A few years ago, I needed to travel from the West Coast to the East Coast in a reasonably timely fashion, yet not spend a fortune to do so.
Most people would fly, a round-trip ticket for just me would cost nearly $1,000. It’s always reasonably cheap to take the bus, but the bus isn’t very timely, and there’s always a good chance that you’ll hit a delay.
That’s when I decided to travel by train… and it was one of the best travel decisions I’ve ever made. It took two days to go across the country instead of a few hours, but I got to meet new people, do a little sightseeing in communities I’d normally never see, and did so for half the plane ticket price.
To experience savings, you’re going to need to travel by coach. The coach section on a rail is a first-come, first-served experience, so these long-distance train travel tips will help you make the most out of long-distance routes that you’re taking by train.
What is Long-Distance Train Travel?
Train long-distance travel is a type of railway transport used to cover longer distances than regular commuter or regional trains.
These trains usually have more amenities and services than shorter-distance trains. They can be a more comfortable option for travelers looking to cover large distances in a relatively short amount of time.
Useful Tips for Long Distance Train Travel
Train travel can be a fun and affordable way to see the country. Here are some tips to help make your trip a success:
1) Plan ahead
Train travel takes up your whole day, and you don’t want to spend that time feeling terrible. Plus, there are certain items you need to buy ahead of time – like a dining train car ticket, sleeper cabin reservation, or assigned seating ticket.
A typical long-distance train journey will last anywhere from 25-65 hours. That’s why it’s essential to be as comfortable and prepared as possible.
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2) Choose the right train
Different long-distance trains have different ticket prices, safety and comfort levels, baggage services, in-train toilets, and mobile internet availability.
A long-distance rail trip is safer for most people than traveling by car or bus because there are not many pedestrians on the rails. Trains usually run more often in comparison with other forms of transportation. Some trains even have Wi-Fi now, so you can stay connected even while on your journey.
When traveling by train, it’s important to choose the right train. Different trains have different amenities and can be faster or slower.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a train:
- Does the train have Wi-Fi?
- What kind of seat is available? (Window seat, aisle seat, etc.)
- What is the train’s schedule? (Is it a direct train, or does it make several stops?)
- How much luggage can I bring with me on the train?
- Is there a dining car on the train?
- What is the price of the ticket?
Know the long-distance train you’re going to ride
There are several different long-distance trains, each with its unique features and purposes.
Below are some of the most common types of long-distance trains:
High-speed trains: These are the fastest and can reach speeds of up to 200 mph. They usually make a few stops and have comfortable seating.
- Express trains: These trains make more stops than high-speed trains, but they’re still relatively fast. They typically have less comfortable seating than high-speed trains.
- Local trains: These make all the stops along the route and can be slow. They usually have more spacious seating than express or high-speed trains.
If you’re traveling long distances by train, these are some things to keep in mind!
3) Consider your budget
Trains can be expensive, but deals are often available if you know where to look. When planning a long-distance train trip, it’s important to consider your budget and buy your ticket accordingly.
Some trains are more expensive than others, and different fare options are often available. Buying a ticket well in advance can save you money, as can traveling during off-peak hours.
It’s also important to research the amenities available on different trains, as some offer more comfortable accommodations than others.
4) Buy your ticket in advance
When traveling long distances by train, it’s always good to buy your ticket in advance. This will ensure that you have a seat, and it can also save you money. It’s important to buy train tickets in advance because they may sell out.
Trains can be very popular, especially during peak travel times. If you don’t have a ticket, you may not be able to get on the train.
It’s also important to know what type of ticket you’re buying. There are different types of tickets with different prices and benefits. Make sure you understand the ticket you’re buying before you purchase it.
This will ensure that you have a seat reserved, but it will also typically result in a lower fare. If you decide to purchase your ticket at the last minute, you may pay a significantly higher price.
Different Types of Train Tickets
There are a few different types of train tickets:
- Single: This is the most basic type of ticket and allows you to travel from point A to B.
- Return: This ticket allows you to travel from point A to point B and then back again.
- Open: This ticket allows you to travel on any train that takes your fancy on the date or dates you choose.
- Round Trip: This ticket combines a Single and a Return ticket, allowing you to travel from point A to point B and then back again.
- Package Deal: Some train companies offer package deals that include your train ride and accommodation at a set price.
This can be a great way to save money if you plan to spend a few days at your destination.
5) Travel during off-peak hours
Trains are often less crowded and less expensive during off-peak hours. If you have the flexibility, consider traveling during these times.
Train travel during off-peak hours is the best way to ensure that you have a comfortable and relatively hassle-free experience. Due to the limited availability of seats and the high volume of passengers, train travel can be quite crowded and uncomfortable during peak hours.
Furthermore, ticket prices are usually higher during peak hours. Therefore, it is advisable to travel during off-peak hours, which usually coincide with the early morning or late evening.
6) Pack light
Packing light reduces the stress of lugging around heavy baggage. You’ll have to carry your luggage yourself, and there might not be a lot of space on the train.
Carrying a much lighter weight will allow you to move about so much easier than trying to balance heavier weights on one shoulder and dragging your feet forward.
Ensuring that every bag can be tucked neatly under an arm is key, as it makes walking through stations and down aisles much simpler.
7) Be aware of the baggage policies.
It is also important to be aware of the baggage policies of the train company you will be traveling with. Most companies allow passengers to bring two pieces of luggage, but there may be size and weight restrictions. It is always best to check the baggage policies before packing your bags.
Knowing the baggage policies of your train can help avoid any surprises or penalties when you go to check your luggage.
Each train company has different restrictions on what you’re allowed to bring, how much you’re allowed to bring, and even what type of luggage is acceptable. Knowing these restrictions can help ensure that your trip goes smoothly without any unpleasant surprises.
8) Make a pre-departure checklist
There are many reasons why it is important to create pre-departure checklists for s smooth travel.
List of pre-departure checklist importance
- To make sure you have everything you need for the journey
- To avoid any stressful surprises or delays along the way
- To help keep your belongings safe and secure
- To ensure a smooth and relaxing trip
- To avoid any costly mistakes or inconveniences
- Because preparation is key for a successful long train journey!
9) Check the weather forecast before departing
When weather conditions are expected to be adverse, travelers should carefully weigh the benefits and risks of taking a train.
If you’re going by train, winter is the time to pack hot chocolate beans and cocoa powder in case the heat fails or it’s too cold to leave your cabin.
10) Familiarize routes
Familiarize yourself with the route before you travel, as this will help you know when to get off the train and make any necessary transfers. Not all trains run on time, so it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.
The importance of familiarizing routes and knowing the train stops cannot be overemphasized for long-distance train travel.
This is because it helps to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted journey. By familiarizing yourself with the routes, you can easily spot potential delays and take necessary precautions. Knowing the train stops lets you plan your itinerary in advance and make the most of your time.
11) Bring your own food and drink
Train food can be expensive, and it’s often not very good. You can buy a dining car ticket, but bringing your own food helps a lot if you want to save.
It is important in long-distance rail travel because you will not have access to a restaurant or vending machines.
If you are on a budget, it can save you money to pack your own snacks and drinks instead of buying them on the train. Additionally, it is much easier to control what you eat when you bring your own food if you have any dietary restrictions.
Train food isn’t that bad. I invested in an omelet and had a pleasant conversation with a newlywed couple enjoying the second day of their honeymoon, and it was nice to be out of my seat for a while.
My omelet was $11, and on the train, there were no credit cards. In your carry-on bags, bring lots of packable snacks and meals that you can eat right there in your seat to save money.
Tuna, fish, and crackers were a staple of my diet on this trip, though Lunchables, sandwiches, chips, sodas, and other items can all be brought on board. You’ll save plenty of money, and you won’t have to worry about carrying a lot of cash with you – a double win!
12) Dress comfortably
Wearing comfortable clothing is also key for long-distance train travel. You will be sitting for long periods of time, so it is important to be wearing clothes that won’t make you uncomfortable.
Additionally, if you are traveling overnight, you may want to bring a change of clothes in case you get cold during the night.
The temperature on a train can vary a lot, so it’s also best to dress in layers. This will allow you to adjust your clothing as needed depending on the weather conditions and how warm or cold the train is.
13) Take the seat next to the outlet if you can
If you’re bringing your laptop, tablet, or smartphone with you, then there’s a good chance you’ll need to charge it while you’re on the train.
When you book your coach ticket, you’ll be told that there are outlets in the dining car, the observation car, and the lounge that will allow you to charge your electronics.
They’ll also tell you that coach outlets are limited… but they don’t tell you that there are only 2 to 4 outlets per car, and they’re right next to a specific seat!
The electrical outlets are near the middle of the car, and the ability to access that outlet is priceless, so do your best to make your first priority that seat.
If you can’t get it, don’t worry – if that person gets off the train, just ask the conductor to move – and be sure to take your destination tag with you to the new seat!
14) Stretch your legs often
Walking on a train is an interesting experience. You need to re-learn how to walk because of how the train cars sway back and forth.
The first couple times I journeyed forth to explore the train or just meander to the washroom, one good sway was all it took to buckle my knees and place my head firmly in the lap of one very surprised man!
The more you walk, however, the more you’ll be able to anticipate which way the train is going to go and adjust your gait. You’ll also get the feel of when you should hold onto the backs of a couple of seats and brace yourself!
Don’t worry – everyone goes through this, and if you’re on the train for more than a day, you’ll find that jealous eyes will look at you as you quickly traverse a car while others are stuck finding their heads in the laps of other surprised people.
15) Bring a neck pillow
I’m the type of person who can’t sleep well the first couple nights I’m away from home, so my sleep expectations were not high for the train – especially in coach.
When I got there, I realized that a few hours of sleep was actually too high of an expectation! I’d brought my regular pillows with me, which made it difficult to get comfortable in the seat. Coach train seats are even harder to sleep in than airline seats!
Bringing a neck pillow will help brace your neck and prevent the worst of the discomfort that can cause you to toss and turn.
Make sure to bring a blanket with you as well – it gets surprisingly chilly on the train at night. Because you’re in a car with several other people, there are going to be constant sounds going on that you’ll want to drone out as well, so headphones with some music are a wise thing to have along.
That’s also why you’ll want to try to get that seat next to an electrical outlet too!
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16) Take advantage of layover stops
Trains are notorious for not being exactly on time. You’ll have an idea of how much time you’ll have at any given location based on your train ticket, so I knew that I was going to have some extended time in both Chicago and Buffalo.
Rather than sit in the train station stops or a designated rest stop for what could be most of a day, spend a few bucks and get a rental car if you know you’ll have an extended layover.
In Chicago, I just grabbed a taxi and went down to the lakefront to spend the day. With plenty of museums, shops, and parks down there, I could easily fill the 6 hours I needed to wait for my next train.
In Buffalo, it meant getting to explore upper New York for a day, having some New York-style pizza, and seeing Niagara Falls. It was only $11 + gas for the rental car for the day – and in some places, rental cars can be had for as little as $6 per day + fuel with the right deal.
17) Bring movies with you
Even if you have mobile internet or even portable satellite service, there are going to be places where you aren’t going to receive a signal. If you’re relying on cell or mobile service, don’t even bother – you won’t have service more than you will.
Looking at the passing countryside can be fun at times, especially when going through canyons or the mountains, but many times you’ll be traveling in a ditch where all you see is a grassy embankment.
To pass the time, bring some movies along with you. A laptop or iPhone works well, but any portable movie device that can store several movies will be your best friend during these long lull times.
Some train services offer a portable movie playing system that you can take with you and then ship back to them once you arrive for a small fee, but these are only available at major hubs. If you get on mid-route, you won’t get a chance to get one.
18) Be prepared for delays
When planning to take a long-distance route, it is important to be prepared for possible delays. This means having a plan B in case of a delay, such as reserving a hotel room close to the train station.
19) Be ready for border crossings
Many people travel by train into a different country daily, which means needing to pass through customs while on the train.
You’ll need a passport or Enhanced identification to cross either border from the United States for everyone in the family, including any children traveling with you.
Without these, you’ll be taken off the train. You can also be taken off the train for a variety of other reasons, so be prepared for an extra day at the border if a customs official finds your trip suspicious in some way.
The gentleman who sat next to me on the way back from Canada was visiting his family in the states for the first time in 4 years. Because it had been four years since he’d been to the States, he was taken off the train.
Keep in mind the cash requirement for the train as well. If you stay on the same train, from Canada to the US, the train will likely stop accepting Canadian money once the border is crossed and vice-versa.
If you believe you’ll need a snack or beverage while on the train, make sure to have a few dollars of both currencies.
A long-distance train travel trip can be quite fun and memorable but can be miserable if you aren’t fully prepared for the journey.
Use these long-distance travel tips to plan your next trip by train, and you’ll be able to save money and time, but you’ll also get to explore new places and relax during your journey while keeping most of the modern amenities that make life comfortable.
And, if all else fails, you can always buy a beer or three during the day to make the time pass by more quickly.
Best Trains for Long Haul Travel
Amtrak (New York to Chicago)
Amtrak is one of the best long-haul train services for travel. It offers a wide variety of options, including multiple classes of service, various seating options, and access to onboard entertainment and dining.
Amtrak trains also offer great deals on tickets on the Amtrak app, making it an affordable option for long-distance travel. The Amtrak train is a railway service that operates throughout the United States of America.
The company has been in operation since 1971, and it is currently the only provider of long-distance intercity passenger rail service in the country. Amtrak’s train route network includes 46 states and three Canadian provinces.
California Zephyr (Los Angeles to San Francisco)
The California Zephyr is one of the best long-haul rails for travel because it offers some of the best scenery in the country.
The route travels through the Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, and you can see some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. The train also has a lot of onboard amenities, including a dining car, lounge car, and sleeping car.
Texas Eagle (New Orleans to Houston)
I’ve traveled all over the US by train, and this is one of (if not the) best and most relaxing ways to travel. An ideal train for a cross-country trip
The Texas Eagle route starts in Chicago and stops in Springfield, IL, Fort Worth, TX, La Junta, CO, Albuquerque, NM with a stop at Los Angeles, CA, for a layover before heading up deep into the Pacific Northwest.
The journey is long, but it’s scenic, and you can really see a lot of America this way.
Cascades (New York City – Philadelphia)
The Cascades is one of the best long-haul train trips because it’s comfortable, efficient, and affordable. It is perfect for those who want to take a relaxing journey while enjoying panoramic views of the countryside.
The Cascades also offers plenty of amenities, including a café car, snack car, lounge car, business class cabin, and sleeper cars.
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight (Seattle – Portland )
The Amtrak Coast Starlight is one of the best long-haul train trips because it offers some of the most amazing scenic views in the country.
The train travels from Seattle to Los Angeles and offers passengers beautiful views of the Pacific Coastline, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the redwood forests of California. The train is also very comfortable, with spacious seats and a dining car that serves delicious food.
Indian Pacific (Australia)
The Indian Pacific is one of the best long-haul and overnight trains for travel. It offers comfortable, spacious seating with great views of the Australian landscape.
The train also has a range of facilities, including a lounge car, a dining car, and a children’s play area.
The Ghan (Australia)
The Ghan is one of the best long-haul trains for travel. It offers an unforgettable journey from Adelaide to Darwin, crossing Australia’s picturesque outback.
Guests can enjoy a range of onboard facilities, including a comfortable sleeping car, a restaurant, a bar, and a lounge car. There’s also plenty to see and do, with stops at Katherine Gorge and Alice Springs.
The Canadian (Canada)
The Canadian is one of the best long-haul trains for travel because its many features make the journey more comfortable and enjoyable. Some of these features include the following:
- Spacious reclining seats with ample legroom
- Onboard entertainment, including movies, TV shows, music, and games
- Dining car with a menu of hot and cold meals
- Complimentary coffee and tea
- Baggage car for storage of luggage
Qinghai-Tibet Railway (China)
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is one of the best long-haul trains for travel. It has a number of great features that make it a perfect choice for long-distance trips. Some of these features include:
- The train has a high speed and can reach up to 200 kilometers per hour. This makes it one of the fastest trains in China.
- It has a comfortable and spacious interior. The seats are wide, and there is plenty of legroom.
- There are a variety of food options available on the train. You can find Chinese, Western, and Tibetan cuisine.
- The train offers a great view of the scenery. The windows are large and provide a great view of the Tibetan Plateau and passing landscapes.
- The train has a number of modern amenities. There is Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and power outlets.
- The train staff is professional and attentive. They will help you with anything you need during your journey.
Himsagar Express (India)
Himsagar Express is one of the best long-haul trains for travel. It’s one of the oldest trains in India and covers a distance of around 3700 kilometers in 70 hours.
The train passes through some of the most scenic routes in the country, including the Ghats of western India. It’s also one of the most comfortable trains, with a host of amenities onboard.
Trans-Siberian Express (Russia)
If you’re looking for an epic long-haul train journey to really get away from it all, look no further than the Trans-Siberian Express.
The longest train ride globally, at 9,289 kilometers (5,772 miles). That’s roughly the same distance as flying from London to New York.
This legendary train crosses the entire width of Russia, from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, and offers a unique and unforgettable overnight trip and travel experience.
Eastern and Oriental Express (Southeast Asia)
If you’re looking for an unforgettable train journey, look beyond the Eastern and Oriental Express. This luxury train travels through some of the most scenic areas in Southeast Asia, making it the perfect way to explore the region.
Reunification Express (Vietnam)
The Reunification Express is one of the best long-haul rail journeys. It travels between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, making stops in major cities.
The train is comfortable and well-equipped, with air-conditioning, a dining car, a cafe car, and sleeper cabins. Traveling on the Reunification Express is a great way to see the country and experience its culture.
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