Aug 15, 2014

Tried And True Trips To Survive Train Travel

There are five main options for getting around when you're going somewhere further than your feet or bike can carry you: car, bus, boat, plane, or train.

We don't all have cars. Buses aren't very comfortable. Boats are for limited transit over water (and a lot of people get seasick). Flights tend to be pretty expensive.

That leaves the train. And okay, trains can be pretty pricey, too ($300 for Boston to NYC roundtrip, Amtrak - really now?).

Still, if you book in advance you can luck out and get a $49 one way for a lot of  routes, bringing the roundtrip to under $100 and thus a much better deal than a flight but with a lot more comfort and space and amenities than a bus.

If you're opting for train travel, here are some of my best tips to make it a little more enjoyable and, at the very least, easily survivable! I'm a seasoned Amtrak veteran, you can take my word for it.

1) Pack a laptop. 

More to the point, pack one that has a DVD player and pack more DVDs than you think you'll need. All streaming sites, even pandora and *cough, cough* questionable movie streaming sites, are blocked on Amtrak wifi. It's a really slow shared connection, anyway.

Don't forget your headphones - especially if you're riding in the quiet car, but really anywhere!

2) Likewise for more food and drink than you think you'll need. 

Amtrak's food is pretty awful and waaaaaay overpriced, with particularly limited options if you're vegetarian and a tendency to run out of everything fresh/everything that's not a candy bar or chips.

And it's overpriced. Did I mention it's overpriced? Honestly, McDonald's at the train station is a better bet. Amtrak charges $2 for a cup of water and forget about asking for hot water in your thermos - $2 again!

3) Bring a pillow.

This one doesn't need much explanation, just two words: nap time. If you need a third - delays. That should really suffice.

4) Layer.

Regardless of the season and the outside temperature, I have been in both uncomfortably cold and uncomfortably hot trains. Sometimes I've had both in the same trip!


Layer so you can shed or pack it on to adjust to the fickle train temperatures. Don't expect them to have blankets or adjustable thermostats - HA.

5) Pack Dramamine, Ibuprofen, tums, and whatever else you may need. 

Once you're on the train , assume that you can't get off before your destination. Most routes have no rest stops, just quick drop-offs. The cafe car stopped selling basic meds years ago because of something to do with difficulty to getting the appropriate licensing without having to be a pharmacy.

Bring your own stuff and again, bring the whole array. If you're feeling unwell, even a relatively short ride without hope of reprieve can feel like torture.

6) Hand sanitizer.

I'm not trying to gross you guys out or anything, but it's certainly not unheard off for the faucets in the lavatories not to work (or like 5 drips per minute) and/or for the soap dispenser to be empty.

7) Not much luggage.

This is more a what not to bring. Aka: your whole closet.

While it's true that trains are much more lax about luggage than planes (and even allow free carry-on or checked full size suitcases) traveling lighter is always easier and more fun.

If you do need to bring big suitcases, check them! There's nowhere secure on board to leave stuff if you're traveling solo, so it can be stressful - because even those with iron will and matching bladders will eventually have to use the lavatory.

What are your tips for train travel?

What's your favorite form of travel?

What's your favorite travel snack?


  1. Based on your description of travelling in an Amtrak train, I think I'll stop moaning about our British trains! Good tips too. :-)


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