lot of trains in the world already personally.
      In the last 3 years I travelled 2 times Chicago– Los Angeles and once Chicago San Francisco. If you have the time there is no better way to travel.

  4. Krista says:

    Excellent tips, JoAnna. A lot of them are equally applicable to airplane travel too. :-)

  5. Suzy says:

    I have never taken a long distance train in the US. It’s funny because I was just talking with friends about who actually does anymore. Your reasoning made me reconsider. It does seem like a dying transportation art. I have taken long distance trains in Europe and have found a sleeper car to be a saving grace.

    • Willy says:

      @suzy. when you have never taken a long distance train in the US, then you should not assume that this is a dying transport art. The demand is quite high and you have to plan well ahead to get a place, especially in the sleepers. I only would say the network of passenger trains is too small and the possibility to travel to limited.

    • JoAnna says:

      @Suzy ~ I agree that in some ways it is a dying transportation art, especially in the U.S. Just yesterday I was talking to someone who said they would take the train but economically it’s just not worth it. I agree that it can be quite expensive, but I told him was that if you ride the train for the destination then, yes, it is expensive and timely, but if you choose to ride it for the journey, then it’s worth the time and money. I think it’s a matter of perspective, and, in the U.S. especially, we tend to want to get to where we’re going fast, cheap and, let’s admit it, on our own terms and conditions.

      And I agree with the sleeper car. I made the mistake of going without last time to save some cash, but it’s totally worth it.

  6. Gray says:

    Excellent advice, JoAnna! I wish someone had given me this advice before my first (and only) train trip back in the 1990s.

  7. Sabina says:

    Great tips, JoAnna. I absolutely love sleeping on a train. The swaying motion just rocks me to sleep.

  8. Wonderful advice! Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed traveling by train all over Europe and the UK, and even the east coast of the US, where we live now (Scottsdale Arizona) we can’t get the passenger trains unless we travel south to Tucson or west to LA first, making it inconvenient (much to my chagrin).

    I do find that, when I travel, I increase my popularity quotient by carrying a lightweight power strip (surge protection is nice, but not necessary if it adds weight) — that way I can share what is often only a single outlet with multiple people at once, or if no one else is waiting, I can charge several devices at the same time.

    • Willy says:

      Yeah it is a pity that a city like Phoenix ( Scottsdale, Mesa,Tempe) is not being served by a passenger train. You mentioned Tucson as the nearest train station, but Tucson is only served 3 times a week. Much better for you is Flagstaff with the same distance but to the north, which is served by the famous Southwest Chief with daily service to Los Angeles, with connections to San Francisco/ Seattle and to Chicago with connections to the east coast.

    • JoAnna says:

      I agree, Trisha. I was totally bummed to have to drive to L.A. (west) to take a train that went east, but we really wanted to try the train in the U.S. I think that’s the situation for a lot of people, unfortunately. They don’t consider the train a viable form of transportation. Instead, people consider flying, driving and maybe taking a bus, but to take a train, most people have to seek out the opportunity. It’s just not top of mind.

      Great idea caring a power strip. I’ll have to keep that one in mind for next time!

  9. Tom McMillan says:

    Definitely agree with unplugging the laptop, I’d also unplug the i-pod headphones. Maybe I’m a bit too nosy but you overhear some crazy conversations on a train!!

    If you are just getting into train travel my website http://www.flightlesstravel.com might be of interest!

    • JoAnna says:

      Thanks for the tip on your website, Tom, though I’d say you definitely need to add information on taking the train in the U.S. I think part of the reason people don’t normally take the train in the U.S. is, like I mentioned in one of the comments above, that people don’t consider it a viable option. If you were to mention the opportunities to go by rail on a slow travel website like yours, it would help make more people aware of the opportunities available to them.

    • Willy says:

      A in my opinion much better website gives you all information to travel the whole world by train and where the land ends… by ship.
      http://www.seat61.com/

      Train travel is not the dying transport art it is quite the contrary , it is the only viable future of transport. We have to face it that oil driven road traffic is the dying transport art as oil will last only for a very limited time and all alternatives are dreams which cannot keep the crazy mobility as it is nowadays neither on road nor in air.
      And regarding Amtrak prices, you can get Chicago — San Francisco for 2 person in sleeper two nights two days all food included and seeing the whole country passing by, for about 530$ ( for 2 person) try to do that by car.…or even air.

  10. Tom McMillan says:

    Anna, you’re right I do need to add a US route to the iconic routes page. I’ve not been to the US for several years now (expensive and time consuming to get there on a boat!) When I was in the US (prior to my flightless travel days) I never travelled with Amtrak! Do you have a personal favourite route across the US that you think I should feature? I’ve heard that LA to Seattle is a lovely trip? I should point out that my website is not completely free of Amtrak journeys. If you go to http://www.flightlesstravel.com/plan/search-routes/ you will see there are a few routes.

    As for Willy’s reference to seat61.com, yes this is a great site, absolutely stuffed with information on train travel which I have personally used a lot in the past to plan my own trips. I’m trying to do something completely different with my website by covering all forms of travel, having a quick search system that ranks different routes and by letting our members add their own travel routes.

    As for Amtrak prices, I’m amazed by how low they are. Try living in the UK which has the most expensive train travel in Europe!

  11. Great tips JoAnna — although I have to say, I’ve never had to enforce ‘no shoes. no service.’ on my many VIA Rail Canada trips!

    One last tip I’d throw in. If you’re looking for deals, think about subscribing to the Amtrak, VIA Rail, etc, websites, twitter, newsletters, and more.

    For example, VIA publishes new discount fares on the site in their Express Deals page every Thursday, where I regularly see cross-Canada train rides like VANCOUVER-TORONTO go for as little as $200…

    Vivian is Virtual
    VIA Rail’s tour guide

  12. Rufus Quail says:

    In the 1970s I had a beautiful overnight train ride from Mexico City to Guadalajara. A friend recently told me passenger trains in Mexico are all but extinct. I hope it’s not true. Don’t think it can’t happen here.

  13. Bunch of great tips from you and left my fellow travellers : Man in Seat 61, especially am a big fan and great travel-rail resource.

    I think rail travel could be so much more popular if it was more affordable and accessible: compared to air travel is so much more convenient and easy paced.

    Great tips again and say hello to me on Twitter (@budgettraveller) just added you.

  14. John Rose says:

    Last summer my wife and took a VIA Rail sleeper car from Moncton, New Brunswick to Montreal and back. We walked around Montreal for a few days, saw Cirque du Soleil, spent an afternoon with some friends we had not seen for 15 years, and generally had a good time. I must say that rail is the most civilized way to travel any great distance. When we boarded in Moncton I was able to see both the train were were going to board AND the vehicle of the friend who gave us a lift to the station, simultaneously while standing in one spot. No running all over a terminal to find the right gate, lineups for security checks, etc. I just walked on with my travel mug, full of coffee. When we boarded in Montreal, it was in the same block as our hotel, so we didn’t even need a taxi or shuttle bus to get there. It’s one of those grand old stations decorated with historic murals and so on.

    On the trip back there was a young couple traveling to a music festival in Halifax, and they played (just for the fun of it) Celtic and traditional folk tunes on guitar and fiddle in the club car for about 2 or 3 hours in the evening and again the following morning. They were great, and wouldn’t even accept tips. You won’t get that sort of experience on a bus or in a plane.

    Four tips I would offer:
    1. If you have a choice of reserving which bedroom you get in a sleeper car, pick one closer to the middle of the car. The ones on the ends are over the wheels, and so are much noisier and rougher than in the middle.
    2. Again, if you have a choice of reserving which bedroom you get in a sleeper car, and if the seats are only on one side, pick a room that has the seats facing forward. Otherwise you have to twist around to see what’s coming up.
    3. Lean how to fold out the bunks and put them back again on your own, rather than waiting for the crew to do it. It’s easy and convenient.
    4. Talk to people who get seated with you at your table in the dining car. They won’t bite, and may have very interesting stories.

    One nice thing you can do *only* on a train while traveling in a sleeper car is to turn the cabin lights out at night and look out the window. Often you are passing through uninhabited or rural areas and there are no lights anywhere nearby. If it’s a clear winter night and there’s a full moon out, the view can be incredible.

    • JoAnna says:

      Hi John ~

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! Your train trip in Canada sounds incredible ~ I’ve always wanted to see Canada by train. You’re absolutely right that there are experiences gathered through train travel that you just can’t get anywhere else. Plus, on the train, you don’t have to worry about anything. You can rest, visit and eat while still moving forward.

      You’ve added four excellent tips. I especially agree with your fourth thing you’ve noted. My husband and I ate with a really nice retired couple one night during our train ride, and he had tons of stories with which to entertain us while we all ate together. I definitely recommend that people chat with those around them, especially when they eat.

  15. BikeQuest says:

    Seeing the countryside by train is such a great experience, especially since you’re not dealing with the crazy airports. Beginning or ending an adventure with a scenic train ride is something we recommend as part of a bike touring trip. And yes, be sure to unplug!

    • JoAnna says:

      I’m so drawn to the train … I think it’s one of the most relaxing ways to travel. Thanks for the tip on adding a train trip to a bike touring trip.

  16. Thank you for the article it’s much appreciated . However, you should also include some tips on train traveling in India and China. It’s a totally different experience and requires different preparation.
    I can share few. You should always bring snacks with you when you are crossing India on a train. They don’t sell food inside the train and the only way to get some food is to get out of the train, while it’s stopped and buy some. Sometimes vendors enter the train and sell some snacks but they don’t provide you with any utensils.
    Hope it helps

    • JoAnna says:

      I’ve actually never taken the train in China or India, so there’s not much I can add on that subject at the time. Thank you, though, for your insight. I’m sure other readers will find it helpful.

  17. Linda Sand says:

    I’ve ridden many trains in the U.S. Train depots are much better than airports. You seldom have to walk far in them. They often have free parking for the car you leave behind. And no security check before boarding.

    Plus, on a train you don’t feel guilty about getting up and walking around during the trip. And there are places you can walk to like the lounge car or the diner. And I’d much rather listen to a ranger talk while passing through a national park than watch some stupid movie on an airplane.

    Trains become part of your vacation not just a way to get to the vacation.

    • JoAnna says:

      I agree … the trains are much easier to deal with in the U.S. than the airports. When people say that it’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination, I immediately think of traveling by train!

  18. Steve the train geek says:

    I live in London and travel across Europe frequently using the trains.

    As a train enthusiast I just wanted to make you aware that http://www.raileurope.co.uk offers the most extensive range of train tickets throughout Europe, but you can plan your journey starting here in England.

  19. So, number 5 may be the most important but most baffling tip. It drives me crazy that trains are so expensive. I was going to go visit my parents and though I’d go by train from NYC to Denver. It was kind of exciting because along the way I can stop through DC and Chicago. Friends in DC. Never been to Chicago but always wanted to see it. I also thought I’d enjoy the leisurely trip. But it’s double the price and I can’t see doing it unless I could get off at each stop and stay for a while then catch the next train. It’s upsetting to me that Amtrak gets money from the government and still it’s expensive. Further, the government seems to treat train travel like it’s a thing of the past that we no longer need. I would much rather travel by train but cost on top of practicality always makes me choose air in the end. :(

    • JoAnna says:

      I agree, it is so baffling why it’s so expensive. I feel like the price to take the train should be at least equal to, if not slightly less than, the price of a plane ticket. Given all the money that’s put into interstate highways, it would be really nice to see something similar put into creating a better public transportation system.

  1. June 2, 2010

    […] baggage, no uncomfortable seats. While European train travel is undoubtably better than in America, Kaleidoscopic Wandering explains why she chose Amtrak and gives some tips for enjoying the American countryside by […]

  2. June 6, 2010

    […] Kaleidoscopic Wandering fuels my interest in train travel with some helpful tips.  This is a blog I’ve only recently discovered, although I’m familiar with JoAnna’s work, and I hope you find it as informative and entertaining as I did. […]

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