But did you know that many budget-savvy travelers will be taking a different approach this year when heading off to visit family and friends? Train travel has steadily gained popularity over the past 25 years, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Old movies show women in fancy hats and men in striped suits boarding trains that were adorned with velvet seats and plush curtains. And while the look of today's trains have changed, they are still a fun and economically-friendly way to travel! Most people would be surprised by the accommodations, perks, and great value found in this mode of travel.
On a recent search, a one way train ticket from Washington to New York was $162. The same trip from Washington to New York via plane started at $372.
"But doesn't a train take longer?" I hear this all the time! For this sample trip, a train takes 2 hours, 45 minutes. A plane takes 1 hour, 20 minutes. Yes, a plane is faster, but that doesn’t include check-in time when flying.
1. Skip the layovers
When traveling by train, you simply go from point A to point B. This means no layovers and port changes, no cab expenses or pricey airport snacks and drinks. Most train stations are located right at the center of the destination city, so you go directly to your destination without needing those costly extras.
2. Show your legs some love
Train seating has a significant amount of leg room compared to what is found on a plane. On a train, I am able to comfortably cross my legs and stretch them as needed. Train travel is ideal for people needing more leg room because they are tall or have circulation issues. And it’s easier to move around and stretch, regardless of your height. Train traveling offers more personal space for less.
3. Unrestricted technical access
Smart phones, iPods, laptops, DVD players and other electronic devices are unrestricted from the time you step foot on a train until you get off. There’s no need to “turn off all electronics” during the duration of the trip. And the same freedom comes with seatbacks and tray tables. How liberating is that?
Puffy clouds are pretty, but they tend to look the same. On a train you have the opportunity to glimpse into towns you wouldn’t see on a typical trip. You’ll see unique historical features, lakes, mountains and other sites you wouldn’t see on a flight. Some trains even offer free tour guides to learn about your surroundings and approaching stops. It sure beats staring at the back of the head of the guy in front of you on a plane!
5. Non-invasive security
If you despise airport pat downs and revealing body scans, train travel may be the way to go. You don’t go through metal detectors, baggage x-ray, shoe removal. And there are no restrictions on liquids and other items in your luggage.
6. Private cabins
Many trains offer cozy cabins for a restful night's sleep. While it’s not the same as a luxurious hotel room, you will still get a clean cabin that provides a quiet place to rest. It sure beats trying to lay your head on the passenger next to you while on a plane (for some reason strangers don’t seem to appreciate it when I do that)!
7. More luggage for less
Amtrak allows each passenger to check two bags for free. After that, the charge is $20 per bag with a limit of four bags for each person. That is some serious packing, even for me! It’s considerably less than on most airlines. And overhead storage spaces are larger on trains, too, meaning less worry over trying to stuff an overloaded bag into a tiny space. This often also helps make boarding faster because nobody will hold up the line while trying to pack their bags into the small compartments. Save money on baggage AND speedier boarding? Heaven!
8. No more tears
On trains, parents can walk around as often as needed, which makes it much easier to manage a crying child. Families can also take a break in the cafe car for a snack. Because trains don’t have huge altitude changes, children’s ears don’t get the dreaded ear pressure problem that often sets up a chain reaction of crying.
9. Save money and the planet
Some experts say traveling by train can cut carbon emissions by up to 90% when compared to flying.
10. Compensation for delays
This concept would be unheard of with airlines! However, it is possible to sometimes get a partial refund (in the form of a voucher) for severe train delays. If this happens, just report it to customer service upon the completion of your trip, and you will receive a voucher via mail once the delay is verified.