Prior to setting out on my first trip via train, I did as much research as I could in order to better prepare myself for the adventure ahead. While I did learn a lot from many travel sources, I never found a great article for people traveling by train for the very first time. It can be very confusing, so while on my trip, I put together a list of things that I think I would have found helpful and hopefully they will come in use for someone else about to take on their own journey.
-You will not be checking in like you do at the airport. There is no security check.
-Often there is no one checking your ticket until you are already on the train. Once the train attendant checks your ticket, he leaves a note above your set stating where your end point is and then uses that to alert you when your stop is coming up.
-I sat in an Unreserved Coach Seat on one of my trips and was pleasantly surprised that there were plenty of seats to choose from.
-Coach seating is much roomier and comfier than that on an airplane. I recommend taking advantage of their lower fares for shorter trips.
-In the coach seats that I personally have experienced, there has been a 120 volt outlet, seats that recline, overhead luggage storage, and a table on the back of the seat in front of you.
-If you sit in the very back car of the train, you will avoid people walking past you to visit the dining, snack, and observation cars. Plus you can look out the back of the window for a unique view.
-There are two types of sleeper cars: A sleeper and a room. The room is about twice the size of the sleeper car. A sleeper car will be tight with two people, especially if you have large luggage. My carry-on size bag was tough to fit in my sleeper car alone. (For tips on packing small, click here)
-The sleeper car has one set of bunk beds. The top bunk folds up during the day and the bottom bunk converts into two chairs and has a pull out table. There is a small rack or closet to hang a few items of clothing, one 120 volt outlet (strong enough to operate my straighter, curling iron, steamer, and phone charger), private air control and lighting, a box of tissues, two bottles of water, and towels.
-Check your sleeper car for showers downstairs, while I didn't use them, one of my trains had them.
-Even if your stop is at 3am there is a train car attendant that will come by your room/seat to let you know that your stop is coming up.
-Trains are often late. The freight trains have the right-of-way on the rails, so some passenger trains encounter frequent, unplanned stops which may cause your arrival/departure time to be pushed back. I suggest downloading the Amtrak app on your phone so that you can track your train's status.
-The locks of the sleeper car doors lock from the inside only. I closed my blinds, shut my door all the way, and left my belongings inside. I never had any unfortunate incidents.
- People seem to be pretty lax when it comes to wandering around the train and leaving their belongings at their seat. I however, would recommend taking your valuables with you.
- When you purchase a sleeper car/room ticket, your meals at the dining car are included. Alcoholic drinks as well as gratuity are not.
-Meals in the dining car are seated community style which means you will be sitting with fellow travelers. Chit-chat and make temporary friends, you might as well enjoy the experience!
-There is a full menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert. And while I can only speak for the dinner meal, it was tasty.
-Make reservations for the dining car ahead of time. If you cannot get a reservation and you are a sleeper car/room passenger, ask your train car attendant for the room service option. Room service is also free, but a gratuity is recommended.
-The snack car serves food options such as sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, chips, candy, drinks, coffee, etc. The prices are a little inflated, so I do recommend bringing your own snacks on board with you (you can bring anything, even wine).
-There is complimentary coffee in the sleeper cars during the morning hours.
-For optimal viewing, visit the observation car, most two story trains have one. There are floor to ceiling windows where you can take in the sights, read a good book, play games, or chat with your neighbors.
-If you are a sleeper car/room or business class ticket holder and are traveling through Chicago's Union Station, take advantage of the Amtrak lounge. There, they will hold your luggage, while I was there they offer complementary food and beverages (like a wine and cheese reception), a lounge area, and a children's play room.
-Each train's luggage policy is a bit different, so make sure you check each of the trains that you will be taking during your trip. Some have baggage check services but they do not guarantee that your luggage will make it there the same time as you do, so make sure you take your valuables and essentials as a carry-on.
-Each train car has its own bathroom.
-One of my biggest curiosities was just how long the train stops at each station. The answer is often 1 minute, unless it is a major city.
-Wear layers because you never know what the temperature in the train car will be like. My secret travel item for ladies is a maxi dress.
-Pack your slippers to keep your feet cozy and for late night trips to the bathroom.
-It is recommended that you tip your train car attendant (when in a sleeper car/room) about $5 per person/night
-Taking the eastbound Pennsylvanian? I recommend sitting on the right side of the train car until you hear the announcement for the famous Horseshoe Curve then find an empty seat to temporarily sit on the left side.
-Taking the northbound Pacific Surfliner? Sit on the left side of the train for optimal viewing of the Pacific Ocean.