How to See the U.S. by Train and Not Hate Your Life

Amtrak has been offering incredible deals on their train travel lately – sometimes less than $200 to get across the entire country. When you consider that a coast-to-coast flight can be as much as $400 each way, and then add in the fact that the train allows you to stop in some wonderful cities and towns, this seems like a pretty good deal. However, what many people don’t realize is that trains can actually be pretty uncomfortable. They’ll buy a ticket, wrapped up in the romanticism of seeing the country, only to realize that being stuck in a tiny seat for days on end isn’t exactly the most fun. However, with a little pre-planning, you can make the trip a lot more enjoyable – here’s how.

Tip #1: Don’t do it all at once

Woman with suitcase getting on train

If you decide to go from coast to coast on the train, do not expect to do it all in just two or three legs. Yes, you can do this, but it’s not going to be too pleasant. Yes, the scenery is nice, but after a while, it just starts to fade into the background. The motion of being on a train for too long can also start to get very uncomfortable. Instead, do your research to see where you can get off and explore throughout the trip without adding too much to your total cost. Yes, you might end up paying a few extra dollars, but you’ll get to take a break and see some really cool places – which was the point of traveling in the first place, right? It’s also an opportunity to rest, shower, and eat some good food, which are all things that are unfortunately hard to do while on board. If you’re going to do one long leg, make it on the west coast, where the scenery is the most interesting.

Tip #2: Bring a survival kit

Packing for a cross country train trip

If you were going to be on a plane for days on end, you’d probably pack pretty extensively to make sure you’d survive the experience. Well, that’s how you should approach packing for a train trip. Start by packing enough non-perishable food to last you through the journey. It may seem excessive, but once you see the price of the food on the trains, you will understand. You should also make sure you have travel-friendly toiletries with you – not just deodorant, but also baby wipes, dry shampoo, toothpaste, the works. Trains start to get gross after a few days. Finally, pack a pillow, some blankets, and some comfy clothes (and if you’re feeling particularly daring, some Nyquil or another sleep aid). It’s hard to sleep comfortably on a train, but if you plan, it can get easier.

Tip #3: Invest in more space

Woman sleeping on train

If you have the money, it may be worth investing in a seat where you’ll get a little more room to relax and maybe even lie down. Business class is also likely to be a little quieter and cleaner (although that’s not a promise), so your likelihood of getting work or some reading done while you’re on the go is higher. Yes, it defeats the purpose of an ultra-cheap train trip, but you’ll end up with something even better – a train trip you actually enjoy.