Ever since I was a child I wanted to take the train across the country. I imagined it was an old steam engine, chugging along slowly as it crossed the mountains and the plains, eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean…which strangely enough I look at every day now. But I digress…with rising fuel prices all but prohibiting air and automobile travel, now might be the perfect time to look into traveling by train.
Photo Gallery From Our Trip, Click To See Full Size
My wife and I took the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago at Christmas time to visit her family. We did not do it because of gas prices, but rather as an adventure that we both wanted to experience at least once. Except now we want to do it again, but this time from New Mexico, our future new home, to Boston, MA to visit my family for Christmas. Because we have done it before, I am better prepared for what I want/need on this trip, and how to have the best experience possible. Here are 10 tips you can use for planning a train trip in a roomette or bedroom on Amtrak in the United States:
1. Plan and buy your tickets early. Trains are just like airplanes; they have only a certain amount of desired rooms available for different routes. Sure, you could probably always get a coach seat for any route, but we paid for our own roomette to really have the experience of staying/sleeping on the train. Since there are usually only 1 or 2 sleeping cars on each train, that means there are only 10-20 rooms that are available. If you want a roomette or a bedroom, the earlier you book it the cheaper it will be and the easier it will be to get what you want.
2. Enroll in the Guest Rewards Program prior to leaving. You belong to the airlines miles programs, right? Well, why not get some ground miles as well? If you like the train as much as we do, you will be back onboard at some point, so get those miles.
One going the opposite direction.
3. Check for any discounts available to you when buying tickets. Amtrak offers a ton of discounts to members of different ages and groups. As of this writing, here are some of the discounts available at Amtrak.com:
- AAA members save 10% off ticket prices.
- Children ages 2-15 ride half-price every day
- Veterans with the Veteran’s Advantage Card get 15% off
- NARP members save 10%
- Active duty US military personnel, their spouses and their dependents get 10% off most fares
4. Pay attention to the baggage restraints. While they are nowhere near as strict as the airlines, if you have a roomette you do want to check your bags with the car attendant – you do not want your full size suitcase in the room with you! If you get a full size bedroom, there is room for your suitcases.
The site-seeing car.
5. If you are going to eat in the dining car, make your lunch and dinner reservations as soon as possible. You want to eat when you want to eat, not when they tell you that you can eat. Reserve early and reserve often. And remember, if there are less than 4 people in your party, you will be seated with strangers – so be nice! It was actually kind of fun meeting new people at every meal.
6. Pack earplugs and motion sickness medicine. Motion sickness doesn’t get to me, but the noise on the first night did. When you are used to a quiet, non-rocking bed to sleep in, the swaying could make you sick and the groaning of the train could keep you awake. After the first night I was fine, but I was so glad we packed earplugs.
7. If you stay in a room rather than in coach, you have access to a shower. As much as it might seem weird to take a shower on the train, I highly recommend it. So bring your toiletries, they have the towels already.
8. Be nice to your car attendant. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy for days. Our car attendant on the way to Chicago was only OK – but the bathrooms were clean and coffee was brewing 24 hours a day. On the way back, our attendant was incredibly nice, but the bathrooms could have been cleaned more often. Make friends, ask questions, let them know you care…hopefully they will return the favor by making your stay more comfortable. Also, you should tip them something – we gave $20 each way.
Old train turned into a station/restaurant in AZ.
9. You will not need as much entertainment as you think you will. Trust me, you won’t. You might think you will need 4 books, board games, a DVD player, your laptop, etc – but you won’t. With kids I suppose it would be different, but we found that staring out the window at the beautiful scenery took up a lot of our time and we brought way too much stuff with us.
10. Sit back, relax, and use the train ride as part of your vacation. Many people make the train their entire vacation – they don’t even have a destination, they are just riding the rails! We as a society rarely get a chance to just sit back and watch the world go by, and I found that sitting in my room with no TV, cellphone or anything else was just what I needed to recharge.
View out the window of our bedroom.
I really do suggest that you at least look into traveling by train for your next vacation – getting there is half the fun that way! Who wants to sit in traffic to get to the airport early, stand in line to get your ticket, stand in line to get patted down, only to get to the gate and find your flight has been cancelled? Not me, that’s for sure. Give it a shot, I don’t think you will be sorry.