Financial Resource Center


Make Tracks: Traveling by Train

by Casey Mysliwy / March 3rd, 2022

The thought of taking the train to your next travel destination might conjure images from classic black and white films, just an old-fashioned mode of transportation. But you may want to rethink this impression.

With their lower fares and very low carbon emissions, taking a train could be an enjoyable, affordable, and eco-friendlier option. You may be pleasantly surprised by the experience of traveling by rail.

Choose your route

Intercity train routes are widely available throughout the U.S., primarily through Amtrak. You easily can find out if there's a train that travels in the direction you're headed by consulting Amtrak's Trip Planning Map.

Benefits of boarding

Taking the train can provide convenience that driving and flying can't. Unlike airport terminals, train depots are usually in the heart of a city, so you can avoid expensive taxi fares and long commutes to your hotel.

You'll also encounter more lenient baggage policies when riding the train. Amtrak, for instance, allows each passenger to bring up to two pieces of carry-on baggage aboard for free—and that's in addition to personal items such as purses, backpacks, and briefcases. You don't have to worry about carrying on liquids or gels, either. Each ticketed passenger also can check two pieces of luggage at no charge.

Size and weight limitations do apply to carry-ons and checked baggage, and additional baggage can be checked for a small fee. For the specifics, check Amtrak's baggage policy. Also, be aware that not all trains and stations offer checked baggage services, so confirm before you book.

Passengers also are welcome to bring their own food and beverages aboard the train. And in some cases, you can even bring your bicycle.

If you've experienced the pressure of trying to book the cheapest flight at precisely the right time, you'll probably like this train-travel perk: Ticket pricing is consistent no matter when you buy. The ticket will cost the same whether you're buying in advance or buying on the day of departure. 

Finally, traveling by train is better for the planet. Trains emit about 1% of the global carbon dioxide in our atmosphere — far lower than cars (74.5%) and airplanes (11.6%).

Onboard amenities

Most trains feature a variety of onboard services to keep you cozy and content. For long-distance, multiday trips, most Amtrak trains offer sleeping accommodations  and dining cars. On shorter trips, trains are typically outfitted with dinettes or snack bars. Some Amtrak trains also are equipped with free Wi-Fi and quiet cars.

Cost considerations

There are plenty of great reasons to travel by rail but, when you're looking into transportation options, the deciding factor usually is price. The distance you're traveling, the number of people traveling with you, and other factors can influence how much it will cost you to take the train.

If you haven’t traveled by train before, give it a try. It’s a relaxing and affordable way to see the country.

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