Forget the Plane and Leave the Car at Home: Tips for Family Train Travel

This past weekend, we skipped the traffic, and frequent stops for eating, diapering and restlessness relief on I-5.  We did away with the crammed quarters, long lines, and endless rules of airplane travel.  No, we didn’t stay at home this weekend.  We went to Portland, OR.  How did we get there? We took the train!

Portland Train Station

10 Reasons Why We Love Traveling by Train

1. You don’t have to drive!

2. No Traffic.

3. You can really enjoy the beautiful views.  No worries of veering off the road while you catch a glimpse of a majestic mountain or serene lake.

4. No need to stop every time Bergen needs to eat, get his diaper changed, or just a break from the carseat.

5. Bergen is not strapped into his carseat. He is free to move (within reason), which is what he loves to do.

6. You can chat and mingle with our passengers in a more relaxed environment than on an airplane.

7. Bored in your seat? Take a walk from car to car. The wide aisles and vestibules provide lots of space to roam.

8. The bistro car has food, drink, and additional seating.

9. Plenty of time to relax & do something you love to do.  Just a few of the things we saw other passengers doing: reading, knitting, crocheting, playing cards, catching up on emails, & enjoying the company of traveling companions.

10. The price is right.

A Few Tips for Train Travel

Based on our experience with Amtrak Cascades.

  • If you want your seating assignment ahead of time, check out “business class“.  It will cost more money, but may be worth it if you don’t want to wait in line at the station for your seat, want more leg room, fewer passengers in your train car, and priority boarding (among other things).  We didn’t opt for business class for this trip, but may do so in the future.
  • If you decide to travel coach, get to the station as early as possible to get in line for your seating assignment.  When traveling South, the views are best on the right side of the train.
  • Children under 2 ride free with an accompanied adult.  They do not get an assigned seat, BUT it doesn’t hurt to ask when checking-in as there may be extra seats.  We asked at the Seattle station on our way down to Portland, and were given 4 seats: “family style”– 2 sets of seats facing each other with a table in the middle!
  • The PCC offers a free companion coupon for travel on Amtrak Cascades.  This year the deal was for trips between November 1, 2011 and April 30, 2012.
  • Be prepared! Bring items with you to make the trip more comfortable and enjoyable.  Binoculars, laptops, smart phones, ipods, books, e-readers, playing cards, crayons & paper, &  maps are just some of the things we saw other passengers using to keep themselves amused.  There is free wi-fi access on the train.
  • The Amtrak Cascades line runs from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, OR with  many stops in between!

Slaed and I both agreed: Train travel is actually relaxing, and fairly stress-free.  We enjoyed a beautiful weekend in Portland, and Bergen was as happy as can be!  The train station in Portland is close to Downtown & the Pearl district (definitely walkable), and the lightrail makes for easy transportation to points further out.

If you’ve traveled by train, share a little bit about your experience!

What did you like (or not like) about it? 

What other tips do you have?

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday on WalkingOn Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.  For tons more travel tips, check out their sites!


23 thoughts on “Forget the Plane and Leave the Car at Home: Tips for Family Train Travel

  1. These are great tips! We have never traveled by train, but I really want to do it just for the experience. Putting this on the list, for sure. Thanks for linking up today!

    • Thanks, Jessica! You should definitely plan a train trip! We met a little boy (and his parents), and that was the sole purpose of the trip–just to be on the train!

    • Thanks for leaving your link, Nicole. Will definitely check it out as I hope to continue train travel as B gets older! The toddler we met on the train was having such a blast 🙂

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  3. Hi, I’m Maria from Brazil & in my two travels to USA, I made my way (Richmond/Washington/NYC and back the first time, Washington/NYC/Washington, the second time) by train. WONDERFUL!! Wonderful views (the skyline of Baltimore is superb, the sight of the Capitol dome when arriving to Washington DC from Richmond is a memory to keep as long as G’d alows). And, of course, the leg space, the dining car, and the chance to read, listen to some music, read the e-mails (hoorray, they have wi-fi!), taking some pictures or doing nothing at all … This is great!! Hoping to repeat the adventure next year!

  4. We took a 5-week cross-country train adventure in 2009. Our kids at the time were 9 & 11, and they absolutely loved it! They now beg to travel by train. We like sleeper accommodations for long-haul travel (not cheap, but we like having our own space), and we discovered the Superliners have a terrific family compartment that includes two child-size berths and two adult size berths (you could squeeze a third child into the bottom adult berth without too much difficulty.) Since the compartment stretches the width of the car, you can see out both sides of the train. During the day, the long bench seat will fit four across comfortably, with another seat facing the bench providing a perfect spot for card games, mad libs, etc. But these compartments sell out early (like, 10 months before the train leaves early), so you have to plan ahead.

    Another helpful thing to have: a small power surge suppressor and a small travel power strip. The compartments often have only one power outlet, and it’s set into the wall, making it difficult to plug in larger power supplies. The power strip solved that problem, and the suppressor prevented potential power problems that might have affected our Gameboys and other electronics.

    And Amtrak remains a bargain when the kids get a bit bigger: fares are half price for kids under 15 — yeah, that’s not a typo, 15-years-old! Sleeper accommodations aren’t affected, but for short trips, like Seattle-Portland or (in my neck of the woods) Boston-Washignton DC, traveling by train can be considerably cheaper than flying.

    Also, if you love to travel by train, sign up for the frequent traveler program (guest rewards). Our 2009 trip resulted in a free trip to New York City for four of us for my daughter’s birthday! We now also have their affiliated credit card, which we’ve collected enough points on that we were able to go round-trip Boston to Orlando in two roomettes for free. The only thing I like better than traveling by train is traveling by train for free. 🙂

    Hope you continue to discover the wonder of train travel! BTW, try the Coast Starlight to L.A. sometime, or the Empire Builder from Seattle across to Glacier National Park: both spectacular routes!

    • Wow! Thank you so much for sharing all of those helpful tips, Suzanne. I was just reading about the Empire Builder…would love to do that someday. I’m so impressed (and jealous) that you pulled off a 5-week trip via the rails! I have a feeling we’ll continue to use the train has Bergen grows. ~Happy Traveling!

  5. I made this same trip from Olympia, Wa to Portland when I was stationed at Fort Lewis. I have to agree that nothing beats travelling by train. I love being able to walk to the cafe car or just to look out of the window and actually see the sights, as opposed to seeing the outlines of things from an airplane. I’ve since done the Chicago to St Louis ride. I can’t wait for the 110 mph service on that line, and I’ve done the Chicago to Dallas, TX ride and the return trip. I next want to get a sleeper, just to see what that experience feels like. Long live Amtrak. LOL

    • Thanks for sharing your train experience! I’d like to do the sleeper train as well…would be quite an adventure with a kid. Chicago to Dallas…that’s quite a ride. What were the highlights?

  6. Next time you travel to Portland Amtrak, you can hop on any of the MAX trains from Central Library train station up to Lloyd Center MAX station in NE Portland for free. Any commute going east beyond Lloyd Center MAX station on the train requires a zone ticket; same goes if you go further west on red or blue line MAX train from Central Library train station. For visitors, downtown Portland area and inner NE Portland are great to explore. The MAX train can take you to the Oregon Zoo, Children’s Museum, and World Forestry Center (museum) for family fun if you haven’t taken your family there yet. Highly recommend it because parking over there is a cost.

    • Great tips! Thank you. Yes, we definitely take advantage of light rail whenever when can. On this particular trip, we were able hop on the train in the Pearl near our hotel, and ride to our friend’s home in the Piedmont neighborhood. Makes travel with a little one so easy.

      Now I want to check out the World Forestry Center–thanks for suggesting it!

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