Vacation by train

Free Planner: 6 steps to Vacation by Train (USA)

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6 Steps to Set-up a Vacation by Train in the USA

How to Set Up a Vacation by Train in the US

Going on a Vacation by Train in the USA is truly the best way to see America. Instead of doing the driving with Vacationing by Train you can actually enjoy the journey, spend time with your friends and family. Most Vacation by Train packages can include Coach Class Train Travel, meals, hotel accommodations, sightseeing, and entertainment.

Use this 6 step by step guide as a free train vacation travel planner (USA). As a bonus, at the end of the 6 steps, I added a list of most frequent Google questions asked and answered!

Plus as a 2nd bonus, I linked a list of ways to get Free and discounted Amtrak tickets

Option to Read All or Click Directly to Steps Now:

Rail Specialists put together the pre-planned “Vacations by Train” itineraries. They’re adding new vacation choices every year, with historical and up and coming destinations in mind. Packages have choices from visiting a single city or multiple city destinations. My favorite is the National Park Train vacation.

Options, there are so many options: Choose to start or end your Vacation by Train at any of the more than 500 US train stations. How about make it a round trip or a point to point across country trip and then fly back to your home station. Make upgrades at any stop by planning additional days or sightseeing even an upgrade to the hotel or customize by picking your our own destinations, activities and hotels.

Vacation by Train (US): Easy How to Planner

Planning and executing a rail vacation in the USA can be very easy. To help everything go-over smoothly follow this how-to guide, it has the steps listed in the order that they should be completed.  I would print this out every time you are planning a Train Travel Vacation in the USA to use as a checklist.
Vacation by Train

Step 1:  Vacation by Train (US): Choose 1 of 3 Options for Train Travel

Option 1: The Easiest way to go. Amtrak’s premade vacation packages. All of your rail stations stops, sightseeing and hotels are setups for you. You won’t have to make calls to reserve every hotel or every activity because it will be already scheduled for you.

Option 2: If you like planning and would like to do something more custom or make changes to the pre-made vacation packages that are an option as well. The itineraries can be flexible, you don’t have to sign up with one of the packages that are laid out for you.

Option 3: Amtrak’s Segment Rail Pass.  Purchase a “USA Rail Pass”, this style pass does have a nice design to it for people who Vacation by Train that prefer more of an open schedule. With the “USA Rail Pass” package you’ll have more freedom to rail travel at your own pace. You are not on someone else’s schedule. There are over 30 Train routes with 500 destinations to pick from.

How Much Does it Cost to Travel by Train?

Options 1 & 2: There is a vacation package for everyone starting at 3 days for $49 to 19 days $4,699 and mostly in between that. Purchase one of the already made rail vacation package plans and then tweak it. Add on an extra day at a favorite stop or you could even upgrade your hotel for an extra up charge.

Option 3: Purchase a “USA Rail Pass” There are 3 “USA Rail Pass” levels to choose from:

US Rail Pass

Multi-Ride Pass / 10 rides or 6 rides

US Rail Pass

10 Segment / 30 Days

California Rail Pass / 7 Days

  Price varies by route adult

$499.00  adult

$159.00  adult

   age 2-12

discounts available age 2-12

$79.00  age 2-12


Step 2: Vacation by Train: Schedule your US Train Vacation

Choose 1 of 3 ways to Book your Rail Vacation

  • Call a Rail Vacation Specialist 1(800) 268-7252

  • Call a local travel agent


How far to book in advance: Book up to 11 months early. The earlier you book your Train Travel Vacation the better. You can sign up for a better deal and plus if you want to book a sleeper there will be a better chance to have one available.

You are going to need Government issued ID: purchase tickets, store and check baggage, plus an Amtrak employee can randomly.

US citizen: Traveling within the US anyone over 18 will need a valid/current government-issued ID, no copies accepted

US citizen: Traveling into Canada will be in need of a US passport. Anyone under 18 may require more document.

Non-US citizen: Passport and additional documents

Travel Protection:

I totally recommend getting the Travel Protection. It’s impossible to predict what could happen where you might have to cancel your trip. I used to think it was a waste of money to purchase travel insurance. If you’re fairly new to traveling maybe you still do. I have personally had to cash in on travel insurance in the past because of the weather.

Amtrak’s Travel Protection allows you to cancel up to the day of departure. Refunds will be in the form of a voucher that you can use for up to 1 year after, minus the cost of the Travel Protection.

After you’re paid in full you will receive everything needed including any tickets, sightseeing vouchers, and instructions. Look for your travel documents to show up about 21 days before departure.

Download the Amtrak App onto an iPhone, Android or Windows phone. The App will store your ticket and keep you up to date with the status of your train.

Vacation by train

Step 3: Vacation by Train: Train Travel Booking Options

Coach Seating: A more economical way to travel. Coach Seating is what comes with basic ticket purchase. Someone said that Coach seating on a train is like first class seats on an airplane. I really couldn’t have said it better myself, it is a perfect way to describe them. You do not have to upgrade to a room. I have no problem with sleeping in Coach on any overnight Train Travel! There isn’t a middle seat, the chairs are like “Lazy Boy” seating if you will, wide, plush, adjustable footrests, comfortable reclining seats. There are restrooms in every car. No showers on a coach class ticket.

Sleeper Roomette or Sleeper Bedroom: Customize your vacation with an upgrade to a private “Sleeper” on the train. Upgrades can be booked on most of the longer routes at a first come-first serve basis, for an additional fee. The upgrade can be for a Sleeper Roomette or Sleeper Bedroom. Depending on the one you book. Most will accommodate 2 people. There are a few Family Sleepers or Suites that could accommodate up to 4 people. If interested in upgrading to a sleeper cabin, you have a better chance of getting a room if you book in advance because rooms do sell out quickly.

What comes with an upgraded room: First and foremost a private room has a locking door, secondly breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included with an upgrade plus first priority for dinner reservations. An upgrade will also give you the ability to operate your own heat or air conditioning, big windows with blinds, bunk beds, table, fresh towels and bed linens, an outlet, assistance from a room attendant, complimentary water or coffee and newspapers.

What is the difference between a Sleeper Roomette and Sleeper Bedroom?

  • Sleeper Roomette has shared showers and bathrooms with other Sleeper Roomettes

  • Sleeper Bedroom has private in-room showers and bathrooms

ADA Compliance: There are choices, Coach seating is available with sufficient space. Upgraded Sleeper rooms are available in the lower level of the train. These rooms are able to accommodate a walker or a wheelchair.

*Tip: Room attendants can book your dinner reservations and deliver room service. Any gratuities are not included in the price of an upgrade.

Step 4: Vacation by Train: Dining Options

Food is usually a big part of expenses especially when it comes to family travel. With Amtrak vacations, there is the ability to customize your vacation to include meals. You have to admit, including meals is almost unheard of when it comes to vacationing anywhere else in the USA.

Dining Car: Works similar to a sit-down restaurant. Everything is cooked to order off of a chef inspired seasonal menu. Making reservations in advance is recommended. The dining car serves Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  Check your train for times each meal is served (gratuities are not included with ticket)

Wait to be seated at the entrance of the dining car. If you have a party of 4 you’ll be seated together. The dining seats are completely filled in as needed so you may be meeting new people at dinner.

Dining Car Prices:

  • Coach Class Passengers may dine for an additional charge. Most credit cards are accepted

  • Sleeper Car and Auto Train Passengers price of breakfast, lunch, and dinner is included in the ticket

  • Food purchased in Dining or Lounge Cars must be consumed in those cars

*Tip: When scheduling for dining reservations always consider the times your train is scheduled to pull into stations.

I wouldn’t want you to miss any opportunities to hop off.

What are the dining options for special diets?

  • On overnight Train Travel, make arrangements 72 hours in advance for Kosher or Vegan diets.
  • Consider bringing your own food. Coolers are allowed to be brought onboard. Keep in mind, you can ask for ice. Any heating and refrigerating anyone’s personal food is against policy due to very strict FDA regulations.

  • Any food that you personally brought on board can be consumed in the Coach Seating, Sleeper Cars, and Sightseer lounges

Café/Lounge Car: The car with casual food service for getting quick snacks and carry-out food. This is a place where you can hang out there are seating and tables to eat, chat, play card.

Sightseer Lounge: If you are on a long distance train try out the upper level of the “Sightseer Lounge Car” for the very best views on board. Be courteous to others, don’t take up the seating all day, give them a chance.

Alcohol can be purchased when you are in the Dining Carr, Café Care, and other lounges and the consumption is limited to those areas. If you are bringing your own alcohol onboard, you are limited to consuming in your sleeping car only, no public areas.

Vacation by train

Step 5: Vacation by Train: What to Pack for a Trip

Dress Code: Bring clothes that you will be comfortable wearing but not look too sloppy. Pack clothes for layering to provide comfort for change in climate and temperature. Dress neatly at dinner similar to what you’d wear out to casual dining.

***Tip: If there is one piece of advice to give someone that hasn’t traveled often it would be about packing bags.

Only pack what you will 100% need.

If you might need it don’t pack it.

The lighter you pack the more-free you are to enjoy yourself.

A good rule of thumb is: “Only pack what you can carry”.

Checked Bags:

  • When you drop off or picking up any checked luggage, have your claim ticket in your hand be ready to show when requested

  • All luggage must be checked at a minimum of 45 minutes before Train departure

  • The train crew will let you know where bag pickup will be upon arrival

  • You will not be able to get to your checked Bags until your at the scheduled destination

Amtrak Bag Policies:

  • When you drop off or picking up any checked luggage, have your claim ticket in your hand be ready to show when requested

  • All luggage must be checked at a minimum of 45 minutes before Train departure

  • The train crew will let you know where bag pickup will be upon arrival

  • You will not be able to get to your checked Bags until your at the scheduled destination

What to Pack in a Carry on:

  • Credit Cards: To Pay for Food and Beverages onboard

  • Cash: To be needed for tipping when you’re dining also for the Sleeper room attendant and luggage handling

  • Entertainment: Noise canceling headphones, downloaded movies/music, Computer, iPad, Battery Pack Charger, Reading light and Reading materials

  • Phone or Camera for taking pictures, Binoculars

  • On Board clothes a sweater and warm socks

  • Bottled water, Snacks

  • Separate AM PM “overnight kit” including a toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, small towel, soap, deodorant, meds, shower shoes, anything for your beauty regimen and a pillow and blanket

  • Even though it is acceptable to have an up to 50 lb carry-on bag, passengers are responsible for stowing their own carry-on in an overhead compartment or under their seat. The aisles have to be clear at all times.

Good News! What items can I carry-on board that won’t count towards my 2 bag limit?

  • Pillow, Blanket, computer cases, medical devices and stroller and diaper bag for anyone traveling with a baby

Are Bags Searched on Amtrak?

Yes, bags do get searched on occasion. There are at random bag searches. Train employees are authorized to request a bag search at any time.

**Tip: Your rights: You have the right to be kicked off of the train if you choose to not comply with a requested bag search. LOL

Can I bring a Cooler on Amtrak?

Yes, some people want to store food, medicine. Keep in mind that a cooler will be taking up your leg room because the isle has to be clear at all times.

Can I Bring Alcohol on Amtrak?

Yes, you can bring alcohol on board if you are staying in a private Roomette or Bedroom. Alcohol that you carry-onboard can only be consumed in your private Roomette or Bedroom.

Step 6: Vacation by Train: Start your Vacation

How do I Know Where to Get My Train?

  • Most Train Stations have departure boards.

  • Once you are checked in, you will need to head over to your gate with a ticket in hand. If you aren’t sure where to get on ask at the gate, they can direct you to which car to get on. Show your ticket.

  • Listen to the loudspeaker for any possible changes once on the platform

  • Ask a member of Staff. If you’re at a larger station and need assistance, look for a staff person they’ll be wearing a Red Hat

How to get the Best Seats:

Early boarding is available at larger stations. All you need for Priority Boarding is a ticket in hand plus one of the following from this list:

  • Anyone in need of assistance

  • Family with small children

  • Active Military

  • Age 65 or over

  • Have a ticket with Sleeping Car accommodations

  • Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Executive or Select Plus Member

  • Traveling in Acela Express First Class

  • Traveling in non-Acela Express Business Class

  • Check Bags 45 min before departure

  • Check a Car 2 hours before departure (may have a limited check-in time, probably 11:30am-2:00 pm, I’d check with that station)

  • Bikes are checked with baggage but can only have a maximum tire width of 2” or less

  • The Gates close 10 minutes before departure

What to do if I Miss the Train?

  • If you ever miss the train you will need to call customer service for assistance so that they can help you meet back up with your train.

Vacation by Train: *Most Frequent Questions Answered!

**If you have any questions not answered please contact me so that I can add or update this post

Will Hotels included in Train Travel Vacation packages?

Yes, hotels can be included in the packages and upgrades are available. Some packages will include some sightseeing vouchers.

What should I do once I'm onboard?

Once you’re onboard, you’ll stow your carry on above your head or under your seat. There is a place where you can leave larger luggage but remember you’ll be the one hulling it around. Take an open seat, have your ticket out with attached receipt. The ticket is not valid without an attached receipt. Put your phone on vibrate. The conductor will be around to check.

Can I Sit Anywhere on Amtrak?

Once you get your ticket and make your way to the gate, show your ticket to an Amtrak member so they can tell you where to go. Once you get your seat, keep your ticket out for the conductor to check when he does his walk through. The conductor has the authority to switch any one’s seat.

Will they announce the train station stops ahead of time so that I know when I need to prepare to get off?

Yes, even if you’re just going to stretch your legs at a train stop. Don’t be afraid to take a snooze on a long distance train. There will be an announcement to let you know when you will be nearing a stop. If you’re in a “Sleeper” room, you’re attendant should be notifying you.

How long does it take to cross the US by Train?

To go 3000 miles it takes 3 nights without any stopovers

Will I be able to sleep in Amtrak Coach seats overnight?

Yes, with a coach seat you don’t actually get a flatbed but no worries the seat is a very comfortable recliner.

Can I shower on an Amtrak long-distance Train Travel?

Showers are available with an upgrade to a Roomette or Sleeper Bedroom.

Can I bring my own food and drinks on Amtrak?

Yes and Yes. You can pack a cooler if you want. You can ask for ice if needed. Due to the strict FDA regulations, you cannot ask to have your food heated or refrigerated.

Can I bring my own alcohol on a Long Distance Train?

Yes, any alcohol brought onboard can only be consumed in a private Roomette or Sleeper Bedroom.

Fun things to do on a train ride?

  • Enjoy the scenery it can be amazing through the oversized windows

  • If you want to walk around you can, it’s as not restrictive as a plane

  • Bring cards or games to hang out and play in the café or lounges

  • Listen to movies or music (use headphones).

  • After 10:00 pm is the quiet time

Do Amtrak trains have Wi-Fi?

There is wi-fi available but just like everywhere else it’s not always reliable at times. Just in case the wi-fi isn’t working it’s always a good idea to have preloaded movies and music with you.

Does Amtrak have charging outlets?

Yes, there are outlets in every bedroom and some coach cars. Some of the older trains don’t have as many outlets as the newer trains so it’s wise to bring a backup charger for your electronics.

Can I bring my Pet?

Yes to a dog or cat in Coach Class only not bedrooms or dining cars with these stipulations:

  • 7 hours is the maximum trip segment

  • Weighs Under 20 pounds

  • All pets must stay in an approved carrier and be kept under your seat. Your pet carrier will be counted as 1 of your 2 carry-on pieces

  • Must have proof of your pets up to date vaccines for when you do the check-in paperwork

Can I bring a Service Animals?

  • Yes, but allowed in the Coach Class only, a Service animal has different restrictions/regulations than a pet

  • Service Animals must wear a harness and be on a leash, the entire trip

  • Animals in Service must sit under the seat of at passengers feet, never in the isle

  • A Service Animal will be removed from the train when is not controlled, has excessive barking or not housebroken

Is traveling by train safe?

Studies show that compared to other forms of travel, Train Travel is a safe mode of transportation.

Where is the Safest Place to Sit on a Train?

Here are some hot tips from The National Association of Railroad Passengers:

  • Sitting in the aisle seat is safer than a window seat

  • The safest car is 1 or 2 cars back from the middle car

  • A rear-facing seat is best

Can I Get a Refund if I Miss the Train?

There isn’t a one size fits all refund policy for any tickets reserved or purchased however, the Amtrak refund policy is very clear. That sounds contradictory, right? It’s really not to get a full or partial refund will come down to what kind of ticket you purchased.

About Full refunds:

  • Saver Fares and Sleeper Accommodations: Request within 24 hours of purchase

  • Value Fares: Request a minimum of 8 days before departure

  • Flexible Fares, Business, and Premium: Full refund, no fees

  • Full or partial refunds call 1-800-USA-RAIL

  • “No Show Policy”: For all tickets, you are 100% forfeiting your ticket

*TIP: If you don’t qualify for a refund ask if you qualify for an e-voucher that can be used toward a future ticket.

E-vouchers have a 1-year Expiration Date.

Bottom-line: Keep in mind any transactions are subject to fees and a short window of time to have the reimbursement done in the same form of payment. Policies are subject to change at any time.

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