Your First Train Trip


To my surprise, people at work are considering taking the train places. One of them might eventually decide to try it. Here’s my advice to you!

Start Small

You don’t need to immediately try a 3-leg trip. The first trip I took by train was Lamy to Kansas City: you get on the train around 13:00, have dinner, go to sleep, then at about 07:00 you’ve arrived. I recommend starting with a short trip like this, so you can acclimate to everything. Sleeping on a train, for instance, is probably not something most people can do right away.

If you’re in Richland, you might try a trip to Portland for the weekend. That starts at about 06:45, and arrives around lunchtime.

Plan For Delays

Delays happen with any type of travel. On trains, delays tend to be hours long. On my multi-leg trips, they’re frequently 24 hours.

Mentally prepare yourself for delays. Pack “buffer days” into your trip: whole days where you don’t absolutely need to be anywhere. Put these on the tail end of each travel day: when you arrive at the destination, and when you get home. That way, if you have a big delay, you’re just using your buffer.

If you’re delayed overnight, Amtrak will put you up in a hotel. But you’re not required to rush to the hotel immediately and watch TV! You can get there whenever you like, and do some touring. This is an awesome perk of train travel!

Pack Food

You can buy meals on the train, but it’s not cheap. It’s meant to be an upscale dining experience, and the prices reflect it: $25 breakfast, $35 lunch, $45 dinner in October 2023. And that’s before you pay the tip.

There is a cafĂ© car, but the food there is mostly things that can go in a microwave. It does have beer and wine, which is nice: you’re not allowed to bring your own on the train. But you can bring your own food. Plan it like a picnic for your first short trip!

Pack Light

Once you’ve accepted that delays are going to happen, new opportunities open up for unplanned exploration. I particularly relish getting stuck in Portland or Chicago: both have big ol’ downtown areas full of interesting things.

If you have a big suitcase to drag around, exploration before you get to the hotel is not a viable option. And you may find the hotel isn’t anywhere interesting.

I love my REI Ruckpack 28 for travel. It’s got enough room for 3 changes of clothes (I do laundry every night), my laptop, and all my other stuff. I’ve got another blog entry that goes in more depth on what to take.

Chill Out

Trains in the US are slow. If you can accept this, you’ll have a nice time!