As a first-time Amtrak-train traveler, I had a lot of questions about traveling via the train. Now that I have several train trips under my belt, here are some tips I wish I had known prior to my first train experience.
Newbie’s Guide to Amtrak-Train Travel: Know what to pack and what to leave behind.
While I covered what to pack in your carry-on luggage, there are some things better off left behind. There is only so much room on the Amtrak train, and bigger items such as large pillows and big blankets should be left at home. Avoid bringing smaller items that can be easily lost, such as pieces to a puzzle or even jewelry. Pack only enough clothing to cover your train ride in your carry-on bags and put the rest in your checked luggage.
Newbie’s Guide to Amtrak-Train Travel: Check the train status.
Amtrak trains are notorious for running late, especially in the winter. In fact, just last month, the train I was scheduled to be on was over 9 hours late. When I rescheduled our trip, that train was over 12 hours late. It’s important to check the status of your Amtrak train and make sure it’s running on time, so you don’t sit at the train station waiting for hours.
The number to call is 1-800-USA-RAIL to check the status of the train. The automated system is easy to use and will tell you whether your train is running on time, ahead of schedule or will be late. If there is a major service disruption on the line, there is an option to speak with an Amtrak agent to get the precise information. Start calling a few hours before your scheduled departure.
Newbie’s Guide to Amtrak-Train Travel: Explore your surroundings.
Just because you have a seat doesn’t mean you have to be glued to it Train rides are sometimes very long and can get boring if you stay confined to your seat. Get up and explore the train. There are usually dining cars and lounge cars (sometimes called club or viewing cars) for food, socializing and entertainment.
While I haven’t gone to the lounge car yet on my travels (I’m usually traveling overnight), I have had the chance to visit the Amtrak dining car. While the prices can be high, please don’t pass up this opportunity. When you enter the dining car, you will be seated by a host and given a card to fill out with your name and room number (if you are in first class) on it. Typically, they seat people together, so don’t expect a private table on the dining car. You will be eating with strangers, but this is a perfect time to get to know people and taste some really great food.
The lounge car is mainly for socializing or entertainment. There are large tables for setting up board games or playing cards to pass the time. The lounge car is also a great way to meet your fellow travelers.
Newbie’s Guide to Amtrak-Train Travel: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The first train trip I was on, I didn’t bring along pillows for me and my son. When I got on the train, there weren’t any pillows left in the overhead bin for us, and we woke up with very sore necks.
There is a call button for a reason. If you need a pillow, chances are an attendant can find one for you. If you get lost on the train (which happened to some ladies I was seated near on my last trip), the attendants can help you find your way back to your seat. If you’re cold, they can turn up the heat. A word of caution though: it is best to make friends with your attendant as he will be serving your needs for the next few days.
Newbie’s Guide to Amtrak-Train Travel: Go ahead – fall asleep.
I was very anxious about falling asleep and missing my arrival station during my first trip on Amtrak. Amtrak employees are very aware of which passengers need to get off at which train station, so relax. Not only will an attendant wake you before your arrival, they will also announce over the intercom when they approach a major station.
Newbie’s Guide to Amtrak Train-Travel: Book your seats
Now you have all the pointers I wish I had before my first train ride on Amtrak. Get online and book your seats Check out my articles about Amtrak seating and what to pack in your carry-on luggage, and you’re all set to travel the countryside via Amtrak.