Monday, July 02, 2007

Organized Summer Travel by Train

Tip of the Week, June 24, 2007

Over the past few weeks, we've explored ways of organizing yourself for travel by car and by plane. This week, in the final tip in our summer travel series, we'll take a look at getting organized if you'll be traveling by train.

If you're traveling by train
Train travel offers a nice blend of the benefits of traveling by car and by plane: you remain on the ground, quite possibly with scenic views of the surroundings, have some flexibility in terms of when and where you stop, but don't have to worry about being behind the wheel or battling summer traffic on the roads. Use these tips to make the most of your rails adventures.

  • Brush up on the rules and regulations. Though train travel carries far fewer rules and regs (at least in the U.S.), there are still some guidelines to bear in mind. Amtrak's website offers a comprehensive list of information on everything from baggage limits to traveling with children to using cell phones on board; you can read the guidelines here. If you're traveling by rail in another country, take some time to familiarize yourself with the regulations for the relevant rail operator.
  • Pack smart. Train travel offers a bit more leeway in terms of the amount of luggage you're permitted to bring on board, and you also won't have to worry about things like limiting the size of your toiletry bottles or packing certain liquids in checked bags only. That said, as always, you'll travel more pleasantly if you pack reasonably light, refrain from bringing excess baggage on board, and take the time to make a list of what you'll need before you put anything into your suitcase. In addition, make sure any valuables you pack--cameras, laptops, other electronics, jewelry, important papers, and so on--are in bags that will be near you at all times on the train.
  • Bring snacks and entertainment. Remember the days of deluxe rail travel, when it was possible to get a full meal with a bottle of wine in the train's dining car? Neither do I. Though most Amtrak trains do have cafe cars, they're unlikely to serve more than basic sandwiches and beverages. To spare yourself the fate of relying on soggy tuna salad to get you through your trip, pack your own food; this is especially important if you'll be traveling long-distance, with few opportunities to get off the train en route. It's also a good idea to bring along books, magazines, music, games, or whatever else might keep you entertained for the duration of the journey (or snag a window seat and hope for impressive scenery).
  • Familiarize yourself with the stations you'll be using. Finally, it's worth taking some time to get to know the train stations you'll be leaving from, arriving at, and passing through. While some of these stations may literally be one-room buildings with a handful of railway employees to serve passengers, others can seem like small worlds of their own. If you've ever come into or traveled out of New York's Penn Station at a busy time, you know that a familiarity with which rail lines use which tracks can make the difference between making and missing your train. The website for the rail line you'll be traveling, whether in the U.S. or abroad, can usually provide the basic station info you'll need; you might also want to consult a travel guide if you'll be in a large city. Bear in mind, too, that some cities have multiple stations. Be sure you know which one you want to avoid buying the wrong ticket or winding up in the wrong part of town.

Wherever your travels take you this summer, and however you get there, may they be organized and enjoyable. Happy trails!

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