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Tips for Riding Amtrak (with kids)

 

           ***This post is not sponsored, it is just my personal experience.****

 

My family and I took a trip from Boston to Ohio on Amtrak two summers ago.  I had the hardest time finding information about what to expect with Amtrak, so I decided to post my experience in hope it helps someone. 

First of all if you are on the fence about taking a long train ride with kids, just do it!  I would recommend it to anyone. It is so nice not having to drive, you can actually talk, play games, read and enjoy the sights. Something the driver never gets to do on a long road trip! Plus it is nice to be able to get up and stretch your legs, and the kids (and me) LOVED not being tied down to a seat belt or car seat. You also don’t have to stop for never ending bathroom breaks, which is enough reason for me!

   When I was looking for information about preparing for this very long (our first) train ride- it was nowhere to be found!! I have learned a few tricks and tips since and though I would share them to help anyone who is about to embark on a family train trip.

Get your tickets early!

Amtrak offers saver fares when you book in advance that help save money. Kids also ride for usually half the amount of adult fares and they have military discounts as well.  (This is all subject to change please check on your particular train to see if these offers are valid) If you sign up for emails, Amtrak will usually send you their current sale offers as well.

 

Check out your stations ahead of time.  

This was something I did not think completely through- and it was a big mistake! Starting with your departure station, including any transfer stations and your destination station.  Your departure station may not have parking (or parking that is affordable).

The trains can arrive at odd times and there is not always a car rental place or hotel open nearby.  Find out as much as you can about your arrival time and how you plan to get to where you need to be. We arrived in Ohio at 3 in the morning and I had no clue what we were doing. Luckily there was a cab waiting that took us to the airport where we got our rental.  Have an Uber or cab planned especially if you arrive in the middle of the night.

 

Seat accommodations.  

Amtrak does not have assigned seating, but they do have Coach, Business, First Class and Sleeper cars on some trains. If you have an odd number of people, they may be stuck next to a stranger so keep that in mind especially with children.

Certain trains also have sleeper cars which can accommodate up to 4 adults. Some trains have different configurations and can accommodate different amounts of people, but if your family is bigger than 4- you may have to reserve two suites. Sleeper cars do usually include meals, free bottled water, and have a private bathroom. However they sell out quickly, are offered on limited trains and are more expensive.

Get Comfy.

We opted not to get a sleeper car simply because it was way out of our budget.  Our train ride was about 14 hours so we just slept in the seats. {At the time my daughter was not yet diagnosed with a seizure disorder yet so we did not have such a tight bedtime schedule.} It definitely can be done, it will not be the most comfortable sleep you will ever have. Adults can sleep easier, but kids will keep sliding a bit in the seats.

To help get some actual shut eye, definitely bring a neck /travel pillow and a blanket. Kids have floppy heads and end up all over the place so we also wore big sweatshirts with hoods that we could take off and prop up their heads/butts up a bit to cut down on luggage. They did dim the lights late at night, but be sure to bring eye masks and ear plugs for kids that have a hard time sleeping with noise or light.

 

Dress in Layers.

For that above mentioned reason, big sweatshirts can be useful for sleeping. Also because it can get hotter during the daytime hours on the train and cooler at night. You may also be arriving in a area that has different weather from where you left from.

 

Bring and carry a bathroom bag.

If you don’t have a sleeper car you will be sharing a bathroom with many people. Get a small easy to carry tote bag that everyone will agree to carry.  Pack items like bleach wipes, disposable potty covers, a small odor neutralizing spray if you have kids that are sensitive to smells, extra tissues, and hand sanitizer.  An extra pair of undies for each kid and and feminine products if you need it.  The bathroom weren’t the worst, as there were people making rounds cleaning it, but my daughter is very sensitive to smells and this helped a lot.

 

Baggage.

Amtrak allows one suitcase and one personal bag per person. They also allow checked luggage on some trains. It is much easier to not have to check luggage because you can just grab your stuff from overhead bins and be on your way. Keep this in mind when you are planning your trip because whatever you carry you have to be able to maneuver in and around trains, especially if you are a solo parent with kids that outnumber you.

 

Pack each personal bag for the person carrying it.

If your kids have to carry luggage themselves, make sure they can actually lift it! If your child has to roll or carry the bag and is not used to it, practice a little before hand so you are not trying to get around a busy train station carrying 3 or 4 bags. It is also a good idea to pack each kid a wallet with some money for buying snacks and drinks on the train- it is so exciting to walk to the meal car for them!   You can also pack your own drinks, snacks and gum too.  Make sure you add enough toys/ games/ books/puzzles to keep the kids entertained in their own personal bag.

 

Trays.

There are small pull out trays on most trains that fold down to play games on,and they are adjustable as well. But if you have a really little one you can also bring a little lap tray to keep pieces to games and puzzles together. It may be difficult for very little kids to reach the tray without falling out of their seat.

 

Outlets.

This one was very exciting to my teenage daughter. They have two outlets near the window seat. It’s great to keep phones and tablets charged. Remember to bring earbuds/headphones as well.

 

Bring a goody bag just in case the kids start getting antsy.

You know your kids best!   While the train ride is more exciting than a car trip, it can be hard for little ones (or big ones) to stay quiet and behaved for such a long time. Wrap small treats from the dollar store or candy etc that the kids can unwrap every time you hit a certain landmark or city. It helps them stay focused and not run up and down the aisles driving everyone nuts.

 

Keep updated.

Check your train status frequently and make sure there are no changes. They were doing track work and called to offer us bus service instead, which I was not interested in. I knew my kids would not behave stuffed into a bus for 8 hours. The woman I spoke at Amtrak with was very helpful in changing some things around so we could transfer at a different station and still get to our destination. Our train was about 1.5 hours late to our destination, which does happen pretty frequently, so keep that in mind in case you are having someone pick you up at the station.

 

Label/ Tag your suitcases and personal bags.

Things happen, bags get lost.  Make sure you tag your bags just in case. They usually have tags at the (bigger) stations in case you forget like I did. Be sure to add your phone number.  Don’t forget strollers!

 

Be Prepared.

If your train ride is long, and you are a heavy sleeper- be sure to set an alarm for earlier than the time you expect to be getting off.  Our train arrived at 3 am, so I set an alarm on my phone for 2:15 juts to have enough time and make sure we were ready to hop off. It sounds really dumb, but I had to just in case I fell asleep.  They do announce the station you are arriving at, but after a long day you may not be awake enough to comprehend it.  Also if your kids have stuff everywhere that has to be packed up, you have to do it before your stop so you will be ready in time.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 Our experience with Amtrak was great.  I had to speak with a few people about transfer stations, arriving at our destination and luggage while on board.  Everyone from customer service to the workers on the train was helpful.  Some staff more friendly than others, but still willing to help. If you aren’t sure of something, don’t’ be afraid to ask.

 

So that’s it! If you have any questions – let me know.  I hope these tips for riding Amtrak with kids were helpful.  We had a good experience and it’s something to put on your family bucket list for sure!

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