Throughout the years, I've taken many Amtrak trips and know how to make the most of the ride.
Make sure to pay attention to the time so you don't miss your stop, but also be prepared for delays.
Many trains don't have Wi-Fi, so make sure you've packed everything you need to stay entertained.
I have traveled solo on dozens of Amtrak trains throughout the past few decades.
In the 1990s, I lived in Chicago, a great train city. From there, I took Amtrak trains to several major hubs, including New York, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Austin, and Los Angeles. When I later moved to Los Angeles, I frequently took the train back to Chicago, and also rode the rails to San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, New York, Portland, and Austin.
Train rides can be a relaxing and illuminating way to travel, but — as I know from my years of experience — there are important things to keep in mind to make your journey safe and enjoyable.
Book your tickets early to ensure you get a seat
Having your own space can impact your long ride.
So if you want to get a private roomette or room — which is more expensive than a coach or business-class seat and in limited supply — you should jump on it right away. Plus Amtrak's commuter lines are the company's bread-and-butter and can get pretty full, especially on the East Coast.
Be aware that not every route is direct
Amtrak can get you just about anywhere in the country, but it may not be a direct route.
Some journeys riding through more remote areas may require you to switch to a bus or local line. So you might get to see more of the region, but your trip will take longer.
Just make sure you're aware of any transfers and the time they'll add to your journey.
Research the route to know its historical and geographic significance
I see and learn something new every time I take a train trip. It's an unusual and interesting way to learn about history and geography.
Many routes, especially cross-country rails, pass by waterways, epic bridges, ghost towns, Native American territories, battlegrounds, and mountain ranges — most of which have a unique story or history. Plus some train stations even have their own mini museums.
For example, the Southwest Chief route, from Chicago to Los Angeles, travels through the American West, which has a particularly extensive history of industrialism, agriculture, and Native American displacement.
Pay attention to the time so you don't miss your stop
So much of train travel depends on the clock, especially when you're crossing through time zones.
Long-distance routes have a lot of nighttime stops, and many of them won't be called by the conductor because of quiet hours. So if you're eating in the dining car or sleeping, you can miss your station. I suggest setting an alarm or taking care to stay awake when you're getting close to your stop.
Be prepared to experience delays
Amtrak shares the rails with freight companies, which can lead to delays.
Some delays can be hours long, and there's no real way to know if you should expect one ahead of time. I've had trains arrive early, but also as much as six hours late.
Just make sure you give yourself enough time and flexibility to still make your plans work even if your train is running behind schedule.
Don't expect to always have Wi-Fi
Amtrak doesn't provide Wi-Fi on many of its trains, including several long-distance ones, which can be frustrating.
The lack of internet can make it hard to work, stay in touch with friends and family, or watch and download shows and movies. I've learned to prepare for this by downloading content in advance and informing people that my connection will be spotty for a couple of days.
The lack of screen time can be enjoyable, especially with the beautiful views and a good book.
Take advantage of longer station stops
Amtrak trains stop at many stations. Some of these will just be to load and unload passengers, but others are fresh-air and stretch breaks, which you should take advantage of.
Even if the weather is bad, get some fresh air and move around. After sitting and breathing recycled air for days, your body will thank you for the break.
Some long-haul routes have longer stops to change the crew that may even last an hour, so you can visit the nearby gift shops and cafés by the station. Just make sure to watch the clock — the train will not wait for you.
Pack your carry-on wisely
For especially long rides, you need to be able to sustain yourself for days.
You can pack your own snacks and beverages or buy some at the café car, which is open to all passengers.
Additionally, to keep up personal hygiene, you'll want to have your toothbrush and toothpaste on hand, as well as body wipes and deodorant. You'll have access to showers if you have a room or roomette but, in my experience, they don't always have hot water and aren't always the cleanest.
You'll also want to pack other essentials like a change of underwear and clothes, vitamins and medications, contacts, headphones, a phone charger, and a blanket or jacket.
Stay alert and practice personal safety
Amtrak doesn't have the same security protocols as airlines — there are no metal detectors or bag screenings at the stations.
So whether you're in a coach car or a private sleeper, you need to be aware of your surroundings.
Learn your car attendant's name and ask how they're best reached in the case of an emergency. Additionally, always take your valuables with you to the restroom, café and sightseeing cars, or outside if you plan to take a fresh-air break.
Walking can be tricky on the train since there's a lot of motion, so walk with your legs wide and always use the seats, walls, or railings to keep steady.
Don't expect train travel to be glamorous
Train travel may look sophisticated in movies or on social media, but these long-haul trips aren't particularly luxurious.
You're generally not eating fine dining, and unless you pay a ton for a private room with individual facilities, you should expect to share a bathroom with a lot of other people.
That being said, enjoy the ride. It's a great way to see the country, take a break from your routine for a couple of days, and meet a lot of fascinating passengers.
Read the original article on Insider