Planning a Long-Distance Train Ride?

Based on a flurry of emails received over the past several weeks, there seems to be a renewed interest in long-distance train travel. Most  of the questions are about similar concerns, so here is my best advice for before and during the trip.  I hope this will prove to be helpful.

1. Use a Rail-Savvy Travel Agent. If you’re not going to book the trip yourself, remember that most travel agents don’t know much about long-distance train travel. To find out if yours does, ask if there’s a toilet in a Viewliner sleeping car roomette. (Answer: Yes . . . and a wash basin, too. ) If your travel agent doesn’t know the answer, find one who does.)

2. Avoid connections. Except on the Northeast corridor, Amtrak trains run on track owned by the freight railroads, and they frequently give preference to their trains at Amtrak’s expense. A missed connection can be big trouble. Don’t tempt fate. Bite the bullet and stay overnight, resuming your journey the next day.

3. Get a sleeper. If you can afford it, travel in a sleeping car. The privacy is welcome, being able to sleep lying down makes all the difference, and your dining car meals are included in the fare.

4. Pack light. You do not want to be saddled with a couple of heavy suitcases. All you really need will fit into one medium-sized suitcase. 

5. Tip appropriately. For a sleeping car attendant, $10-$20 a night, plus $5 per person each time if he brings a meal to your room. For dining car servers, 10-15 percent of the menu price.

6. Enjoy Community Dining. Three times a day you’ll have a chance to meet and get to know something about other travelers over dining car meals. This has become my favorite part of every long-distance train ride.