I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (2023)

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (1)

  • My family traveled exclusively by Amtrak train on our trip through four Northeastern states.

  • It was less stressful and expensive than flying or driving. In total, we paid $22 per person.

  • Though the coach cars weren't glamorous, our seats were comfortable and wider than expected.

My family traveled through four Northeastern states by train, and our total transportation costs came out to just $22 per person.

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (2)

When I was researching transportation options for my family's vacation through the Northeast, I wanted to find a painless way to travel to and from several populous cities.

We could rely on public transportation once we arrived at the locales, so I just needed a way to travel easily between them.

Because many of these places are hard to explore by car, I ended up booking tickets on two Amtrak trains: the Keystone Service, which we rode from New York to Philadelphia, and the Northeast Regional, which we rode from Philadelphia to Wilmington.

Our journey included several multiday stops and spanned New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Taking Amtrak trains proved to be a compelling and cost-effective option, as our transportation expenses came out to $22 per person. Here's what our trip was like.

Most of the train stations were centrally located in cities, making them easy to access on foot.

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I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (3)

One of the many perks of train travel is that Amtrak stations are usually centrally located in big cities, making them incredibly convenient to access.

In most cities, I was able to book accommodations that were within walking distance of the station, which saved us money on rideshares and spared us the stress that comes with potential traffic delays.

I was impressed by the various train stations' beauty and architecture.

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (4)

When I picture people boarding a train, I envision well-dressed explorers making their way to lavish sleeping cars as they set off for a scenic journey.

Today's Amtrak service is less glamorous than these aspirational images, but many of the train stations date back to a bygone era of train travel, and each waypoint's architecture is as varied as it is stunning.

Philadelphia's William H. Gray III 30th Street Station is a towering, awe-inspiring building adorned with massive columns. Inside, we were greeted by soaring ceilings and beautiful works of art that set the scene for our grand adventure.

After an 18-minute ride down the track, we arrived at Wilmington's Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station, which stands in stark contrast to the Philadelphia station.

A small, unassuming brick building that dates back to the early 20th century, the station offers a completely different type of beauty. It boasts colorful, detailed tile and exposed steel beams studded with rivets.

The stations I visited are far more spectacular than I ever dreamed they'd be, and I could go on an entire vacation just to explore and admire these historic buildings.

The boarding process was a breeze compared to airport check-in and security.

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I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (5)

I've become so used to the cumbersome processes required to get through airports that I was shocked by how easy it was to navigate railroad stations and board our trains.

There were no long waits or exhausting security procedures. The Amtrak staff also communicated clearly with passengers using digital boards and loudspeaker announcements.

On most of the trains I rode, attendants didn't check my ticket until after I boarded, when the train was already in motion. This system significantly expedited the boarding process, and I enjoyed its efficiency.

Those who get on the train without tickets can typically buy one on board, but they usually have to pay higher fares.

The Amtrak interiors weren't nearly as nice as the stations, but our seats in coach were surprisingly comfortable.

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (6)

For this trip, we traveled strictly in coach-class cabins.

Each one's interior had a utilitarian design that lacked big, scenic windows and plush seating. It was practical for our purposes, but having previously traveled on much nicer trains, like the Amtrak Coast Starlight and trains throughout Europe, I had to manage my expectations for this journey.

I saw some pretty worn-down carpeting and upholstery, and the bathrooms left much to be desired. However, I did find the seats to be pretty comfortable and a lot wider than the coach seats on many planes.

Large tray tables made it easy to work, eat, play games, or just prop up a tablet for movie-watching, and I could easily get up to stretch my legs as needed.

On one train, we sat in the Quiet Car, where conversations are limited to a low volume. It made that leg of the trip even more peaceful, and it was a great option for those looking for a safe space away from crying babies and other noisy seatmates.

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No food or drinks were available for purchase on the Keystone Service, so I was grateful that I brought my own snacks.

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (7)

Upon boarding the first leg of our journey on the Keystone Service, a voice came over the loudspeaker to inform us that there was no food or drink available for purchase.

Thankfully, New York's Moynihan Train Hall, the station where we boarded, offers ample dining options. I'd already grabbed some pastries and coffee from Magnolia Bakery to enjoy during my journey.

I also noted that I should always have snacks on hand for future trips or, at the very least, research the onboard dining situation in advance.

Traveling by train made the trip inexpensive and efficient.

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (8)

Amtrak proved to be an easy choice for our family based on cost alone, as we paid $22 per person to travel through four states. It didn't hurt that my child's tickets were cheaper than ours, driving the overall cost down.

The trains we took were also an efficient way to travel between congested cities, like Manhattan and Philadelphia.

Driving the same route would've taken us twice as much time, and that's without taking into account the inevitable traffic delays that come with such a journey.

Though trains have their own share of punctuality problems, each leg of my family's trip was on schedule.

However, last-minute ticket prices can be exorbitantly high.

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I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (9)

Although my family's trip was a steal, Amtrak isn't always the most economical option, which I found out when I came down with a nasty cold in Delaware.

My family was supposed to continue by train to Baltimore, Maryland, a one-hour trip that can cost as little as $15 per person if passengers purchase tickets in advance.

Because I didn't want to spread my germs to other train passengers, we opted to stay in Delaware longer than anticipated.

Once I was feeling better, I shopped for new train tickets to Baltimore and found prices had skyrocketed to more than $300 for the same journey. To be fair, the higher ticket prices may have been a uniquely extreme case due to the fact that it was so close to Thanksgiving.

We found that renting a car was significantly cheaper, so we completed our journey on wheels. Still, I made a mental note to always book tickets in advance to ensure I get the best prices possible.

Overall, we had an easy, stress-free experience that sold me on doing more train travel in the future.

I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving. (10)

Though trains aren't the most glamorous way to travel, I loved how easy the whole journey was and am eager to book more rail-based trips in the future.

The ability to accomplish work and other tasks, especially ones that I can't do while driving or navigating airports, is appealing, as is the ability to sit back and unwind while someone else does the steering.

The benefits of train travel became especially evident as we drove to Baltimore on the final leg of our trip. During a heavy rainstorm, I got stuck in a traffic jam while navigating unfamiliar roads.

At that moment, I longed instead to be sitting back in my train seat, effortlessly cruising to my next destination.

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Read the original article on Insider


Is Amtrak cheaper then flying? ›

Train travel is often cheaper than flying, in part because you can generally take more with you before paying extra baggage fees. It can also be more convenient and relaxing than driving, especially if you'd be driving in an unfamiliar place or driving for many hours nonstop to get to your destination.

How do you travel comfortably on Amtrak? ›

10 Tips for Sleeping Overnight in Coach
  1. Bring a blanket. ...
  2. Download your favorite movie. ...
  3. Don't forget a pillow or weird inflatable neck-brace thingy. ...
  4. Pack your charger. ...
  5. Wear comfortable clothes (& shoes) ...
  6. Bring headphones. ...
  7. Have money for snacks. ...
  8. Travel with a friend.

How does Amtrak round trip work? ›

Round-trip tickets allow you to ride from departure station to your destination and back. Tickets are valid on board any Capitol Corridor train/bus at any time between the stops noted on the ticket. There is a multi-city booking option as well if your plans include more than one destination.

Can you sit wherever you want on Amtrak? ›

Can I choose a specific seat? Not while you're making a reservation. Your seat will be automatically assigned when you complete your reservation. You may change your assigned seat at any time after your booking is complete using interactive seat maps on the Amtrak app or on Amtrak.com.

Why do people take Amtrak instead of flying? ›

Unlike during a flight, train rides are not only relaxing and turbulence-free, but under most circumstances, it is stress-free. There are no take-off, landing, or seat belt signs, and for most of the journey, you are free to get up and walk around instead of being stuck in your seat for endless amounts of time.

What are the cheapest times to travel by train? ›

A general rule of thumb is that Off-Peak will begin at 09:30 Mondays to Fridays in cities and large towns, and 09:00 across the rest of the network. Weekends and Bank Holidays are Off-Peak all day.

Where is the best place to sit on a train? ›

"The safest spot in a train, during an accident, is the center of the train," said Mann, who was the principal author of the Federal Railway Safety Act in 1970. "Because if there is a front-end collision or a rear-end collision, the damages will be greater at those locations.

Can I bring my own food on Amtrak? ›

You may bring your own food and beverages onboard for consumption at your seat or private Sleeping Car accommodations. However, you can only consume food and beverages purchased in Dining and Lounge Cars in those cars. Personal food and beverages are allowed in the upper level of Superliner Sightseer Lounges.

Does it matter where you sit on Amtrak? ›

You get to pick your seat because there are no seat assignments, and there are no middle seats. SCORE! There are two outlets at every seat pair.

How many points do you need to get a free flight on Amtrak? ›

Redeeming your points is easy and exciting—with reward travel starting at just 800 points to over 500 destinations. Ready to ride?

What is a senior on Amtrak? ›

Passenger Discount for Seniors

Amtrak travelers 65 years of age and over are eligible to receive a 10% discount on most rail fares on most Amtrak trains. On cross-border services operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, a 10% Senior discount is applicable to travelers aged 60 and over.

Is it safer to fly or take a train? ›

The accidents may raise questions about the safety of train travel. While flying on an airplane is the safest mode of long-distance travel, according to the International Air Transport Association, trains are your best option on the ground.

Where is the safest place to sit on an Amtrak train? ›

"The safest spot in a train, during an accident, is the center of the train," said Larry Mann, a rail safety lawyer who was the principal author of the Federal Railway Safety Act in 1970. In the event of a front-end or rear-end collision, the damage will be worse in those areas, Mann said.

Do you get your own bathroom on Amtrak? ›

Complimentary meals are one of several amenities you'll enjoy when traveling in a private room. Learn more about your onboard dining options. Do private rooms have bathrooms and showers? Yes.

Can you get up and walk around on Amtrak? ›

Room to Roam

Enjoy the spirit of a road trip without the hassles. Instead of being confined to a cramped, uncomfortable seat for your entire trip, a train lets you get up to stretch your legs and walk around to other parts of the train. That's not even an option when you fly, ride a bus or drive a car.

Is it rude to talk on Amtrak? ›

Our advice, don't be a loud talker. By all means chat it up (not if you're in the quiet car… obvi), just do so quietly. All the space on Amtrak trains is a bit intoxicating in all the best ways.

What is the cheapest way to travel? ›

12 cheap ways to travel everyone needs to know
  • Travel out of peak seasons. ...
  • Use low-cost airlines. ...
  • Never pay for baggage fees. ...
  • Save money from transfer. ...
  • Travel as a Worldpackers volunteer. ...
  • Plan intercity trips in advance. ...
  • Use public transportation. ...
  • Buy your tickets in advance.

What is the cost of a sleeper car on Amtrak? ›

And now for a limited time, a trip in the comfort of a private room starts at just $99 each way, plus the cost of your vehicle.
Private Rooms on Amtrak Auto Train Now Available for as Low as $99.
Limited Time Fares*One travelerTwo travelers^
*Plus the cost of your vehicle ^Double occupancy required for Roomettes and Bedrooms.
2 more rows
Jan 12, 2021

What day are ticket prices cheapest? ›

Typically, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday is the cheapest day to fly. If you can structure your travel schedule around these days, these will likely be the best days to fly – both for a lower cost and a less-hectic airport experience.

How can I reduce my train ticket prices? ›

Most people know if you book early, you can get cheaper train tickets, yet often these vanish quicker than empty seats on a peak-time journey. To ensure a bargain, the key is to start looking for tickets about 12 weeks before you want to travel. Network Rail must – usually – have the timetable set 12 weeks in advance.

How can I save money on train tickets? ›

7 ways to save money on train tickets
  1. Be an early bird. You can save a whopping 50% on train tickets by booking ahead, according to Trainline. ...
  2. Avoid peak times. ...
  3. Split your train tickets. ...
  4. Invest in a railcard. ...
  5. Look for discounts. ...
  6. Beware booking fees. ...
  7. Exercise your rights.
Jan 22, 2019

Where is the safest part of a train to sit? ›

Sit in the center-most train car

When choosing a seat on a train, try to get one in the center-most car, or one of the central cars. This will put you as far as possible from the most common points of issue for collisions or derailment, namely the front and end of the train.

Is it better to sit at the front or back of a train? ›

A good booking officer will be able to tell you teh good and bad seat numbers. Forward facing is always best, by a country kilometre.

Which is the safest coach in train? ›

On a train, if you get a seat in the centre then it would be relatively a safe one, opine some experts, citing laws of physics. For example, a seat in the middle or central coaches, preferably 6th, 7th, or 8th are good bets (If it is a 13-15 coach train).

What can you not bring on a train? ›

The following items are prohibited onboard the train: non-service animals, firearms and ammunition, hover boards, corrosive or dangerous chemicals and materials, incendiaries, martial arts and self-defense items, archery equipment, devices containing propellants, sharp objects, and similar items.

Do you get free snacks on Amtrak? ›

Yes, all meals are included with the purchase of sleeping accommodations aboard the train as well as several other perks including; a picture window, showers and toilets, electrical outlets, climate...

Can I drink my own alcohol on Amtrak? ›

On Amtrak trains, while you can bring your own liquids, including alcoholic liquids, on board with you, you can only drink your own alcohol inside a sleeper car. Drinking in any public space, including your own seat, is a no no.

Is it better to sit upper or lower level on Amtrak? ›

The best place to sit in Amtrak Coach Class is on the upper level. It's all about the view on the upper level. This is the biggest advantage of sitting in the upper level. You can also move from car to car more freely as there is access from each car on the upper level.

Is it cold inside Amtrak trains? ›

For the most enjoyable experience, especially during a long-distance journey, you'll want to wear clothing that is super comfortable, along with warm socks. Oftentimes, the train cars can get cold, even if you're not seated by the doors that connect the cars together.

How many people can sleep in a family bedroom on Amtrak? ›

For customers traveling with kids in First Class, Family Rooms span the width of the car with ample space for two adults and two children (aged 2 - 12) and feature: Seating for four by day transformed two upper and two lower beds by night. Newly upgraded bedding, pillows, towels and linens.

How much should I tip my Amtrak attendant? ›

The Complete North American Train Travel Guide,” recommends $5 per passenger per night for sleeping-car attendants, and the standard 15 percent of what the meals would cost if you paid (prices are on the menu) outright. Come prepared with a stash of small bills.

How many suitcases can you take on an Amtrak train? ›

Unlike many transportation options, traveling with Amtrak is twice as nice with our generous baggage policy. When you travel with us, you can carry-on two free pieces of luggage. Each item should not exceed 50 lbs. (23 kg) and needs to be 28 x 22 x 14 inches in size.

How do you get a free ride on Amtrak? ›

8 ways to Get Free Train Travel in the USA:
  1. Join the Amtrak Guest Rewards Membership. ...
  2. Purchase 1 Ticket, Get 1 Free for Saturdays with paired cities.
  3. Amtrak “World Mastercard” & “Platinum Mastercard”: Get 1 complimentary ticket for signing up and 1 complimentary ticket every year that you renew your card.

Do senior citizens get discount on trains? ›

1/3 off rail travel and so much more...

But with a Senior Railcard, it's also the starting point for travelling many more miles too. That's because it gives you 1/3 off Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance fares.

Do you tip attendants on Amtrak? ›

General Guidelines: Tipping is NOT required, but is considered correct for the service crew personnel on the train. Recommendations: Snack bar attendant: roughly 10%. Dining car: 15% of menu prices (sleeping car passengers may want to note this when ordering their meals).

Do you tip room attendant on Amtrak? ›

While tipping isn't required, leaving a gratuity is the norm. Usually, for one night in a sleeper, I suggest about $10 per person/per night. If your room attendant brings your meals to you in your room, then think about adding more to the tip as you would have left a tip anyway for the dining car waiter.

Is roundtrip cheaper Amtrak? ›

Also: Round-trip fares are cheaper, too, on Amtrak, but the margin is much smaller.

What is the safest travel method? ›

Conclusions. Commercial flights are the safest transport mode. In the past decade, there hasn't been a single full plane crash in the US. The fatalities rate during this past decade so low that even if you fly your during your entire life, you only have 1 out of 1,500 chances of dying.

What is the safest travel mode? ›

After reading the preceding information in this article, it is obvious that air travel is the safest mode of transportation. Our aircraft dispatcher training center would like to point out that all of the professionals surrounding the industry are highly trained and happy to be part of this industry.

Are Amtrak coach seats assigned? ›

In almost all cases, Amtrak seats are not assigned. The exception is Acela Express route seats and business class seating on the Northeast Regional, Carolinian, Palmetto, and Vermonter. Otherwise, Amtrak has a first-come, first-serve seating policy for coach seats.

What part of a train is least crowded? ›

In both, on average the last carriage is the least crowded. Obviously this will vary line-by-line, and even service-by-service.

Does Amtrak provide pillows and blankets? ›

Just like a hotel! Facial, hand and body towels are all included, and your train attendant will make your bed for you at night and put it away for you in the morning whenever you want. We also provide pillows, but you're free to bring additional ones.

Is it safe to drink water from Amtrak? ›

Passenger rail cars are a special type of water system, called an Interstate Carrier Conveyance (ICC), covered under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Amtrak is based in Washington, D.C., and works directly with EPA's Mid-Atlantic Region for drinking water compliance.

How fast does an Amtrak train go? ›

Most Amtrak trains travel between 110 mph to 145 mph in the corridor, depending on the track and proximity to stations.

Is it hard to sleep on Amtrak? ›

It IS possible to sleep in a coach seat. Our wide reclining chairs with tons of legroom and adjustable footrests will have you sleeping like a … well … you know. This gives you that warm and cozy feeling even as you're traveling across America! Load up your cell phone or tablet with a few movies.

Can you shower on Amtrak? ›

For customers seeking plenty of comfort and room, Bedrooms provide twice the space as a Roomette and feature a sofa and armchair by day and upper and lower berths by night. Each room includes a big picture window, fresh towels and linens, and an in-room sink, restroom, and shower.

What's the most scenic Amtrak route? ›

AMTRAK'S COAST STARLIGHT. Amtrak's Coast Starlight is considered one of the most scenic routes in the Amtrak system, offering the very best views of the Pacific Coast, from the cliffs of Pacific Coast Highway to the peaks of the Cascade Mountains.

Why is Amtrak more expensive than flying? ›

Conclusion: The Cost of Train Travel

Taking trains in America is often much more expensive than flying because railways are owned by freight companies and charge Amtrak for their use. In addition, the government hardly subsidizes any part of passenger rail, which drives up prices.

How much cheaper are trains than planes? ›

The travel search website Hipmunk, which displays train options alongside flight results, found that on the top 100 Amtrak routes booked over the past year, train travel was cheaper 80 percent of the time. Travelers choosing the train saved an average of $132.

Why is it so expensive to travel on Amtrak? ›

Many of the lines don't make any money or are operated at a loss. To accommodate the money-losing routes, Amtrak uses profits from its popular lines, such as the Northeast Corridor. Since this is one of the most popular routes, Amtrak can charge higher prices and send those profits to other, less profitable lines.

How early should you arrive at Amtrak? ›

Plan to arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart (Auto Train passengers should arrive at the station at least two hours prior to departure).

Does Amtrak loose money? ›

An analysis by Randal O'Toole found that only four Amtrak routes earn an operational profit. Some Amtrak routes lose hundreds of dollars per passenger and fill fewer than 40 percent of their seats. The few routes that earn a return are in the Northeast, while the biggest money losers are the long‐distance routes.

Does Amtrak offer AARP discounts? ›

Standard Amtrak Discounts (Students, Seniors, etc.)

Seniors: Travelers 65+ receive a 10% discount (excludes Auto Train). There is no additional AARP discount. Military: 10% discount for military personnel plus their spouses and dependents.

How do I travel by train on a budget? ›

Here are some money-saving tips for train travel:
  1. Buy train tickets early. Amtrak prices don't fluctuate wildly the way airfares do, so it usually makes sense to book as far in advance as you can. ...
  2. Take a pass on buying a rail pass (most of the time) ...
  3. Deals, deals.
Feb 21, 2020

What is the cheapest month to travel? ›

It says the cheapest time of year to fly is January and February. (Well, less that little bit at the beginning of January after New Year's Day.) The site says that "virtually overnight," around January 8, prices swing from the most expensive three-week stretch of the year to the cheapest.

How can seniors travel cheaply? ›

Public transportation – buses, metros, and trains are often the cheapest type of transportation available. Carpooling services – if you're traveling long-distance consider using apps like BlaBlaCar or Moovit to cut down on costs. Renting bikes – keep fit and save money by cycling around the town.

Where is the safest cheapest place to travel? ›

10 Best Places to Travel on a Budget
  1. Thailand. Thailand is where it all began for me so it holds a special place in my heart. ...
  2. Central America. Want to roam ancient ruins, trek through the jungle, surf, and eat delicious food with few tourists around? ...
  3. Cambodia. ...
  4. The Balkans. ...
  5. China. ...
  6. India. ...
  7. Georgia. ...
  8. Portugal.
Nov 3, 2022

Do you need cash on Amtrak? ›

Tickets can be purchased in person at any staffed Amtrak station. You can pay with your credit card, cash or personal check ($25 minimum purchase and two forms of ID and credit card required).

Why don't more people use Amtrak? ›

There are many reasons for this. There is limited service between cities (Amtrak says it runs 300 trains with about 87,000 passengers per day), freight is often prioritized over passenger service in the U.S., and trains and facilities are often outdated.

Why are Amtrak bedrooms so expensive? ›

Heavy demand for private rooms on many routes has prompted Amtrak to charge the highest fares that passengers will pay.


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